It’s not all about the fireworks – 4 other New Year’s traditions in Germany

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.

1. Bleigießen

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! – More about Bleigießen Continue reading

How to Survive a Berlin New Year’s

Berlin FireworksFor the first time ever, I have returned to my childhood home in the Pacific Northwest to celebrate Christmas. Partly due to our new arrival and our desire for her to meet her American fam, it was also just time. Even with all the magic of German Weihnachten – sometimes all you want for Christmas is your family.

Not so for me and New Years. I have absolutely reveled in the debauchery of Berlin New Year’s (or Silvester).

Two Swedish girls are staying in our flat over the holiday and they asked if what they’ve heard about Silvester is true.  As described by Chloe, New Years in the Hauptstadt can be echt Wahnsinn. I watch “Dinner for One” over sekt cocktails, make drunken declarations for the new year and my husband nearly ended our lives over fireworks last New Years Eve. I’ll get to that story in a moment, but first I offer all the ways you may survive a Berlin New Year’s.

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And the sky became a sea of light – Silvester in the Hauptstadt

FireworksWe were lucky this year that the Berlin snow waited long enough for Silvester’s detritus to be  cleared away from the streets. In  2009/10 – the winter of the big freeze, when the pavements stayed covered in thick layers of ice and snow for months – the wooden sticks of rockets and the burnt out tubes of firecrackers surfaced in late March as the crocuses began to bloom.

The sub-header to an article in the Berliner Morgenpost from 31st December will give you a clue: “An Silvester verwandelt sich der Berliner Nachthimmel in ein Lichtermeer. Ueberall in der Grossstadt werden Feuerwerke gezuendet … ” (“On New Year’s Eve  the night sky over Berlin is transformed into a sea of light. Everywhere in the capital fireworks will be set off … “). Ah, fireworks across the city – it sounds rather magical, doesn’t it? And it is, in a way. But it’s also very alarming, especially if you’re not a German native and you grew up with slightly different firework safety standards. Continue reading