Munich – Silvester

2 Jan

Christmas here was deathly quiet. The streets were empty as people ate kartoffelsalat and various animals formed into sausage shapes, all bundled up inside their family homes. For the foreigner there was no “in”- there was no hint of the festivities that you could only imagine were going on behind closed doors. We spent the three Christmases (Heiligabend, which we know as Christmas Eve and is the biggest day of celebration, and the imaginatively named Christmas One and Christmas Two) watching movies and periodically getting up to roast some potatoes or make some tea to go with a piece of Christmas cake. By the end of Christmas Two my ass cheeks were in pain from sitting down for too long.
But as New Years Eve approached things started to change. People were out on the street going to sales and buying fireworks and acting festively. Fireworks had popped up everywhere and were for sale in the most everyday places. The first few pages of advertising catalogues were filled with fireworks, you could buy them at Aldi or at the drugstore taking up the spot where I would usually find shampoo. It was quite a novelty for me to see them out and about in shops, just waiting to explode into someone eyes. I had heard from some of the girls at work that people take to the streets and the parks at New Years Eve, (endearingly called “Silvester” in Germany and a few other European countries) to let off as many fireworks as they please. The few days preceeding the New Year is the only time of the year that fireworks are legal. On the 1st January they all disappear like they were never there,lurking behind locked doors to await the next year.
I had wrongly assumed that New Years Eve would just consist of a few little shits lighting fireworks outside our apartment. In reality it was much, much more than that.
We had no plans for Silvester. Our housemates are usually pretty absent but had been very notably absent for the past few weeks- they were on a silent retreat in Romania, staying away from all the hoohah of the silly season. So we had no housemates and the other few people who might want to do something with us had pre-arranged plans that did not include us.
New Years Eve has never been an awesome night for me- I always get anxious with the pressure of having the Best Night Ever, and always ended up having an Average Night. I often deliberately not do anything because I can’t bear the thought of forcing myself to have an awesome time. The pressure just always gets to me and since I’ve been of legal drinking age I have spent most New Years Eve’s holidaying at my parents house watching the Sydney fireworks on TV and looking after the dog who was terrified yearly by the few people who managed to get hold of some illegal fireworks.
Our plans were minimal. We knew there were no “official” fireworks shows, like there are in Laurieton or Melbourne or any other town in Australia, and we were curious to see what would actually happen in the centre of town. We decided we would take a walk around and see what we could see.
The day before New Years Eve I ran into the nice couple from downstairs halfway on my way down the stairwell. They invited Simon and I to join them and a few friends at their apartment to have some drinks and some food and to go into the city later on, and so our low key night started morphing into something quite different.

I had spent some time over the past few days trying to figure out what would be an appropriate cake to bake for this time of year, but had come up with little in the way of Silvester food traditions. Pigs are said to represent luck and prosperity and it is traditional to eat anything with pork in it, or alternatively a small marzipan figure of a pink pig which were sold all over the place. You could eat a bowl of lentil soup, the lentils representing coins, and if you reached the bottom it would ensure you had enough money for the year. Other traditional New Years foods included fondue and raclette and a mysterious item named Neujahrs Brot- a presumably special loaf of bread about which I could find out nothing except it’s name, even after consulting a few Germans. I was not very inspired by pork or drippy cheese or a bread I had no idea how to make and so I settled on making cocktails. I made a lemon syrup and concocted a sweet and very strong vodka drink. I told Chris and Isa about my fear of fireworks: as a kid we had a family friend who was missing three of the fingers on one of his hands, and there will not be any prizes for guessing why. Ever since I learned what his mangled hand was the result of I swore never to touch one. It wasn’t that I was terrified of them, I was just cautious. For the same reason I have never touched a pokie or tried heroin: it seemed like the only way it could go was wrong.
There had been a mix up with the other party attendees, who didn’t end up coming to the party, and it was planned that we would instead meet them at the Englischer Garten- a 3.7 km2 green park cutting a thick strip through the northern part of the city. I had been there a few times before- it was a beautiful place full of manmade lakes and swans and it was sliced by thin creeks and offshoots of the Isar river. The perfect place for a relaxing Sunday afternoon picnic. Or for watching people surf mid-winter in full body wetsuits on the artificial wave created by some accidental engineering. But that night it was a far cry from the picnic blanketed park that I knew.
We walked up the street to the tram stop where there were three adolscent boys stationed. They were drunk and obnoxious, in a way that was slightly more menacing than I would have liked. They had small fireworks that they would light and throw in various places, generally at other peoples feet, which would give off a very small light display but give off a jump-inducingly loud noise. Being the closest targets we had at least ten of them thrown at our feet, and I tried to act cool and casual even though I was envisioning bloody stumped ambulance rides. On the packed tram everyone was carrying bags of fireworks arranged neatly like chocolate bars in a store bought Santa stocking. Every person I looked at beside those in our group were carrying fireworks, though thankfully noone was letting them off inside the tram. I doubted it would be the same in Australia.

