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The rules around setting off fireworks in Germany this New Year's Eve

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
The rules around setting off fireworks in Germany this New Year's Eve
Burnt-out fireworks lie on the street in Hanover the morning after Silvester. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Clemens Heidrich

Though it may seem like anarchy reigns in Germany on New Year's Eve, there are some rules to follow when it comes to buying and setting off fireworks - and some pyrotechnic-free zones for those who want to escape them.

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There's nothing quite like Germany on New Year's Eve. Ever year, the country normally known for its love of rules descends into chaos and carnage, with teenagers and other revellers letting off firecrackers in the streets from the early evening until late into the night.

Despite calls for an outright ban on private firework sales, the tradition of firing rockets into the air on the 31st has proved remarkably resilient - and this year the fireworks are back in the shops as usual.

If you'd like to contribute to some of the pandemonium on Sunday, there are some rules you'll need to follow if you want to avoid hefty fines. And if you simply want to know where you can go to escape the mayhem, we've got you covered as well. 

Here's the lowdown on how to stay safe and on the right side of the law this New Year's Eve. 

When and where can I buy fireworks?

Every year in the run-up to New Year's Eve, Germany permits a three-day window in which people can stock up on their arsenal of explosives. 

This normally runs from the 29th to the 31st, but since the 31st falls on a Sunday this year, firework sales started a day early on Thursday. 

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Pretty much every major supermarket and discounter in Germany stocks fireworks at this time of year, so one of the easiest ways to get them is to head to your nearest Kaufland, Lidl, Netto or Rewe, for example.

READ ALSO: Germany kicks off firework sales as ban debate rages

You can also find fireworks in hardware stores like Hellweg, pharmacies like Müller and in general retailers like Mäc-Geiz, Wollworths, Tedi and Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof. 

However, thanks to the limited sales times fireworks do tend to go quickly, so be sure to get out to the shops as soon as possible if you're set on getting some rockets. 

What types of fireworks can I buy? 

If you want to buy fireworks for private use, it's good to understanding the rating system. In Germany, pyrotechnics are graded in numbers from F1 to F4, with F1 representing the smallest and least dangerous fireworks and F4 representing huge fireworks that require special training in pyrotechnics to set off.

Fireworks on sale in Berlin

Fireworks are on display at a small independent shop in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

If you're over the age of 18, you can buy up to category F2 in the run-up to New Year's Eve. These are described as "fireworks that pose a low risk, have a low noise level and are intended for use in demarcated outdoor areas". In other words, F2 covers small and relatively safe fireworks and rockets. 

Anyone over the age of 12 can purchase the "fireworks" in the F1 category, since this includes things like sparklers and firecrackers. Only people with a state permit or special training are allowed to use categories F3 and F4. 

READ ALSO: Do Germans want a complete ban on New Year's Eve fireworks?

When and where can I set them off? 

Though F2-category fireworks go on sale in the run-up to Silvester, you aren't allowed to use them until the 31st - and even then, not until the sun goes down.

In Berlin and other major cities, you may hear the odd firework set off on Friday and Saturday, but anyone doing this is probably breaking the law. If you don't want a fine or an unpleasant visit from the police, restrict your pyrotechnics to between 8pm on Sunday the 31st and 7am on Monday, January 1st.

Fireworks Brandenburg Gate Silvester

Fireworks are set off near Berlin Brandenburg Gate on New Year's Eve. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

As a general rule, pyrotechnics may not be set off in the immediate vicinity of churches, hospitals, children's and old people's homes or near thatched and half-timbered houses. Many cities also ban fireworks at big public gatherings such as the Silvester party near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and also in certain demarcated 'prohibited areas' or Verbotzonen around the city. 

Are there places to avoid the fireworks?

Yes! As mentioned, most German cities will have parts of the town that are demarcated as firework-free zones on New Year's eve.

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In Berlin, a ban on fireworks has been put in place at Alexanderplatz, along Neukölln's Sonnenallee and parts of the surrounding streets and in Steinmetzkiez in Schöneberg. 

In Hamburg, setting off fireworks around the Binnenalster is banned, as well as along Jungfernstieg, Neuer Jungfernstieg, Lombardsbrücke, Ballindamm and Reesendamm and at the Rathausmarkt.

In Munich, fireworks are banned in much of the Old Town between 9pm and 2pm during Silvester, with the prohibition zone running from Marianplatz to the Strachus and also incorporating the Viktualienmarkt. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Böller

Sign for a firework-free zone

A sign demarcates a firework-free zone in Reutlingen, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

In Augsburg and Regensburg, the historic city centres are also off-limits to pyrotechnic fans, while in Nuremberg there is a strict ban around the Burg and glass bottles are also prohibited. 

In Mainz's Altstadt and in Trier's Hauptmarkt district, prohibition zones will be set up as in previous years. 

In Baden-Württemberg, there are also local firework bans this year in Stuttgart, Tübingen, Reutlingen and Constance. In the state capital, a ban on fireworks is planned within the city centre ring road.

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Due to the large number of people who gather there on New Year's Eve, fireworks will be prohibited on the Iron Bridge in Frankfurt am Main

For the first time in Cologne, there will be a large area in the city centre on the left bank of the Rhine where fireworks will not be allowed this year. Anyone caught setting off firecrackers here could face a €200 fine, while setting off fireworks could result in fines of up to €50,000. 

If you really want to get away from it all, parts of the northern coast and many of the North Sea islands ban fireworks entirely to protect the historic houses with thatched roofs. And in the Harz national park, you can even find a 250 kilometre firework-free zone: the perfect place to take any jittery pets to see in the new year in blissful calm. 

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