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Fireworks in Germany: what to know about ending 2017 with a bang

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Fireworks in Germany: what to know about ending 2017 with a bang
Ringing in 2017 in Ilmenau, Thuringa. Photo: DPA
15:21 CET+01:00
Whether you're planning on setting them off yourself or leaving it to the professionals, here are the most important things to know about fireworks in Germany this New Year's Eve.

Anyone who has spent 'Silvester' (New Year's Eve) in a German city will know that Germans love fireworks.

Germany is on the whole a pretty sensible country, but when the calendar rolls round to December 31st, something seems to change in the population and people go crazy for pyrotechnics.

People staying at home or hosting house parties often go all out with their own private firework displays, and you are sure to be surrounded by bangs and flashes from sundown to the early hours.

What's more, wherever you walk on the 31st, people are setting off rockets from beer bottles, throwing firecrackers into the street and generally being every fireman's worst nightmare.

The cause of this may be because this is the one time of year people in Germany can actually get their hands on fireworks.

Whereas small fireworks can be sold to people in Germany all year round, stores are only allowed to sell larger fireworks - the kind you're likely to set off on Silvester - between December 28th and December 30th. The rest of the year you can only get them from certain licensed sellers.

What's more - you're only really allowed to set off fireworks yourself between the 31st of December and the morning of the 1st of January.

If you set them off any other time, you're likely to get in trouble with the police, or worse, your German neighbours. 

But do not fear, firework lovers - there are ways you can get your fix during the other 364 days of the year.

If you're organizing an event at another time - such as a wedding or 50th birthday party - that just wouldn't be complete without a few Catherine wheels, you can ring your local law and order department to request official approval for a private firework display.

There are also a huge number of spectacular professional firework displays and competitions you can attend every summer across Germany such as the Rhine in Flames, the international firework competition in Hanover, Neckar River and Heidelberg Castle illuminations and fireworks - to name but a few.

Heidelberg Castle Illuminations. Photo: DPA

Fireworks are divided into categories, or 'Klasse', depending on how much explosive they contain. This essentially means the bigger the bang, the harder they are to get a hold of.

Klasse 1 are the smallest and least explosive kinds of fireworks and can be bought by anyone over 12 years of age. These kinds of fireworks can also be bought and set off all year round. They are essentially pretty harmless, for example sparklers, table fireworks like small fountains for cakes, and bangers that just make a pop when thrown at the ground. 

Klasse 2 are the kind of fireworks you are likely to be setting off in your backyard this New Year's Eve and you must be an adult and show ID to buy them. According to German law, Klasse 2 fireworks should not be launched in the immediate vicinity of hospitals, churches or old people's homes. Apart from around these locations, you're free to set off as many Klasse 2 fireworks as you'd like on December 31st. The rest of the year you will need to get a permit first before staging your own pyrotechnic display.

Klasse 3 are display fireworks meaning they are a little bigger, brighter and louder than what you'll find on sale in the supermarket. While it would be fun to have these at your Silvester party, they can only be bought by people with an official § 7 or §27 SprengG license which you can apply for at your local occupational health and safety office.

Klasse 4 are professional grade fireworks and can contain an unlimited amount of explosives. Only professional pyro technicians can get their hands on these and for good reason, as they are definitely not something you want being set off on your patio. 

Photo: DPA

A huge number of department stores and supermarkets sell fireworks between the 29th and 31st of December each year.

The Zoll, the German department for customs and imports, recommends that you buy your fireworks from a store rather than any kind of street vendor or the internet as store-bought fireworks are tested and must follow specific safety standards.

All fireworks sold in Germany should be in line with legal requirements but sometimes unofficial vendors manage to get their hands on illegally imported fireworks, which may not be up to standard. If you're unsure it's best to check that the box is labeled either Klasse 2 or Klasse 1 and has the word 'BAM' followed by a number.

Fireworks and New Year's Eve go hand in hand but unfortunately this tradition comes with some less positive consequences. As well as the huge number of burns which people incur every year, fireworks also release large amounts of pollutants into the air which are harmful to the environment and can cause respiratory and circulatory problems.

Last year after Silvester celebrations were over, a spike in pollution levels in Germany was detected, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

Photo: DPA

Firework displays ejected 4,000 tonnes of particulates into the atmosphere which is equivalent to 15% of the yearly vehicle particulate emissions in the country.

Levels of pollution in the air around Germany were up to 26 times higher than the EU's recommended amount. The worst reading came from the centre of Munich where levels of particulates reached 1,346 micrograms per cubic metre of air, compared to the recommended 50 micrograms.

While it is undeniably a lot of fun to be the one launching the rockets, a more environmentally conscious alternative could be to head to a professional display instead.

Think of it as the firework equivalent to travelling by train instead of by car - it's comparatively better for the planet and you don't have to worry about causing an accident if you're not paying attention - so you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. 

A Silvester party at Brandenburg Gate. Photo: DPA

Berlin is the place to be on New Year's Eve if you're looking for a spectacle. The city is often featured on top 10 Silvester celebration lists and the Brandenburg Gate hosts the biggest street party in Europe on the 31st, complete with DJ's, food stalls, rides and of course an incredible firework display at midnight.

In Frankfurt, a great place to stand at midnight is on the banks of the river, where you can have a wonderful view of the fireworks being set off all over the city and reflecting in the water. 

A cruise in Hamburg is a fun way to spend the last day of the year. As well as enjoying a buffet and on-board music, you'll have a totally clear view of the fireworks from out on the water.

Wherever you are in Munich at midnight on the 31st, you are sure to see a lot of fireworks as the official displays in the city are accompanied by a lot of people setting off their own in the streets.

You could even head up to the North Sea to welcome in 2018 at one of the many beach parties, such as at St Peter-Ording which hosts a yearly party on the promenade, and watch the fireworks at midnight with nothing but the ocean in the background.

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