We reached the park and walked though a part of it which was unfamiliar to me. The park did not have any lights and we were drunk. We lost a few people and regained a few people. We met up with the party non attendees and watched Chris make many confused phone calls to try to find everyone else. We ended up in a group of six or seven and headed to high ground so that we could get a good view of the city, which was unfortunately the same idea as about half of the population of Munich. We got separated from one another again and found one another again. I got squished into a set of shoulder blades and tried not to freak out. We passed around a bottle containing 50% ginger ale and 50% vodka and I relaxed a little. There were some fireworks going off- every few seconds one would pop up into the sky and explode anywhere within a 360 degree area.
There were people with fireworks everywhere. As midnight approached the fireworks became more and more frantic. It seemed that the whole park below us was full of people with bag loads of fireworks. In the distance I could see a concentration of explosions at the city centre, and to the right I could see a long strip of action along a main road.

There was no official countdown and we heard at least 3 or 4 differently timed versions of it. The sound and the frequency of the fireworks became intense. It sounded as if we were literally in a war zone. There was a cacaphony of “zeeewwwwwwww”s and “pyeeeeeewwwww”s and bangs and pops and fizzles. Smoke began filling the air. I could not hear what anyone was saying. I tried to look into the distance but the heads and shoulderblades in front of me didn’t allow much. I was quietly frightened but also thrilled by the energy and the excitement of all the people around me. It was like being on a scary ride where you can imagine yourself falling out of the carriage at any moment, which makes it all the more thrilling. Girls screamed and couples drunkenly made out. People tried to pop champage around us but couldn’t because they didn’t have enough space. A girl behind me got hit with the debris of a wayward firework- at first screaming because she’d thought somone had thown a bottle at her head, and then laughing hysterically when she realised it was a large stick that the firework was supposed to launch from, but which had obviously accidentally launched with the explosive itself. I felt glad that I hadn’t been one metre back, craning my head, eyes open to the oncoming launcher. The noise was terrifying, coming from every direction and every height and every speed. After about 15 minutes of the most chaotic, clamourous show the fireworks began to die down slowly. People were running out of explosives and going home.

We entered the warzone beneath our hilltop station to find some more of Chris’ friends. Down the hill we found ourselves in a dense cloud of smoke which did not disappate in the slightest before we made our way out of the park over two hours later. We saw groups of people dotted around us, some still working on setting off fireworks, others just standing around drinking. I felt like I was in a post-apocolyptic riot scene. The remnants of fireworks carpeted the ground. I could not see more than 3 metres in front of me. The sound of bullets slicing through the air made me cringe and hold on tight to Simon’s hand. I didn’t know where I was or how to get home if I became separated from him.

We finally made it to Chris’ friends- a jolly Bavarian guy, his girlfriend and his young niece. They had been letting off fireworks and they were very excitable. Before long a few more friends joined us and everything became a drunken silly blur. We met some guys who didn’t believe we were from Australia- they thought we were German’s showing off our English by pretending we couldn’t speak German. He kept trying to trick us into “understanding” what he was saying by talking loudly to his friend in German and saying things which were obviously offensive. We smiled and nodded and his friend tried to convince him he was wrong, but he wouldn’t believe us. We tried to convince him we were actually from Poland, or a magical country called “Polstralia”. One of the guys held up one an enormous sparkler, used for lighting the wicks of the fireworks, and said “You know what I call this stick? I call it the Jesus stick! You know why I call it the Jesus stick? Because it took 2000 years to burn down!” After that he laughed hysterically and thought he was clearly the funniest person alive, even though noone else even remotely understood his joke. Someone handed Simon a bottle of champage which he drank out of for the next hour, until someone handed him a magnum of champagne. One of the guys did a round of “cheers” and refused to clink glasses with me for some unknown reason. One of the guys apologised constantly for the state of his friends. One of the guys finally suggested we walk to the train station and go to a club.

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We took a long ambling walk through the park. It was freezing, and my toes and fingers had long ago become so cold that they hurt. I needed to pee but the only option was behind a tree in a fairly open park, where “behind” for me might be “in front” for some poor unsuspecting partyer. We made our way slowly into the train station, where there was thankfully a toilet. I let out a few hours of built up, drunken pee and felt, as they say, relieved.

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As we got on the train we seemed to gather another few members- whether they were strangers to everyone else or just me I don’t know. When we arrived at our station we stood inside for an hour, right between the ticket machines and the escalator, with all of my new found friends pulling beers out of their pockets and demanding that we drink them immediately as they couldn’t take them into the club.
I nursed a beer for the entire hour, only drinking half a sip the whole time while we stayed warm and talked nonsense in the station. I had had plenty of the ginger ale mixer.

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We left everyone in a shambles outside the club, having stood there with them for half an hour, everyone too drunk to remember that they had come to the club to go into the club.
We walked home along a main road and witnessed the damage- the street was littered with colourful pieces of paper, cardboard, torn apart cyclindrical firecrackers, stumbling drunks and patches of spew. I was thoroughly drunk and happy and so exhausted that even as I lay myself down in bed and thought “the music downstairs is so loud I’ll never get to sleep” I fell unconciously asleep into the next year.

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