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Why many German cities become a fireworks hell on NYE

Whether you're planning on setting them off yourself or leaving it to the professionals, here are the most important things to know about fireworks in Germany on New Year's Eve.

Why many German cities become a fireworks hell on NYE
Ringing in 2017 in Ilmenau, Thuringa. Photo: DPA

Anyone who has spent ‘Silvester’ (New Year’s Eve) in a German city will know that Germans love fireworks although recently, the issue of fireworks has been somewhat controversial, with some regions even considering a ban.

Germany is on the whole a pretty sensible country, but when the calendar rolls round to December 31st, something seems to change in the population and people go crazy for pyrotechnics.

This rings especially true in the capital, which many locals describe as a war zone come December 31st. Especially in the centre of the city, explosions ripple throughout the streets, which has led to several injuries in recent years and a ban on Böllern
(or firecrackers) in some zones.


People staying at home or hosting house parties often go all out with their own private firework displays, and you are sure to be surrounded by bangs and flashes from sundown to the early hours.

What’s more, wherever you walk on the 31st, people are setting off rockets from beer bottles, throwing firecrackers into the street and generally being every fireman’s worst nightmare.

The cause of this may be because this is the one time of year people in Germany can actually get their hands on fireworks.

Whereas small fireworks can be sold to people in Germany all year round, stores are only allowed to sell larger fireworks – the kind you’re likely to set off on Silvester – between December 28th and December 30th. The rest of the year you can only get them from certain licensed sellers.

What’s more – you’re only really allowed to set off fireworks yourself between the 31st of December and the morning of the 1st of January.

If you set them off any other time, you’re likely to get in trouble with the police, or worse, your German neighbours. 

But do not fear, firework lovers – there are ways you can get your fix during the other 364 days of the year.

If you’re organizing an event at another time – such as a wedding or 50th birthday party – that just wouldn’t be complete without a few Catherine wheels, you can ring your local law and order department to request official approval for a private firework display.

READ ALSO: Hamburg to ban fireworks in city centre on New Year’s Eve

There are also a huge number of spectacular professional firework displays and competitions you can attend every summer across Germany such as the Rhine in Flames, the international firework competition in Hanover, Neckar River and Heidelberg Castle illuminations and fireworks – to name but a few.

Heidelberg Castle Illuminations. Photo: DPA

Fireworks are divided into categories, or ‘Klasse’, depending on how much explosive they contain. This essentially means the bigger the bang, the harder they are to get a hold of.

Klasse 1 are the smallest and least explosive kinds of fireworks and can be bought by anyone over 12 years of age. These kinds of fireworks can also be bought and set off all year round. They are essentially pretty harmless, for example sparklers, table fireworks like small fountains for cakes, and bangers that just make a pop when thrown at the ground. 

Klasse 2 are the kind of fireworks you are likely to be setting off in your backyard this New Year’s Eve and you must be an adult and show ID to buy them. According to German law, Klasse 2 fireworks should not be launched in the immediate vicinity of hospitals, churches or old people’s homes. Apart from around these locations, you’re free to set off as many Klasse 2 fireworks as you’d like on December 31st. The rest of the year you will need to get a permit first before staging your own pyrotechnic display.

Klasse 3 are display fireworks meaning they are a little bigger, brighter and louder than what you’ll find on sale in the supermarket. While it would be fun to have these at your Silvester party, they can only be bought by people with an official § 7 or §27 SprengG license which you can apply for at your local occupational health and safety office.

Klasse 4 are professional grade fireworks and can contain an unlimited amount of explosives. Only professional pyro technicians can get their hands on these and for good reason, as they are definitely not something you want being set off on your patio. 

Photo: DPA

A huge number of department stores and supermarkets sell fireworks between the 29th and 31st of December each year.

This year, since the 29th falls on a Sunday, the sale of fireworks will begin on Saturday 28th December.

The Zoll, the German department for customs and imports, recommends that you buy your fireworks from a store rather than any kind of street vendor or the internet as store-bought fireworks are tested and must follow specific safety standards.

All fireworks sold in Germany should be in line with legal requirements but sometimes unofficial vendors manage to get their hands on illegally imported fireworks, which may not be up to standard. If you’re unsure it’s best to check that the box is labeled either Klasse 2 or Klasse 1 and has the word ‘BAM’ followed by a number.

Fireworks and New Year’s Eve go hand in hand but unfortunately this tradition comes with some less positive consequences. As well as the huge number of burns which people incur every year, fireworks also release large amounts of pollutants into the air which are harmful to the environment and can cause respiratory and circulatory problems.

After Silvester celebrations end, there are reported spikes in pollution levels in Germany.

Photo: DPA

After celebrations in 2016, firework displays ejected 4,000 tonnes of particulates into the atmosphere which is equivalent to 15 percent of the yearly vehicle particulate emissions in the country.

Levels of pollution in the air around Germany were up to 26 times higher than the EU’s recommended amount. The worst reading came from the centre of Munich where levels of particulates reached 1,346 micrograms per cubic metre of air, compared to the recommended 50 micrograms.

While it is undeniably a lot of fun to be the one launching the rockets, a more environmentally conscious alternative could be to head to a professional display instead.

Think of it as the firework equivalent to travelling by train instead of by car – it’s comparatively better for the planet and you don’t have to worry about causing an accident if you’re not paying attention – so you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. 

