Connect to share and comment

Germans embrace an annual pyrotechnic orgy

But celebrating with fireworks has come under criticism from doctors and churches.

Andre Buhse, Jan Marten and Marten's daughter Michelle Marten, 12, shop in "Eis Stephan," a Berlin ice cream shop, on Dec. 29, 2009. For three days of the year, Eis Stephan sells only fireworks. (Penny Bradfield)

BERLIN, Germany — For 51-and-a-half weeks of the year, Stephan Mainusch sells ice cream at his shop in the fashionable Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg.

But for the three days leading up to New Year’s Eve, the space behind the glass counter is crammed with an arsenal of fireworks with names like “Bombastic,” “Extreme Firepower” and “Hasta la vista.”

In these three days, Mainusch will sell up to eight crates (more than 280 cubic feet) worth of firecrackers and fireworks, earning enough money to cover the shop’s rent for three months.

“I don’t know if we could keep up the ice cream business if we did not have this for three days,” he said.

His is one small shop in this country of 82 million people which, on Thursday night, will be gripped by an uncharacteristic mayhem as millions of fireworks and firecrackers are released in an orgy of noise and smoke.

Silvester, as New Year’s Eve is called here, is the German nation’s one chance each year to buy and release fireworks legally — and in this brief window, it is a national obsession.

Last year, according to the Pyrotechnical Industry Association, Germans spent about $154 million on fireworks for New Year’s Eve. Though it probably derives from the ancient custom of scaring away evil spirits, the fascination with fireworks today is, despite the danger, as much a focal point for the family as the Christmas tree is for many Germans.

People take to the streets, parks, rooftops and public squares to hurl, drop and shoot fireworks and firecrackers of all shapes and sizes indiscriminately.

By Friday morning, Berlin’s silent streets, littered with colored paper-shrapnel, will look like the aftermath of a wedding and smell like the aftermath of a battle.

Yet amid this wild enthusiasm, police are worried about the growing dangers of illegally imported fireworks, while churches have sparked controversy by raising questions about the morality of effectively blowing up such large amounts of money.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/germany/091230/germany-fireworks-orgy