New Year's Celebrations in Germany: The Complete Guide

cologne new years (silvester)

GettyImages / Chanachai Panichpattanakij

 

Silvester (or New Year's Eve) in Germany means the country explodes in a celebration of fireworks and festivities. After the merry jubilation of Christmas, New Year's is a full-out party, particularly in the capital of Berlin. At home, Silvester traditions are just as lively.

It is an electric time to visit Germany, although you must be prepared for higher prices for accommodations and crowds—crowds well equipped with hand-held fireworks. Read the complete guide to New Year's in Germany with all the craziest German traditions. It really is a Prosit Neujahr (Happy New Year).

Fireworks for New Year's in Germany

You may think you are familiar with fireworks, but nothing is like feuerwerk (fireworks) in Germany for Silvester. Traditionally, fireworks were believed to scare away evil spirits and Germans apparently see this bad mojo everywhere at New Year's. Fireworks are an inescapable reality of Silvester from grand, official shows to ordinary citizens walking through the streets shooting off explosives up, down, and all around.

The largest show of firework power takes place in the nation's capital at Brandenburger Tor. The entire road leading from the gate to the Siegessäule (Victory Column) is closed for a live concert, DJs, and thousands of revelers. Nearby, people set off their own fireworks and the main show takes place over the gate as the clock strikes midnight. Firework displays also take place in most major cities from Cologne to Munich to Hamburg.

If you want to participate in the free-for-all of fireworks, you can purchase them nearly everywhere in the days just before Silvester from grocery stores to roadside stands. However, they are only legally sold between Dec. 28-30 and you are only able to light them from Dec. 31 through Jan. 1.

Bleigießen for New Year's in Germany

A quieter, at-home tradition is predicting your luck for the coming year. Lead pouring, or Bleigießen, is where molten lead droppings act like tea leaves. Silvesterblei kits are sold before Silvester and performed on the last day of the year with friends and family.

To complete the ceremony, a small amount of lead is melted in a tablespoon over an open flame and then poured into a bowl of water. There it hardens into a form that is said to predict what will happen in the new year. There are nearly endless possibilities, but for example, an eagle (adler) means you could profit in your job. A ball (ball) means good luck is rolling your way. Flowers (blumen) signal new friendships. A full list is available in the kit, along with a poem.

Feuerzangenbowle for New Year's in Germany

What is a New Year's party without a celebratory drink? Of course, the Germans indulge in beer, wine, and sekt (sparkling wine) for this special day, but nothing is as spectacular as feuerzangenbowle.

This mouthful of a drink name translates to "flaming hot tongs punch" and has a base of glühwein (mulled wine) plus rum, orange, lemon, ginger, sugar, and spices like cinnamon and cloves. It is prepared by slowly heating the wine with the orange and lemon then adding an infuser filled with the spices. Take care not to overheat the wine to a boil as it will lose the alcohol (and lots of the fun). Once it is warm, fill a punch bowl with the wine mixture and place a suspended rum-soaked sugarloaf (zuckerhut) above it before setting it on fire.

The sugar carmelizes before dripping into the wine. Serve and enjoy with the “Krambambuli” song.

While you can make your own feuerzangenbowle set-up, it is much easier if you buy the specialized bowl and sugar cone. These are commonly available in German supermarkets but can be much harder to find abroad.

If you can't be bothered to make your own, you can often buy a mug at German Christmas markets. But the ceremony involved in making this drink is part of the pleasure. Everything is more exciting with flames, especially at New Year's.

This is also a part of German cultural heritage as the drink reached the height of popularity due to the novel, "Die Feuerzangenbowle: Eine Lausbüberei in der Kleinstadt," by Heinrich Spoerl as well as the 1944 film based on the book.

Berliner Pfannkuchen for New Year's in Germany

Berliner's pfannkuchen were the subject of one of the most famous American-German misunderstandings. When US President John F. Kennedy famously stated, "Ich bin ein Berliner" on the steps of Rathaus Schöneberg he was saying he was this doughnut versus a citizen of Berlin. (The more correct phrase would be "Ich bin Berliner".)

Aside from this moment, this pastry is famous all on its own. Available year-round, they are usually called pfannkuchen in Berlin but berliner elsewhere in the country (or krapfen in southern Germany). They are a round shape with sugar on top, usually filled with a sweet jelly (konfitüre) center. At New Year's, they come in a few different flavors: chocolate, vanilla, eierlikör (egg liquor), or even mustard (senf) for an unlucky customer. This game of chance fits what you might expect in the new year.

If you miss the chance to try your luck on flavors at New Year's, they are also available during Karneval or Fasching.

"Dinner for One" for New Year's in Germany

For reasons beyond anyone's understanding, a short British skit has become mandatory viewing for Silvester in Germany.

The black-and-white sketch first aired in 1963 and lasts just 17-minutes. Entitled “Dinner for One”, it airs on German television every New Year's Eve and millions of viewers tune each year. The basic premise is the interplay between a rich, elderly woman and her butler during a dinner party on New Year's Eve. Full of slapstick humor and a surprise ending, the repeated phrase "The same procedure as every year, James,” has become well-known in the German-speaking world because of this show's popularity.

Perhaps more bizarre than its popularity is its anonymity in the English-speaking world. It holds the Guinness World Record for the most repeated TV program but had never aired on British television until 2018. Many English speakers have never even heard of it until coming to Germany.

If you are lucky enough to celebrate New Year's in Germany, be sure to turn on the TV and block out the fireworks just before midnight to catch this strangely iconic German tradition.

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