A Silvester party at Brandenburg Gate. Photo: DPA

Berlin is the place to be on New Year’s Eve if you’re looking for a spectacle. The city is often featured on top 10 Silvester celebration lists and the Brandenburg Gate hosts the biggest street party in Europe on the 31st, complete with DJ’s, food stalls, rides and of course an incredible firework display at midnight.

In Frankfurt, a great place to stand at midnight is on the banks of the river, where you can have a wonderful view of the fireworks being set off all over the city and reflecting in the water.

Wherever you are in Munich at midnight on the 31st, you are sure to see a lot of fireworks as the official displays in the city are accompanied by a lot of people setting off their own in the streets.

This article was updated in December 2019.

For members


‘Tag der Arbeit’: What to do on May 1st in Germany

The first day of May in Germany is a public holiday, and is often celebrated as a day for dancing, or protesting, depending on your preference. Here’s what is closed for the holiday, and what’s happening.

'Tag der Arbeit': What to do on May 1st in Germany

May 1st is Labour Day in Germany, a nationwide public holiday that dates back over 130 years.

In German its commonly called Tag der Arbeit, and English it is also called May Day.

Not to be confused with Labour Day as it is celebrated the US or Australia (where the holiday comes in September or October respectively, and simply serves as a day off work to relax), Germany’s Labour Day is part of a the broader International Workers’ Day tradition, and is linked to a history of labour struggles and protests.

Interestingly, Germany’s Tag der Arbeit tradition can actually be traced back to a protest in Chicago in 1886, which sparked the beginning of calls to limit work days to eight-hours.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED – Why is May 1st significant in Germany?

Since then however, the US has largely forgotten about May Day as a day for labour organisation (with the exception of a few communities), whereas the tradition remains alive and well in Germany and at least 65 other countries around the world.

What’s closed for the holiday?

As an official public holiday in Germany, banks and post offices are closed on May 1st, which falls on a Wednesday in 2024.

It wouldn’t really make sense to make people work on a day set aside for the celebration of workers’ rights. So you should expect that supermarkets and most other businesses will also remain shut for the day. 

Cafes, beer gardens, restaurants and other hospitality businesses hoping to cash in on the day of leisure, however, may be open. 

For spätis or kiosks in busy neighbourhoods, for example, the number of people going out to parks and walking around the streets ensures that May 1st is one of the more profitable days of the year.

What’s happening for the holiday?

Labour Day coincides with a German folk tradition to ‘dance into May’ (Tanz in den Mai). 

This involves festivities which start on the evening of April 30th, so that celebrators can spring into May on their feet by dancing through midnight into the morning of the 1st.

But more practically, this means that there are plenty of dance parties scheduled for the evening of April 30th, as well as day time events on May 1st.

For example, readers in Berlin might consider the “Dancing instead of working on May 1st” event at Mariannenplatz, which kicks off at 10 am and is free to the public. Also in the neighbourhood will be a free open air at Bolzplatz Falckensteinstraße Xberg, and not too far away a handful of clubs are offering free-entrance day time events, including Renate and Ritter Butzke.

In Cologne, Maydance “the big queer party” starts on April 30th from 10 pm at Quater1. In Düsseldorf, there are dancing events at the Brauhaus Alter Bahnhof as well as an open air event at the SC Unterbach football team’s clubhouse.

In Bavaria, dancing into May is a big part of the regions early spring celebrations, but traditionally this takes place at folk festivals in different villages and cities across the South-eastern ‘Free State’. One of the bigger May Day celebrations in Munich happens at the Viktualienmarkt, where you can see local bands, see the ‘Maypole’ and drink seasonal Maibock beer.

But Munich also has a number of options for dancing into May at modern clubs including a disco at Villa Flora or a party at La Rumba Latin Club. Or if food and drink sound more appealing, the Backstage Beergarten is opening on May 1st, and will be serving €5 Augustiner Maß krugs (giant beers).

Traditionally, April 30th is also Walpurgisnacht – a ‘night of witches’ – where many people celebrate in towns and villages around the Harz Mountains.

Where will there be protests?

smoke and protest

Masked protestors at an unregistered “Revolutionary May Day Demonstration” walk through smoke from pyrotechnics. Photo: picture alliance / Michael Kappeler/dpa | Michael Kappeler

No German city outdoes the capital when it comes to Labour Day protests, with Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighbourhood historically hosting some of the nation’s largest May Day demonstrations.

That tradition lives on to this day, with Berlin’s infamous central neighbourhood arguably still the epicentre of May 1st activities.

Historically, some May Day protests have left a fair amount of property damage in their wake, including burned cars. So police warnings about “Revolutionary May Day Demos” in Kreuzberg and Neukölln have become a Berlin tradition, and this year is no different. 

The majority of protests are intended to be peaceful, but when thousands of protestors are confronted by police armed with riot control gear, there are sure to be outbreaks of violence at flash points.

This year’s main rally begins at Südstern at 6pm, and will move through Hermannplatz and along Sonnenallee before looping back to the start point.

But no matter where you live in Germany, you probably don’t have to go too far to find a labour rally on May 1st.

Beside the “revolutionary” demos are nationwide rallies organised by The German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) and related partners that tend to have a significantly less confrontational tone. 

This year, the DGB’s main Labour Day event will take place in Hanover with a rally at Goseriedeplatz, and will be followed by a family friendly May Festival with a concert, according to the DGB’s website.