How the Germans Celebrate New Year

In Germany, the arrival of the new year is celebrated in very non-German ways. It’s a chance for the Germans to lean back and let off a little steam. A collective release of energy, if you will. New Year’s Eve – called Silvester in German – has many traditions associated with it. I will talk about the most common ones in this post. If you have experienced something different which I have not mentioned, feel free to let me know through comments and feedback.

Just so you get the scale of the party in Berlin...

Just so you get the scale of the party in Berlin…

The highlight of Silvester are undoubtedly the fireworks. Usually, the Germans are a very composed lot and carry themselves around with dignity. On New Year’s Eve, however, all hell breaks loose. In every city and village, no matter how big, people set off fireworks throughout the evening. The roar becomes deafening around midnight. Even the Ordnungsamt has been known to lay off that one evening. Although some bigger cities, have organized fireworks displays, it is usually a rarity. Which is a pity, in my opinion. I enjoy organized fireworks more than a have-it-your-way sort of thing. How very German of me, eh?

The big nationwide highlight for Silvester is the party in Berlin. The crowd starts from the Victory Column and ends near the stage at the Brandenburg Gate. The party features performances by famous bands and artists and is a great place to have fun, put your hands up and forget the past year. More info on the party can be found here. There’s a special temptation to attend this year’s party: The Hoff is coming! \m/

Bleigießen involves putting a melted substance into cold water and reading your future in the shape the substance cools in.

Bleigießen involves putting a melted substance into cold water and reading your future in the shape the substance cools in.

Aside from partying and firecrackers, the German New Year’s Eve entails some mystic future telling as well. Bleigießen is a local tradition which would make Professor Trelawney from Hogwarts proud. It involves placing a substance – formerly lead or tin because they melt easily – on a spoon and then melting it. After the material melts it is placed in cold water. The shape which it forms upon cooling down will predict your future. Aside from being much better than reading tea leaves, this activity is really fun to do with friends. Beware: Because burning metal leads to toxic fumes, people usually use wax these days, so don’t use metals and stay safe.

Berliner with good luck symbols.

Berliner with good luck symbols.

Another thing which you might experience while in Germany – specially if you work here – would be Berliners. I mentioned them in my post on German baked goods. These treats are usually bought by the boss for everyone in their department. But on Silvester, they come with a twist: each Berliner comes with a plastic symbol of good luck on it. This can be anything from a horseshoe to a clover leaf to a chimney sweeper*. If you come to know that no one has planned on bringing Berliners to your office, you might wanna take it upon yourself and earn some integration points at the workplace. That never hurts, does it?

A HUUUUUUUUGE German tradition on Silvester is the television skit called “Dinner For One”. It’s an obscure skit from 1963 featuring actors no one knows. However, every New Year’s Eve, Germans watch it – in English mind you – and laugh at the slapstick comedy. This skit is the most frequently broadcast TV program ever, thanks to Germany and many other Western European countries being into it. I know its sort of cheating, but I will post a video to it and you can decide on the comedy or lack thereof yourself. If you’re in Germany, though, I recommend you not watch the video and instead tune in on the 31st of December when it is broadcast. For those of you interested, there’s a Bernd das Brot version out there as well.

What is cuter than a little marzipan pig, I ask you?

What is cuter than a little marzipan pig, I ask you?

Although not everyone gives New Year presents, some people do. These are usually small and cheap gifts meant to symbolize luck rather than extravagance on the part of the present giver. A popular gift is a marzipan pig or a lucky one penny (Glückspfennig) or any of the above mentioned symbols. Like most countries, Germans also make New Year’s Resolutions and if they’re anything like me, never act on them. Most resolutions are forgotten by the end of the shock and awe fireworks on Silvester anyway.

And now, dear readers, I say Guten Rutsch to you, which is what Germans wish when they want to say Happy New Year. It literally means “have a nice slide” but the word Rutsch probably comes from the Yiddish word Rosch which signifies beginnings. This is something you can tell your German friends in a nerdy and self-assured way. Have a very happy new year all of you. May you actually follow through on your New Year’s Resolutions.

* Yes, Germans consider chimney sweepers to be a good luck symbol for some strange reason. Touching one also brings you luck. But isn’t it really as outrageous as a horseshoe bringing luck?

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