Every time I think I understand Germany, the Germans, and the German mindset, something comes along that makes me re-think everything. Like New Year's Eve. Generally, I'd peg Germans as good rule followers and rule enforcers. Case in point, a co-worker said it is against the rules for you to take your child out of school for a vacation, etc. when you feel like it. In fact, she said that during the days preceding the winter break, they have officials in the airports, etc. to make sure you aren't taking your kid out early to beat the crowds on the ski slopes, and there's a fine if you are caught. Not having children, I can't vouch for the accuracy of that, but still, it illustrates my point. There are the things that are "supposed" to happen, and there are methods to enforce conformity.
So, why were we dashing through the streets of Frankfurt fearing for our hearing and our skin and hair? Because the rules for New Year's Eve are a bit different than the rules any other day.
OK, one short tangent: I need to point out, it is called Silvester here in honor of the saint whose day is celebrated on December 31, St. Sylvester. He was a pope a really long time ago, and I think it's just coincidence that his day is associated with New Year's Eve. In any case, the major way to celebrate Silvester is to make things explode, largely in the form of fireworks and firecrackers. A quick perusal of the interweb suggests that this originates from an ancient custom of making lots of noise to scare away spirits/devils/winter personified as a spirit or devil. Personally, I think it's just an excuse to free the pyromaniac hiding in the heart of each rule-abiding German.
Starting on the 28 or so of December, fireworks legally become available in many stores, and are only allowed to be fired on Silvester (German rules in force again), although a few naughty souls set off a few firecrackers a day or two preceding the 31. Then, on the 31st, the noise grows steadily through the day.
On Silvester, my parents, Sasha and I went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant in one of the nice shopping districts in Frankfurt. It was a long, lingering sort of meal (the custom in both Germany and Italy, I gather) and it was 11pm or so when we left the restaurant. As we headed into the streets, everywhere we looked, people were shooting off explosives of some sort, but we dodged them all and headed for the river, since we'd heard that the fireworks down by the river are great.
Now, I love the 4th of July in Boston, watching an awesome, professional fireworks display from the banks of the Charles. I have to admit, that's what I was expecting. Fear not, my expectations changed very quickly as virtually all of the other revelers streaming towards the river were thus equipped: under one arm, they had a big bunch of fireworks, and in the other hand, a bottle of champagne (good thing most people have 2 arms...I think they'd have a hard time deciding between the two). We reached the river at 11:30 or so, and there were already fireworks going off all over the place. And judging by some of the angles on those fireworks, I think the people launching the fireworks were well into their adult beverages, too.
Now first, I know that fireworks are nothing like mortars and rockets and such used in wars, but it still is pretty terrifying hearing explosion after explosion, and never knowing exactly where the next one is coming from (or headed to). Second, I grew up in MN where fireworks are illegal, and are only smuggled in from Wisconsin in small quantities, so I've never seen so many personal fireworks.
Needless to say, after a very short time, we decided to make a beeline for our hotel, and then creep back out to hover near some very sturdy pillars on some fancy building near our hotel... To be honest, it was hard to tell when midnight hit...we watched our watches, but by that time, the fireworks were near continuous as far as we could see the length of the river, and it continued at nearly that intensity for an hour, and then only slightly less intensely until at least 2 in the morning. After a few near misses on the porch of that fancy building, we retreated inside to watch out of our hotel window (until someone decided to launch fireworks in the street right outside our window).
|These people were a block down the road from our hotel and seemed quite good. AND they put up a few cones to divert traffic, while launching from the middle of the street...|
Now, where were the police in all this chaos? We saw them visibly all around the city, but it seems like their orders were just to help traffic resume afterwards and help deal with the casualties. A previous google search suggested that something like 500 people are brought to the ER each Silvester for burn injuries of varying severity, and I expect the numbers for Frankfurt are relatively high, too.
We slept in and joined my parents for breakfast in the morning, and then went with them to the airport to say goodbye. It was clear that almost everyone there, from the rental car workers to the airline representatives at the baggage counter, had partied until around 3am then headed right to work. At least 2 of them admitted as much. Thankfully, the pilots clearly weren't native Frankfurters, because my parents made it safely home.
Well, I can't say I want to spend Silvester in Frankfurt again, but I am glad I did it once, and I am very glad that none of my family will be bearing any scars to prove it.
And I hope that 2013 started auspiciously for you all, and that you too escaped without any serious burns.