New Year’s Eve in Berlin can be quite frightening for Western tourists who were brought up with the history channel. For them the city was the scene of a bloody battle and brutal day and night bombing campaign. Nowadays at this time of year the din begins a few days before and through the 30th and 31st distressingly loud fireworks blare through the German capital giving the visitor a good taste of what the city might have sounded like in the last days of the war. Fireworks are an integral part of the festivities and come midnight the whole city erupts in explosions of color. As a biker I found it quite disconcerting to be riding through the streets having drunk teens use me as a moving target for their bottle rockets and roman candles. But once one gets their feet on the ground New Year’s Eve (or Silvester as the Germans know it) can be quite a thrilling experience.
The main pyrotechnic exhibition is at midnight in Paris Square with its iconic emblem, the Brandenburg Gate. The party stretches down the 17th of June, the broad boulevard leading through the park all the way down to the victory column. This is the German equivalent of Times Square so if this is where you want to ring in the New Year be prepared to be packed in with thousands of other drunk, jubilant party-goers. The best place to go to see the fireworks though is on a roof in the city center. Of course this requires one to either have a hotel, hostel or club with roof access, or get an invitation to a private party. The real celebrations however don’t start until well after the fireworks have died down.
Berlin is a clubbers paradise any time of the year and on New Year’s Eve even more so as hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to the city for one night of unbridled debauchery. Of course this being the party night of the year you will be forced to pay a very un-Berlin like cover charge starting at around 20 Euros to take part in the night’s activities. One famous club which opens up its rooftop penthouse for the occasion is Weekend at Alexanderplatz. This is a great place to enjoy the fireworks. One of the craziest parties of the night is in a club called Deep located on Prenzlauer Allee 242-246 but expect a long line and cover charge. To avoid the line try showing up before midnight. A more complete list of Berlin nightlife can be found here.
In general however the entire city seems to bundle up and come out for a city wide street party. What I personally enjoy is loading up a backpack with fireworks and booze and wandering around the city enjoying all the different neighborhood scenes. One of my favorite places to end up is Mauerpark. Many of the Prenzlauerberg locals come out to the park for end of the year fun and the bars en masse on Oderberger Str and Kastanien Allee ensure there are good times to be had for all.
Another good place to be is on Oranienburger Str and Hackesche Markt. Here you will find a great pub mile and ladies of the night chatting up the party-goers plying their enticing wares. This area is a bit touristy but on this night pretty much everywhere will be full of drunker revelers from out of town. If you are looking for something a bit more authentic then the area around the Oberbaum Brucke on the boarders of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg is the place to be. A little further to the north is another bar mile called Simon-Dach Str and Boxhagener Platz which are always fun if you don’t mind the punks.
Other than the all-night parties and the fireworks there are a few Berlin traditions one should be aware of.
The first is the Pfannkuchen, which is essentially a jelly filled doughnut. These are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve, perhaps to prevent the equally traditional New Year’s Day hangover. In the rest of Germany the Pfannkuchen is known as a Berliner. Hence the misunderstanding in JFK’s famous 1963 speech in which he proclaimed “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
The other must do is a long running British comedy called “Dinner for one”. All Germans know and love this 20 minute comedy skit from the 1960’s in which an elderly aristocratic lady celebrates New Years alone with her butler. Due to her senility she is under the impression she has guests when in fact the butler is polishing off the drinks set up for her long departed friends. Hilarity ensues as he gets drunker and drunker while attempting to serve the lady of the house.
Lastly, this being Europe the New Year’s Eve smooch-a-stranger tradition is also something to look forward to at midnight. I wish each and every one of you an amazing time in the German capital and please remember you are all ambassadors of your respective countries. As your inhibitions leave you I beseech you to maintain some sense of decorum. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t do it at home then don’t do it on vacation!
Be safe and have a great 2012!