When you think of Germany at this time of year the sights and sounds of the Christmas markets always come to mind. All the little wooden huts with their hand crafts in the middle of town squares surrounded with medieval buildings, the sounds of German Christmas music, laughter and occasionally a carosel, the smell of warm spiced nuts, bratwurst and mulled wine fill the crisp winter air. That’s what most people think of. This festive season doesn’t end with Christmas however. Have you ever spent an authentic New Years in Germany? If not, let me give you hint of what to expect: food, friends, and fire works.
Germans celebrate with family and friends at home in small groups. There is plenty of food, much of it with tradition attached. Fish or pork are usually on the menu. Pretzels and braided wreaths are often eaten as a symbol of togetherness. Many Germans relax with interactive meals like fondue or raclette. Small bites and lots of conversation make these especially popular for small parties.
Most of my American friends have never heard of raclette. It’s one of my favorite winter meals to share. You really need 3 – 5 people to enjoy a good raclette. You use a special table-top grill to grill vegetables or small pieces of meat on top, and individual small pans to melt cheese underneath. Each person usually uses 2 small pans so that one can be cooking while the other is eaten. The melted cheese is scraped out of the pans (with special wooden utensils) onto boiled potatoes or toasted bread. You often add in the grilled vegetables like onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, or whatever else you have a taste for. You also add small pieces of meat like ham, salami, shrimp, or sliced beef. Again, whatever suits your taste. Pickles seem to play a part also. The fun is that everyone can mix and match what they like best.
There are some marzipan shapes that by tradition bring luck. Pigs, lady bugs or chimney sweeps are considered lucky and you see these symbols at New Years.
If you like the warm mulled wine from the Christmas markets, you will probably enjoy the more elegant big brother the Feuerzangenbowle.
This cold weather ‘punch’ combines warmed spiced red wine with a rum soaked sugar cone. The cone is laid across a pot on a special narrow metal grate (zangen) and lit on fire (feuer). As the sugar burns, the carmelized rum sugar drips into the pot. You end up with a sweet and very potent wine. I suggest you find a designated sober driver if you have to go anywhere. This drink is a real production and puts on a good show in the dark. ** Warning** Don’t try to blow the fire out if it gets out of hand. The first time we tried this at home we nearly burnt our living room drapes. Oops!! Make sure you have something metal to cover and smother the fire if necessary.
Something that just can’t be missed on New Year’s Eve is the short movie “Dinner for One” played on TV every year. And every year it’s just as funny. It is about a dinner party where all the guests that have attended over the years have passed on. All except the one lady of the house and her butler. The table is laid out for all that used to come to the party and the butler serves the empty places as if they were still in attendance. As he pours drinks for the deceased he asks “Same procedure as last year?” and is answered “Same procedure as EVERY year.” He must pretend to be each guest in turn as he toasts and drinks, getting drunker with each dinner course. It’s hilarious in a 1960’s sort of way.
And finally it’s midnight and the real fun begins. Take your glass of Sekt (champaign), bundle up and go outside to shoot fireworks. There are places it can be absolutely dangerous in the narrow streets with sparks hitting nearby building and bouncing back to the crowd. But there is something about shooting your own fireworks instead of passively watching the show. The sound of sizzling and popping while the old church bells ring feels like a real celebration.
Of course all those fireworks leave shreds of paper and other clutter in the streets and sidewalks. Late, late when the guests go home, you will find the tidy Germans out sweeping away all traces of the party. Everything is in its place by morning to start a new year.
If you want to have authentic experiences on your travels, I would love to help you find them. Contact me and let’s talk.