In Germany, New Year’s Eve is called Silvester. It's a huge event with special foods, public and private fireworks all over the place, a lot of Sekt (champagne) and assorted alcohol inside and on the street, and some traditions very particular to Germany. As a cult thing for many, the evening traditionally starts with https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn9vPG8s4ss - an obscure, old 1963 sketch that somehow became a German tradition for Silvester night. (Possibly even more fun with some alcohol already in your system . :D)
Many German New Year’s traditions can be traced back to the pagan Rauhnächte practices of heathen Germanic tribes, which took place in late December and early January. Instead of recognizing a single day as the winter solstice, the tribes observed 12 Rauhnächte. Bringing very little sun to the northern regions, these 12 nights were considered days outside of time, when the solar and lunar years were allowed to re-synchronise. Silvester took place right in the middle of it and was the night of the god Wotan’s wild hunt, a time of particular commotion and celebration.
Germany celebrates Silvester with fireworks, champagne, and boisterous social gatherings. Making noise is key - music, fireworks, firecrackers, drums, whip-cracking, and banging kitchen utensils has been driving away evil spirits since the days of the old Teutons. One of the most famous German firework displays happens in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate. Private celebrations and house parties with all kinds of fireworks in the streets and gardens are also common. Since this happens everywhere and there’s a party mood and public drinking all around, some foreign visitors describe Germany on New Year’s Eve as a war zone… ;) On the flip side, when we travel elsewhere where Silvester isn’t as happening as in Germany, we usually wonder why there’s no one partying and shooting off fireworks in the streets. The Rauhnächte were also a time when the future for the New Year could be divined. Silvester in Germany still calls for oracles in the form of party games. Another current tradition involves Krapfen (jelly-filled freshly baked donuts), cake, and champagne at midnight. Parties often last to the daylight hours. For good luck in the new year, acquaintances may give good luck charms to each other in the form of ladybugs, four-leafed clovers, horseshoes, and marzipan pigs.
So Guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr to all and have fun tonight! :)
Two years ago, at the Brandenburg Gate and all around the neighborhood, Berlin was celebrating. Festival foods, Glühwein, music, videos of the city’s history, people whistling “Wind of Change,” and – the highlight of it all – a wall of lights. It was the 25th anniversary of the Mauerfall.
Once upon a time, this country’s citizens, suffering deeply, decided to point the finger of blame at people on welfare, people suffering from addiction or disabilities, liberals, gay men, academics, promiscuous women, racial minorities, and non-Christians – all accused of “ruining” their country. That kind of bigotry literally tore their country in two. Hence, a wall, blocking them off from each other. A self-begotten purgatory, the legacy of their choices.
For catharsis, I went to the Brandenburg Gate tonight, seeking at least some semblance of the celebrations of 2014. Festivities in honor of unity. Healing. Brotherhood. The ultimate victory of love.
There was none of that though. Instead, for reasons no one seemed to know, the bank adjoining the U.S. Embassy was lit up in red – not its typical color, but fitting. Meanwhile, the accoutrements of peaceful protest sat in front of the embassy. Candles, posters, flowers. One deeply disheartened American even discarded his old passport on the ground here earlier today; it was gone by the time I arrived. Americans, Germans, a Canadian, and a Brit stood around, expressing confusion and shock. Just a few paces away, a street violinist (unaffiliated) played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” only heightening the sense of the surreal.
Nobody was confrontational. No sense of danger, no one in riot gear, just respect and good faith in everyone’s mutual civility, despite the political disenchantment. The beauty of a truly democratic society.
Tonight’s peaceful protest on the streets of Berlin was significant for another reason too. Decades ago, on this very night, all across Germany, there was violent mass rioting, motivated by xenophobia (Kristallnacht). Then, decades later, on the same date, the Berlin Wall started coming down. Germany wrecked itself with hate, suffered its own poisons… but then it healed. It took decades, but it healed.
I’m not sure what the road ahead looks like for America. But I have faith that America will heal too.
“Zu Fasching und Silvester dürfen sie keinesfalls fehlen: Krapfen, mancherorts auch »Berliner« genannt. Klassisch werden sie mit Marillenmarmelade gefüllt und mit Puderzucker bestäubt. Inzwischen gibt es unzählige Varianten mit allen Arten von Cremes und Glasuren. Krapfen selbst zu machen ist nicht schwer. Man muss nur die Temperatur des Öls im Griff haben, dann erhält man wunderbar aromatische Krapfen. Da die Frage immer wieder auftaucht: Den Rum kann man natürlich auch weglassen. Er bringt eine kleine raffinierte Note hinein, ist aber für das grundsätzliche Gelingen unwichtig. Viel Spaß beim Zusehen und »Guten Appetit«!”