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  • Writer's pictureLaura Peters

Snap, Crackle, Pop - New Years Eve in Europe

My husband, John, and I pressed our backs against a wall while we scanned the throng of people in the Cologne street just past midnight. We weren’t that far from our daughter’s apartment, but we seriously wondered if we’d make it back. Just then a cherry bomb exploded, skyrockets shot off in a fiery blaze and fireworks burst above us. We made eye contact, took in deep breaths, grabbed each other’s hand and made a run for it. 

As John and I learned that winter night in 2018, the use of fireworks-related explosives for personal use are all legal in Germany at that time of year. 

Starting in 2014, offspring tourism took me and John to Paris, Rome, and Cologne for New Year’s Eve. Our two older daughters were working in Germany and our youngest was in graduate school in England. Our experiences in the three countries were different from one another and wildly different from how we observed the holiday in America which might include a large public gathering in a main intersection of a large city, a public fireworks display at midnight or a private party with friends and family. All so tame.

In Paris we were invited to two different parties. The first was a cozy dinner party with dear French friends and their wonderful family. At the sit-down feast for thirty, we dined on their traditional New Year’s cuisine of fresh seafood and other delicacies. It was hard to leave them, but we also had a party near Montmartre to attend. Normally early-to-bed kind of people, we were running on pure adrenaline and arrived around eleven p.m. The party was at the apartment belonging to the parents of a friend of my youngest daughter. It had a wonderful mix of young adults and people more the age of the parents with whom we talked and danced until three in the morning. 

We had rented a VRBO across from Notre Dame Cathedral, and planned to take the Metro (the French subway system) which ad after ad by the French government had promised would be running all night. We figured we were good for transportation home when we staggered out of the party.  Evidence of fireworks and partying strewn the streets. To our surprise, all the stairs into the Metro had gates closing off access. Luckily, John and I were fond of walking and an hour later we crossed the Seine over the Pont Notre Dame to Île de la Cité where our comfy bed awaited us. On New Year's Day, we took an evening boat ride down the river to view the Eiffel Tower brilliantly lit; a great way to spend at least part of the first day of the New Year.

In 2015 we all ventured to Rome for the holiday. From our VRBO apartment in an ancient building on Vicolo del Cinque in the amazing Trastevere neighborhood, we hiked up to the highest point of Janiculum Hill to Piazza Garibaldi where there is a monument of, unsurprisingly, Giuseppe Garibaldi. From there all of Rome was laid out in front of us. As in Germany, anybody can set off fireworks. As soon as it was dark the explosions began, sporadically here and there. As the clock ticked closer to midnight, the

number of fireworks increased, rising to a crescendo as the chimes struck twelve and all of Rome lit up below us. (Photo of the festiviteis at Piazza Garibaldi)

In 2016 and 2017, we were home for New Years, but in 2018 and 2019 we were in Germany for Silvester (the German word for New Year’s Eve) where people wish you a “good slide into the New Year” by saying, “Einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!” or simply “Guten Rutsch!” (Good slide!) In 2018, John and I went down to the Rhein River to watch the city-authorized fireworks over the Cathedral and quickly learned how many more fireworks there would be. 

We did arrive back to our daughter’s apartment on that night that we felt like we were running for our lives. Then we were able to sit in the comfort of her living room and watch her neighbors’ fireworks show through the large windows. In 2019, we just went to the roof of her building to watch the locals shoot off their wares and wave their sparklers. That was enough. 

The raucous crowds on Vicolo del Cinque. We frequently heard men singing opera.

Celebrating in California!

Rome at midnight. This photo doesn't do the light show justice.


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