First of all, a happy new year to everybody who reads my blog! May 2020 bring you health, happiness and success!
Here in Germany, the new year is a little over a day old now and has been mainly cold and foggy so far. I stopped doing the party thing on New Year’s Eve several years ago. These days, I just head out for dinner with my parents, followed by champagne and fireworks at home. Since the Italian restaurant where we used to go for New Year’s Eve closed two years ago, we now go to a local Thai restaurant. It’s always busy on New Year’s Eve, though the patrons are all on the elderly side. I was among the youngest people there (and I’m no spring chicken) except for the staff.
So let’s take a look at the food:
The coconut vegetable curry and the peanut sauce dishes (they have several) are always good. I was a bit disappointed by the crispy chicken with bean sprouts – a dish I hadn’t had here before – which was supposed to be spicy, but was just bland.
The dessert, on the other hand, was up to the usual standard.
After dinner, we went home, whereby the car radio playing party music reminded me that 1990s techno really was the worst kind of pop music ever. I know that disco gets maligned a lot in the US – unfairly, IMO. For while disco may be shallow, the performers were often talented (and the fact that the vast majority of them were either women of colour or gay men of all races has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that disco is maligned in the US. That’s a total coincidence, I’m sure) and a lot of the music is actually very well made, orchestrated and arranged. Take for example, “On the Radio”, written by Giorgio Moroder and sung by Donna Summer, which starts off slow like a power ballad and then suddenly takes off. Or how the instruments kick in one by one in Gloria Gaynor’s version of “Can’t take my eyes off you” (the Boys Town Gang version from 1982 isn’t bad either – just ignore the goofy dancers). Or take the amazing orchestral arrangement of of “Skyhigh” by a band called Jingsaw – even though the video is inaccurate, because there is no way in hell that you can play that song that way with two guitars, a keyboard/organ and a drumset. This – like most disco songs – needs a full orchestra. So in short, there is actually a lot of talent behind many disco songs. Techno, on the other hand, has hardly any redeeming qualities.
At midnight, we had champagne and then went outside for fireworks. Now welcoming the new year with fireworks has a long tradition in Germany – a tradition that has recently come under fire. Fireworks have long been banned near hospitals, care homes, zoos and buildings with thatched roofs and in recent years, some cities also banned fireworks in areas with historical buildings because of fear of fire and in party zones, because fireworks and crowds of partygoers don’t mix. So far, so uncontroversial.
However, this year some organisations are calling for a complete ban on private fireworks. The initial reasons given were environmental – fireworks release smoke and microparticles, but then other reasons like animal welfare and health and safety were also given. Plus, there is a call – echoed by various charities – that fireworks are a waste of money and that the people should rather donate the money spent on fireworks to charity. One figure that’s often bandied about is that in 2018, 130 million Euros were spent on fireworks in Germany. That sounds like a lot – until you do the calculations and realise that this figure means that every person in Germany spent 1,57 Euros per year on fireworks on average. And 1,57 Euros per person is not a lot of money, especially if you consider that the total figure of 130 million Euros also includes money spent on professional fireworks.
So why are fireworks suddenly so controversial, especially since they are limited to one night of the year – with the occasional firecracker going off a few days before or after? IMO, the underlying reason is just that some people find fireworks annoying, because they are noisy, frivolous and the wrong kind of people (teenagers, immigrants, poor people) are having fun. In recent times, there has been a resurgence of the kind of joyless moralism that dominated the 1980s. And not coincidentally, the “Give to charity rather than buying fireworks” campaign originally also dates from the 1980s. Of course, I find a lot of traditions annoying as well – don’t get me started on Easter fires, which blanket whole areas in smoke at a time of year, when it’s often warm enough that you want to open the windows. But finding something annoying is no reason to ban it. As for the barely veiled racism and classism behind calls for a fireworks ban, the same kind of people who always complain that immigrants are not assimilating are now getting angry when immigrants adopt local traditions.
IMO, a fireworks ban would be a huge mistake, because the people who want to have fireworks will have them. Only that if fireworks are no longer sold in official stores, they will get illegal fireworks via the internet or smuggled in from Eastern Europe. And illegal fireworks are already the reason for the vast majority of fireworks related injuries, which are always cited as an argument for a ban. The legal fireworks sold in stores are safe, unless you are a complete idiot. Plus, the big German fireworks manufacturers like Comet or Weco are actively looking for ways to make fireworks more environmentally friendly. Which doesn’t that some additional regulations wouldn’t help. For example, I would be in favour of banning plastic components, e.g. rocket caps, in fireworks. A law requiring people to pick up the trash after they’ve had a firework or face fines would also be good. But a ban would only be ceding the field to the dirtiest, loudest and most unsafe fireworks out there.
According to a recent poll of questionable provenance, supposedly 57 percent of Germans are in favour of a fireworks ban. I have some issues with this figure, because it does not match my experience at all. In my suburban supermarket, almost every shopping cart contained some fireworks on the morning of New Year’s Eve, including mine. Though I only bought the cheapest set of six rockets for 8.99 Euros at Aldi, which was completely sufficient for my purposes. Meanwhile, in my neighbourhood, the fireworks were as intense as ever, with several neighbours going all out and spending the 1,57 Euros of at least a hundred fireworks haters on lighting up the sky. And yes, there was smoke and a bad smell in the air, made more intense by unfortunate weather conditions. But it’s one night per year.
Finally, the devastating fire at the Krefeld zoo on New Year’s night, which cost the lives of more than thirty animals, including Europe’s oldest gorilla, was caused not by errant fireworks (which are banned near zoos anyway), but by an errant sky lantern, which have been banned in Germany for a while due to their tendency to cause fires. The saddest thing is that I wouldn’t be surprised if the sky lanterns had been intended as a gentler alternative to the suddenly controversial fireworks.
So let’s have some fireworks photos:
Finally, here is a short video compilation of New Year’s Eve fireworks in my neighbourhood: