Hey, remember Thunder over Louisville?

If you’re not from Louisville, you probably don’t. It’s the biggest fireworks display (slash airshow) in the country. Louisvillians are always eager to tell visitors how famous it is, despite the very fact that no one from outside the general Kentucky/Louisville area seems to have ever heard of it. Still, it’s endearing to watch how earnestly they talk about it.

New Year’s Eve in Berlin is like Thunder over Louisville, if Thunder were managed by a group of 17-year-old boys and allotted a budget equivalent to the GDP of Andorra.

You see, there don’t appear to be any laws here governing the use of, you know, explosives, or if there are, the cops gave up long ago. And since Germans are an independent sort of people, they don’t organize block parties or anything like that. It’s just a free-for-all. If you want fireworks, you buy them, and you set them off wherever you want, even though two yards away on either side is another group of people setting off their own ones.

I had been quite happy with my plan to stay home and watch others’ hooliganism, but then Sarah and Nina both wrote me and invited me to their little party for raclette (again). That stuff is delicious, so off I went. When I stepped outside, visibility was about half what it normally would be due to firecracker smoke. Someone was throwing firecrackers out their apartment window above the bus stop, so I had to wait across the street until the bus came. Firecrackers were thrown at the bus on the way, and once I finally got onto a train, people standing on the bridges would drop firecrackers onto the tops of the trains.

I hate fireworks.

When I got to Marc and Sarah’s, we had a great time–my classmate Zander (the reason I know all these people) had recently returned from a visit home laden with maple syrup and Canadian whisky to share. Their plan had originally been to go up to the north of the city to this tower on a hill to have a good view of all the fireworks. Sarah and Marc wussed out (they’re both sick, and it was rainy), and I still was hoping to be in bed by then, so after dinner Nina and Zander set off alone and in a huff. I tried to leave with them, until Sarah pointed out that between 11 and 1 AM on New Year’s  it’s really not safe to be on the streets of Neukölln (If you’re wondering why, see the video I posted yesterday). So we watched the movie Clue until I checked my phone by chance and saw that it was 11:58. By the time I told them and Marc managed to turn off the movie and put on the German equivalent of the ball drop (the Brandenburger Tor, which is a very dangerous place to be on NYE), it was 23:59:57. So I guess you could say I saved the day. 🙂

At midnight, all hell broke loose. The bell tower next to the apartment started ringing, and thousands of fireworks going off at once made the cloudy sky glow red.

Since Marc and Sarah live on the top floor, we went up to the roof to watch for a bit, and then we came down and watched the stereotypical German New Year’s movie, Dinner for One. It’s a short British film about a butler who gets drunk and loses his motor control. It’s apparently very funny if you’re British or German or a laugh track.

Upon leaving Marc and Sarah’s, I learned that what is beautiful from the roof of an apartment looks like a war zone from below. Outside every building were several groups of people, each setting off fireworks with no coordination or notice of passersby whatsoever. As a result, it was almost impossible to get to the station. One firecracker got (accidentally, I’m sure) thrown at me, after which I yelled some things and walked the rest of the way in the middle of the road.

While I was waiting at the station, every few minutes you’d hear a firework that had hit something to act as a soundboard (presumably a building), and the crash would resonate throughout the city.

I left the station and wandered into a chaos of backwards-driving cars and firecrackers being thrown into the street, but was pleasantly surprised to find that my street itself had gone fairly quiet, and I only had to cross the road once. The bus station had been blown up, and the stray groups of revelers who were still emptying their arsenals, surrounded by debris and a glowing haze of smoke, looked more like the subjects of an Al-Jazeera photojournalist than like my neighbors.

Now the sky is bright blue, and the city is probably both deserted and destroyed, so I’m off to enjoy it.

Happy 2015!

PS. I looked up that video posted yesterday…it is my street after all.

***EDIT*** The city is not deserted. Walk ended early after a group of 7-year-olds nearly blew up a car I was walking past. Who invented this holiday, anyway?