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Discover Germany | Culture | Barbara Geier
What are you doing for New Year’s Eve? “So, what are you doing for New Year’s Eve?” Isn’t this just the most dreaded question ever? Throughout my teens and into my twenties, I used to fret no end about this evening, touted as the most important evening of the year. It was difficult to know what to do and if to say yes to a party or no because maybe something better might still be waiting round the corner. Then, thank god, all this stopped and now I just take it as it comes. TEXT: BARBARA GEIER
However, it’s obviously not the purpose of this column to enlighten you about my very personal“Silvester”plans as 31 December is called in Germany but to ponder a bit about how Germans celebrate the end of the old year and start of the new one. Well, I won’t be able to provide you with the ultimate description of the German Silvester but instead will 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: Silvester is a popular time for private parties. Invite your friends, dive into the buffet 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 Germanspeaking countries: First you melt the lead over a flame, pour it into cold water and one’s future can then be told from the shapes which form 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. By the way, drinks. Arguably the most important ingredient for any proper New Year’s 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
74 | Issue 10 | December 2013 / January 2014
me to the next topic: fireworks. 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.“Brot statt Böller”, for example, is a yearly initiative of a German charity asking people to donate money to development aid instead of buying firecrackers and the like. In recent years, I have also heard more and more Germans describing 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 that someone threw 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 black-and-white English-language version with English comedian Freddie Frinton and his partner May Warden is broadcast repeatedly throughout 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 NewYear’s Eve in Germany, be prepared to watch an English sketch, grab 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 twelve 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 ww.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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