Celebrating the New Year, German-Style

Does the “same procedure as every year” accurately describe your annual party? Perhaps you should try adding a little German flair to your New Year’s Eve, or Silvester, as its known in Germany. This means an obscure British comedy sketch called Dinner for One, jelly donuts, “fiery” drinks, and fireworks—lots of them—could be the highlights of your party this year.

A scene from "Dinner for One" © picture-alliance/ dpa Enlarge image Butler James, portrayed by Freddie Frinton, constantly trips over the tiger’s head in the sketch “Dinner for One.” (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Considered to hold the title of most frequently repeated TV show ever, Dinner for One, which is also known as The 90th Birthday, has been a popular New Year’s Eve tradition in Germany since 1972. While set in England and performed in the English language, it was actually filmed in Germany in 1963. It portrays the birthday dinner of 90-year-old Miss Sophie, who seems unaware that her butler, James, is playing the parts of all the other dinner guests. Cherished for its impish, slapstick humor, the show has attained cult status in Germany, and its catchphrase “same procedure as every year” lives on. Nevertheless, it has remained relatively unknown to native English speakers in the UK or US. (Click the link in the right-hand column to watch it online.)

Feuerzangenbowle © picture-alliance / dpa / Stockfood Enlarge image Feuerzangenbowle is a hot punch composed of mulled red wine with carmelized sugar that has been flambéed with rum. (© picture-alliance / dpa / Stockfood) Among the many drinks which may be consumed on New Year’s Eve, there’s one that is the star of the party: Feuerzangenbowle. This hot “fire tongs” punch takes the wintertime treat Glühwein, or hot mulled wine, and turns it into an event. Dry red wine is warmed with cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel. Then a large, conical piece of sugar that has been soaked in rum is placed in a holder above the wine and lit with a match. The sugar proceeds to caramelize and melt into the hot mulled wine, creating a drink which is as much fun to watch as it is to drink. The toast at midnight is still traditionally done, however, with a glass of sparkling wine, which is called Sekt in Germany.

Fireworks in Cologne © picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb Enlarge image The famous Cologne Cathedral is partially hidden by the New Year's fireworks during this celebration. (© picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb) As many Germans living abroad will readily attest, the loud cracks and booms of thousands of simultaneous fireworks are dearly missed at the stroke of midnight in the US. The tradition of welcoming the New Year and driving away evil spirits with the help of loud pyrotechnics is not unique to Germany. However, unlike the city-sponsored firework displays that many are accustomed to in the US, it seems that every man, woman, and child takes to the streets or the rooftops of the cities in Germany to contribute to the cacophony of sound and the showers of light. 

Once the midnight bells have tolled and all the fireworks have all been set off, it’s time to bring out the jelly donuts. This donut is often called a Berliner outside of Berlin, because it is said they were created there in late 18th century. People in Berlin simply call them Pfannkuchen (pancakes). Whatever the name, beware of reckless consumption, because each donut may contain a practical joke – mustard in place of jam – which some say will bring bad luck. Should this happen, you may want to buy a few more marzipan pigs or a four-leaved clover, since these are said to bring good luck. 

Figures from "Bleigießen" © picture-alliance / ZB Enlarge image Strange figures emerge after the molten lead is poured into cold water. Their interpretations vary greatly, too. (© picture-alliance / ZB) Some Germans also enjoy a bit of fortune telling amusement with Bleigießen (lead pouring). To do this, one melts a small amount of lead over a little flame and then pours the molten metal into cold water. The metal hardens, and the shape that emerges can then be interpreted with the help of a book to determine what the year ahead holds in store. Fortune cookies are another popular alternative.

After so much late-night fun, one looks forward to a hearty meal on the first evening of the New Year. There are many superstitions surrounding what should or shouldn’t be eaten. Poultry, according to some traditions, shouldn’t be eaten on New Year’s Day because the bird might cause your good luck to fly away. Many in the areas around the Rhine, however, look forward to their annual New Year’s goose. Other traditional meals may include fish such as carp or pickled herring. Keeping a scale from the carp in your wallet, says one legend, will ensure that you won’t run out of money during the year to come.

Lastly, in case you're wondering, the tradition of thinking up a few New Year's resolutions is also commonplace in Germany, but luckily one doesn't have to follow these until January 1.

Frohes Neues Jahr!  Happy New Year!

© Germany.info

New Year's Traditions

Fireworks over the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin