New Year's Morning in Berlin
‘This is the best New Year’s ever!’ enthused ‘Buffi’ Knabe, pushing his broom along the Straße des 17. Juni, a damp dawn breaking behind him and the Brandenburg Gate. ‘I’m so happy that I could dance,’ he added, performing an impromptu jig with his broom’s handle.
‘Because of the “Silvester in Berlin” party?’ I asked. Over one million revellers had descended on the Straße des 17. Juni to eat, drink, ride the Giant Ferris Wheel and dance away 2011.
‘No,’ replied ‘Buffi’, the easyjet orange of his BSR overalls luminescent in the dull morning light.
‘Because of the music?’ I asked. On the Brandenburg Gate stage Kim Wilde had performed along with the Scorpions, Cassandra Steel, Frida Gold and a dozen other pop acts.
Again he shook his head. ‘No,’ repeated ‘Buffi’, now anxious to get on with his work.
‘Then because of the fireworks display?’ I suggested.
‘No,’ answered ‘Buffi’. ‘This is the best New Years’ because there’s no snow. We’ll be through our work in half the usual time, and then I can put my feet up and have my own party.’
Berlin – like most of Germany – becomes unhinged on New Years’ Eve. Thousands of tons of kaleidoscopic pyrotechnics ignite in the night sky. Thick clouds of smoke waft across the blazing squares. Sparklers sparkle. Sonnenvogel sunflowers spin above pavements. Local people line the canals to launch Jolly Joker rockets at the opposite bank (especially along the Landwehrkanal between rival Kreuzberg and Neukölln). Teenagers – who are polite and considerate during the rest of the year – shower cherry bombs at passing taxis. In Friedrichshain kids lob Superböller bangers under moving buses. In Wilmersdorf sober fathers hold their toddlers in one hand while firing from the other roaring Devil’s Delight Roman candles into the sky. The noise is deafening, and the resulting mess is dreadful to behold – especially when there’s snow.
But this winter Berlin is yet to see snow. So instead of gunpowder-blazed drifts and firecracker-stained ice pools, this year’s spent fireworks lie ready to be swept up by ‘Buffi’ and his mates from the Berliner Stadtreinigungsbetriebe. Within thirty-six hours the gangs of street sweepers will clean central Tiergarten and Mitte, then branch out into the residential streets, working in teams of eight or ten men (and the occasional woman).
‘This year we need to work quickly and finish before it snows,’ ‘Buffi’ told me, sweeping the smouldering Laser rockets and Uranus batteries into a huge pile. ‘So excuse me if I get on.’
I love Silvester in Berlin, despite the noise, mess and danger (the city’s emergency services received 1,500 calls over the night – more than 15 times last year’s number – but no serious incidents were reported). A kitchen psychologist might say that on New Years Eve the Germans unleash their pent-up frustration in a (mostly) harmless manner. Perhaps that’s true. Or maybe they simply know how to enjoy themselves and to let go for one kinetic night. Whatever the explanation, in Germany at midnight, with a deafening racket and roar, the nation marks the passing of another year, forgets about its worries and woes, and celebrates with joy the hopes of a new beginning. Hurra! Wir leben noch…