‘What’s happening on Berlin streets can’t be tolerated’: Politicians float New Year’s Eve fireworks ban

It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that New Years Eve in the German capital - with fireworks flying vertically and horizontally all across the city - resembles a war zone. Berlin’s ruling coalition, fed up with widespread injuries and attacks on emergency services, have forecast a limit or even a ban to fireworks in the city. But would such a move be effective?

'What’s happening on Berlin streets can't be tolerated': Politicians float New Year's Eve fireworks ban

Anyone who has spent time on the streets of Berlin for New Year's Eve would be familiar with the sight, sound – and smell – of fireworks. For one long evening, fire lights up the skies over Berlin as the Hauptstadt rings in the new year. 

But for police, emergency services and plenty of residents and visitors to the city, the evening is not one of celebration. As reported by the Tagespiegel, the 2017-18 New Year's Eve resulted in over 3000 emergency calls as irresponsible use of fireworks caused injuries across the city. One 13-year-old boy lost his eye, while another man lost three fingers. One hospital in Marzahn, on the city’s outskirts, admitted 21 fireworks victims.  

The evening is also a dangerous one for law enforcement and emergency services. In total police were deployed 1732 times last New Year's Eve and were frequently targeted by rockets and fireworks. In total, 57 attacks on police and emergency services vehicles were recorded. 

As a result, Berlin’s ruling coalition has sought to limit the use and sale of fireworks – although with fireworks being regulated at the federal level under the Explosives Act, their efforts may be limited. 

Currently fireworks may only legally be sold in the three days leading up to and including New Year's Eve. The proposal suggest limiting this to just December 30th-31st. Under the Act, the sale of fireworks on private property cannot be restricted, meaning vendors would have to sign up on a voluntary basis. 

Their plan also includes a ban on ‘loud fireworks’ along with a restriction on the use of pyrotechnics in certain areas of the city. The restrictions proposed so far stop short of completely banning fireworks, but Die Linke’s Hakan Tas suggests that this is a “first step” in that direction. 

Deputy Social Democratic (SPD) chairman Jörg Stroedter said that Berlin’s New Year's Eve celebrations in their current state “can no longer be tolerated”. 

Regina Kneiding, a spokeswoman for the Berlin senate, said that while fireworks are federally regulated, Berlin's existing restrictions on firework usage go beyond German legal requirements. 

While German law allows the use of fireworks only for the 48 hours surrounding New Year's Eve, in Berlin firecrackers may only be used from 6pm on New Year's Eve to 7am on New Years Day. 

Given that it is up to German municipalities to decide whether or not to ban fireworks, bans in specific streets, squares or places may be difficult to enforce. 

Kneiding told The Local “if rules were to come in to allow fireworks only in certain places, authorities would need to justify why their use isn’t allowed elsewhere”.

“The federal government leaves it to the municipalities to ban fireworks completely. Therefore to ban fireworks in specific districts it would be necessary to convince each district to get on board.”  

“Fireworks are already banned nationwide near churches, hospitals, children’s homes, retirement homes, timber houses and areas with large crowds such as those around the Brandenburg Gate.”

“It’s up to politicians to put in further restrictions.”

The proposed meeting between the coalition members will take place too late to influence this year’s celebrations, but may come into effect in 2019. 

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.