I’ve written about the German obsession at New Year’s with pyrotechnics for this blog before. This year Berlin was the same as always – air thick with smoke, sky alight with brilliant explosions of colour, and our ears filled with the constant cracking of bangers. After nearly seven years of living in the Hauptstadt, I’m entirely used to it. For all the bewildering bluster of the country’s firework mania, the other rather quaint German traditions for Silvester and New Year become overlooked. It’s those I want to explore here.
Popular with small children and adults alike, Bleigießen (‘lead pouring’ or ‘molybdomancy’ – to give it the proper English name) is an elaborate method of fortune telling for the coming year. It requires a bowl of cold water, a candle, a spoon, a few small metal objects (traditionally lead, but most likely tin today), and a list of interpretations – the latter two can be acquired in any local corner shop or supermarket. Each person at the party is invited to place a small metal piece on the spoon and hold it over the candle flame. As soon as the metal melts (which is very quickly with these little pieces), the molten metal is tipped into the water and whatever the shape emerges is then used to divine the future. Depending on your Bleigießen kit, the interpretations range from the charming (field = luck and happiness) to the bizarre (trumpet = you will gain public office). The whole process does make a mess of your spoon though, so be sure to use an old one!
Krapfen (known outside of Berlin as Berliner!) are classic, non-North American donuts – deep fried, sugar coated buns with blobs of jam in the middle. And, Germans just happen to eat them in the early hours of New Year’s Day. After hours of talking, shooting off fireworks, entertaining the children, melting some metal (see above), these sweet treats are the perfect party pick-me-up and a great incentive for young children to stay awake. Beware the mustard-filled one: tradition has it that one of the donuts will be filled not with jam but mustard for the poor unsuspecting reveller to bite hard into it and get quite a shock.
While the rest of the world is nursing its hangover by slobbing at home on the sofa, the German tradition to clear the head on New Year’s Day is to take a long, brisk walk. Whether park, riverbank, forest, or hillside, on the 1st January you’ll see plenty of intergenerational groups (families and friends) striding along, all wrapped up against the cold. To get the most out of such a walk, an elaborate and hearty German breakfast including breads, cheeses, meats, eggs, is the best preparation.
Fresh from their walks and just as the mid-winter late afternoon gloom descends, many Germans (and Austrians) will gather in front of the telly to watch a traditional Neujahrskonzert broadcast from either Vienna or Berlin, unless you’re one of the lucky few who actually organised tickets for the concert hall. You can make this your tradition whether you live in Europe or not, as these splendid concerts are broadcast around the world. So there’s an idea for next year!