New Year in Berlin

First off, I hope that you had a good holiday and I wish you all the best for 2013.

I am not overly excited about Christmas, but I do think that a mid-Winter holiday is a good idea. I also like the forward-thinking attitude that most people take to New Year as well as looking back and taking stock. For me, 2012 was a great year that I will look back on fondly; for other people that I know, it is a year best forgotten. There is another reason why I like to celebrate New Year: my wife’s birthday is 2 January, which could easily get lost in the holiday celebrations. So, we usually like to do something special, which is normally a trip away. This year, we went to Berlin …

The origins of this trip were back in the early Summer. I was looking for a nice spa hotel, not too far from our home, for a trip to be part of a “special event“. I did find a suitable place, which was very nice. However, the search produced another surprising result [thanks Google]: an interesting looking spa hotel in Berlin. This was interesting for several reasons: it was very reasonably priced [spa hotels in the UK tend to be quite expensive], the Germans know how to do spas properly, and we have some friends in Berlin. It looked so good that we decided to have a short break there anyway, which we did in August, and it was very enjoyable. When I started to think about New Year, I thought that it would be good to go there again, but expected rooms to be unavailable or much more expensive. I was wrong. I could book a stay for exactly the period that we wanted at the same, very reasonable rate. Likewise, flights were available and cheap. We were all set.

The plan was to have plenty of chilling out spa time. We knew that the environment was conducive to just that and we were not disappointed. I became quite addicted to the sequence: hot sauna for 15 minutes until really cooked; run outside and into the very cold plunge pool and splash around for a few moments until I thought that my heart might stop; inside again and into the jacuzzi where my entire body would experience “pins and needles” as all the nerve endings were confused.

The rest of our time was spent exploring the city, which has a very easy-to-use public transportation system, and seeing our friends, one of whom took us to brunch at a very nice family-run restaurant. We returned there on New Year’s Eve and were unsurprised to find it packed. But, even though we had no reservation, they found space for us and we felt very welcome and were well fed.

I have no idea how many times I have visited Germany over the years [mainly on business] – it is certainly many dozen occasions. So, it is a country that I know reasonably well, even if my command of the language is minimal. However, every country shows a new aspect of its character at holiday time and Germany at New Year certainly did that. The most surprising thing about this trip was the fireworks. Obviously, I have seen and heard fireworks countless times, but I have never encountered such enthusiasm for them before. It seems that fireworks can only be legally sold and used for a few days and, hence, there is complete mayhem. We started hearing the bangs on the evening that we arrived [28 Dec] and there were still the odd ones on the afternoon that we left [2 Jan]. It seemed to matter not whether it was day or night and the volume of the bang was the big attraction

In a country that is normally quite safety minded, it is surprising how relaxed people were with letting off fireworks. On street corners, there would be a line of bottles, from which someone would be launching rockets. Often the users would be teenagers, but they might also be young parents with their children. We passed a large apartment block, where people were firing stuff off of balconies across the parking lot; the curved shape of the building served as an echo chamber for the load bangs. As Midnight on 31st approached, and for more than an hour after, the bangs across the city merged into a continuous roar. I have never had the misfortune to find myself in a war zone, but I think I now know it sounds like! I heard that, in the past, all the fireworks were made in Germany and used nothing worse than gunpowder. However, there are now imports from Poland that have a louder bang and presumably pack something a little more potent.

I was concerned about the safety issues, but never saw anything bad happen. However, the emergency services were kept busy and we heard from our friends that a few [drunk] young people had been badly injured with burns and lost hands etc. I am sure that was not on their plan for 2013. Something to reflect on …

BTW, if you would like details of the hotel or restaurant that I mentioned, I am happy to share by email, as it is generally not my policy to promote other businesses here directly.

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