Silvester in Berlin: A Chaotic New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is a big deal for most people. People celebrate with friends, love ones, have a large feast and then top it off with more libations and a firework show. It’s the typical expectation, and we were looking forward to the fireworks later on that night at Brandenburg Gate — to joining the Silvester celebration in Berlin. But when we couldn’t get a reservation to have dinner at the restaurant of our choice for that night, we had planned to stay in for dinner and had a delicious homemade vegan Italian fare. And while we were home, starting at 6 p.m. we heard a bunch of fireworks go off. It sounded like an event, like a show was being put on. We thought it was a big production somewhere and perhaps the celebration had started early. Meanwhile, our neighbors’ guests were popping in for their parties, and we were surprised to see so many people staying home. We would find out soon why some Germans are wary of going out on New Year’s Eve night…

The real surprise came when we left our place to join in on Silvester: the big production we had heard all evening was from civilians blasting fireworks in the street. The sound of explosives rang my eardrums and rockets shot into the sky, threatening me with their sparks. It was like stepping out into a war zone. The air was pungent of gun powder, and a thick cloud of smoke hung in the dark night. This was a shock to us because Germans are known for being in control and are cautious and reserved, but this wasn’t the case that night. It was like every German had let loose and the capital city was having a Battle of Berlin. Even when we went to Oktoberfest with so many drunkards, people did not act out of control in this manner.

As we walked down the street in the freezing temperature, we braced ourselves from fear of getting blasted by an M80. When we walked by a guy at a hooka bar, who was armed with a handgun shooting blanks into the air, we covered our ears and I admit I was a little startled. The guy nonchalantly said hello to us and proceeded to shoot as we hastened to flag a cab.

Check out this video for scenes of the chaos I am talking about…

There was so much traffic that the cab driver dropped us off near Brandenburg Gate. We had only 500 meters to walk there, but the plan of getting there had vanished because it was impossible to get through what seemed like a parade of people. We could barely move as everyone was walking in every direction, bumping and shouldering one another on the way. I thought I was going to get trampled on at one point by all the tall people. We felt suffocated and it was a struggle to stay close together. Furthermore, the fireworks were more chaotic than our neighborhood scene. When an M80 blew up in the crowd nearby, we decided to leave the vicinity, which meant no more Brandenburg Gate. We veered off down a street and stayed there for the whole duration as people continued to shoot fireworks in every direction. Parents had there kids with them, babies in strollers and toddlers, and although we aren’t parents, we felt it wasn’t safe enough to have children around. We saw a girl get hit in the face from the blast of something, guys chasing girls with firecrackers, a dad lighting a rocket with his three-year-old, and some drunkard who had the audacity to throw fireworks at two policemen. He fled the scene as he did it, but three officers chased after him and brought him back in cuffs.

Although we were in the middle of a battlefield, we were in a safer area than being in the crowded mess. We still had to watch out though, because nowhere was exactly safe on the streets that night.

Where we stood for the remainder of the night.

Where we stood for the remainder of the night.

Firework show at Brandenburg Gate from afar.

Firework show at Brandenburg Gate from afar.

Check out my poor iPhone shooting of where we were standing at. This shooting was done at midnight while the firework show was going on at Brandenburg Gate.

We were glad we hadn’t come out sooner. We worried we were going to miss out on the show and other events at Brandenburg Gate, but with all the chaos on the streets, being out for only an hour was plenty for us. We stayed out just long enough until the new year and observed the firework show at Brandenburg Gate from afar. That was good enough for us and we were ready to go home where it was safe and warm.

As we waited in the subway station, drunks were throwing M80s inside the station. Where were the police? We began to regret not taking a cab back, though we couldn’t find one around. When we finally got home we were relieved to be out of the war zone, but unfortunately the fireworks kept me up all night until dawn.

The next day the streets were more littered with fireworks. And unlike New Year’s Eve night, we only heard a few explosives go off throughout the entire day.

Near our place in Prenzlauer Berg. Streets are littered with fireworks.

Near our place in Prenzlauer Berg. Streets were littered with fireworks.

And booze bottles were all over the streets.

And booze bottles were left all over the streets.

Blanks that were shot from handguns next to the hooka bar we walked by that night.

In front of the hooka bar. Blank bullet shells shot from the handgun of the guy that we walked by that night.

I had learned that the sale of fireworks in Berlin is highly regulated, only four days before New Year can civilians make their purchases. And when that happens, Germans spend millions of euros of their own personal money each year on fireworks. Apparently it is a big deal. But that all doesn’t come without consequences, as hundreds of people are injured and fingers are severed. This is no surprise after what we had seen. It’s alarming to me that the sales are regulated, but given that it’s so unsafe, chaotic, and people are repeatedly getting injured each year, regulations are not in place for fireworks in the streets. Boy, are we glad for strict regulations in the States. At least I can go watch a firework show without ducking and hiding on the way.

What an unexpected experience it was for us! Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all had a good celebration.

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