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Why many German cities become a fireworks hell on NYE

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 with New Year's Eve coming up.

Why many German cities become a fireworks hell on NYE
Ringing in 2017 in Ilmenau, Thuringa. Photo: DPA

Anyone who has spent 'Silvester' (New Year's Eve) in a German city will know that Germans love fireworks although recently, the issue of fireworks has been somewhat controversial, with some regions even considering a ban.

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.

This rings especially true in the capital, which many locals describe as a war zone come December 31st. Especially in the centre of the city, explosions ripple throughout the streets, which has led to several injuries in recent years and a ban on Böllern
(or firecrackers) in some zones.

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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.

READ ALSO: Hamburg to ban fireworks in city centre on New Year's Eve

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.

This year, since the 29th falls on a Sunday, the sale of fireworks will begin on Saturday 28th December.

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.

After Silvester celebrations end, there are reported spikes in pollution levels in Germany.

Photo: DPA

After celebrations in 2016, firework displays ejected 4,000 tonnes of particulates into the atmosphere which is equivalent to 15 percent 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.

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.

This article was updated in December 2019.

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LIVING IN GERMANY

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!

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