Discover Germany | Culture | Barbara Geier Column
“So, what are you doing on the 31st?” TEXT & PHOTO: BARBARA GEIER
Do you like New Year’s Eve as much as I do? The question, “So, what are you doing on the 31st?”, is right at the top of my list of questions not to ask me. Why is it important, what’s the big deal? I just don’t know. Admittedly, I used to fret about this most important evening of the year a lot when I was younger; what to do and if to say yes to a party or no because maybe something better might still be waiting round the corner. However, at some point, I decided to simply treat this evening like any other, to stop stressing and instead, just to take it as it comes. This means that often I don’t do anything at all (incredibly liberating!) but just stay at home. Or that I decide to go for a nice, relaxed dinner with my sister and a friend, just to find out that the restaurant where we booked operates – due to the ‘special occasion’ – only with big round tables, randomly seating people together. And the last thing I needed at the end of the year is to have to engage in forced small talk (this was meant to be relaxed!) with a couple and their 18-year-old daughter when all I wanted was just to have a good old natter with people I’ve known all my life. You will not be surprised that after that particular New Year’s Eve a couple of years back, I stayed at home again the following year … Anyway, enough about my boring ways of welcoming the new year. Let’s take a look at how Germans, in general, like to celebrate ‘Silvester’, as 31 December is called in Germany. While I will not be able to provide you with the ultimate description of a German Silvester, I can definitely list a few components that in one way or the other belong to New Year’s Eve in Germany and/or are important for a lot of Germans when seeing out the year: 94 | Issue 69 | December 2018
Silvester is a popular time for private parties. Invite your friends, put a buffet on and get in a silly mood. Carnival decorations such as paper streamers, confetti or little party hats are not uncommon. A bit old-fashioned but still a quite popular thing to do is ‘Bleigießen’ (literally, lead pouring), a New Year’s custom in German-speaking countries. Lead gets melted over a flame, poured into cold water and one’s future can then be told from the shapes formed in the water. After a few glasses of bubbly, fantasising about oddly shaped little things can actually be quite funny and lead to all kinds of weird and wonderful conversations. And yes, also Silvester-negators like me, have done it. Next point: drinks. Arguably the most important ingredient for a proper New Year celebration is ‘Sekt’, Champagne’s cheaper sibling. If you go out on the street just before midnight in order to see the fireworks, it’s paramount to have a couple or more at hand to be opened. Which leads me to the next topic: unlike in some other countries where it’s forbidden, Germans can buy their own ‘Böller’, as they are known, and get cracking. And they do so in large quantities which is not without controversy. In recent years, I have heard Germans describe the streets of their cities as ‘war zones’ because of the noise level and reckless handling of fireworks. I tend to agree since I had a hole burned in my sleeve once after the remains of a firecracker or whatever it was ended up on me. But that’s another story. However, one thing that virtually every German agrees on is that New Year is not New Year without Dinner For One. The line “The same procedure as every year, James” from the 14-minute British stage sketch from the 1920s has become
a familiar catchphrase since it was introduced to German TV in 1963. The blackand-white English-language version with English comedian Freddie Frinton and his partner May Warden is broadcast repeatedly on 31 December each year and has become iconic. Which is somewhat bizarre, since the sketch is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, including the UK. Germans are always surprised to hear that, since they find the whole thing “so English”. Anyway, to round this off: should you spend New Year’s Eve in Germany, be prepared to watch an English sketch, get a glass of Sekt when the countdown starts and then simply shout the words ‘Prost Neujahr!’ (Cheers to the New Year) once the clock strikes 12, along with everyone else. That’ll do. Barbara Geier is a London-based freelance writer, translator and communications consultant. She is also the face behind www.germanyiswunderbar.com, a German travel and tourism guide and blog that was set up together with UK travel writer Andrew Eames in 2010.
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