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GERMAN TRADITIONS

Why do Germans love shooting fireworks at New Year?

Many countries celebrate the start of the new year with a firework display. But Germany takes things to another level, igniting Böller on streets and in parks in a display of anarchy otherwise unknown in the country. Where does this tradition come from?

Fireworks above Berlin on January 1st 2020.
Fireworks above Berlin on January 1st 2020. Photo: dpa | Paul Zinken

It is a celebration that strikes many people as particularly un-German.

A nation famed for its sense of control and the high value it places on public order goes wild for one night of the year in a display of anarchy that can be intimidating to people who experience it for the first time.

In towns and cities across the country, Germans take to the streets as the clocks strike twelve and fire rockets into the skies, light Catherine wheels, or thrown firecrackers at one another’s feet.

In cities such as Berlin and Munich the emergency services have their work cut out as fireworks strike people on the head causing injury, or a firecracker is set off too close to a crowd.

Due to the Covid pandemic, the sale of fireworks has been banned for a second year in a row as politicians try to temper the excesses of the celebrations. But in most cities you’re still likely to see some hardcore pyrotechnic fanatics letting off a rocket or five. 

Where does this tradition come from?

Despite appearances, the tradition is actually very German – it dates back to the pagan era and attempts by Germanic tribes to ward off evil spirits during the darkest days of the year.

Germanic tribes believed that Wotan, their god of war, stalked through their communities during the darkest days of the year bringing bad luck. To ward him off, they would light wooden wheels and roll them down their streets.

By the time that January 1st was set as the official start of the new year when the Gregorian Calendar came into use in 1582 the Christianized people of Germany still followed the pagan tradition of warding off Wotan with loud noise, the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper writes.

In the middle ages, people struck pots and pans to make a racket. But when fireworks arrived in Europe from the far east, wealthier Germans started to set them off in their courtyards during the Silvester celebrations.

By the beginning of the twentieth century fireworks had become available for people to buy for their own private Silvester parties, according to news website T-online.

The popularity has increased steadily since. In recent years Germans have spent up to €140 million on the pyrotechnics, which can only legally be sold on the last three working days of the year.

READ MORE: 10 ways to celebrate this New Year’s Eve like a German

Vocabulary

Firecracker – der Böller

Firework – der Feuerwerkskörper

to bang/crack – knallen

New Year’s Eve – Silvester

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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GERMAN TRADITIONS

IN PICTURES: Tens of thousands of people flock to Cologne for carnival launch

Carnival kicked off in Germany on Friday, with tens of thousands celebrating in Cologne, while other Karneval strongholds also held events.

IN PICTURES: Tens of thousands of people flock to Cologne for carnival launch

Countless Jecken (revellers) gathered in the parts of Germany that celebrate Karneval – known as the fifth season – on November 11th.

The event starts every year on this date at 11:11 am, and stretches into February or March, when colourful parades spill into the streets.

Cologne always holds a large celebration on this date, with people pouring into its Altstadt (old town).

Revellers in Cologne, as shown in the photos, get ready for carnival season by getting dressed up in various outfits. 

Cologne

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Banneyer

A carnival enthusiast, below, waves to the camera in Cologne. 

A carnival enthusiast

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

Events were taking place throughout Cologne, including in the Heumarkt. There was set to be a stage programme all day with bands including the Bläck Fööss, the Paveiern and Brings. 

READ ALSO: 10 unmissable events in Germany this November

Cologne

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd
 
Cologne’s Kölsch beer was being sold in some areas. People are known to start drinking alcohol early on in the day. 

Beers lined up

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd
 

Below is a view of Zülpicher Strasse in Cologne on Friday morning before carnival kicked off. 

Cologne
Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Banneyer

It’s not just Cologne that’s celebrating the start of the “fifth season”. Other areas – including Mainz and Bonn as mentioned in the tweets below – are also marking the occasion.

Another carnival stronghold – Düsseldorf – also marked the start of carnival season.

The Düsseldorf carnival figure Hoppeditz, below, awakens from his sleep at 11:11am, marking the start of carnival. The motto of the 2022 carnival season is: “Düsseldorf Helau – we celebrate life”.

Düsseldorf

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Strauch

Don’t forget to listen to The Local Germany’s in Focus podcast to hear more about carnival season, as well as German news and other traditions. 

People wear outlandish outfits – with lots of colour involved – like these dudes shown below outside Cologne cathedral.

Revellers in Cologne
Photo; picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

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