BERLIN – Fireworks have long been a staple of New Year's Eve celebrations in Germany, with revelers launching their own pyrotechnics at the annual dream of alcohol and exuberance known in the country as "Silvester."
But for the first time this year, Berlin will join dozens of other German cities and communities to institute a partial ban on private fireworks, with three areas in the capital designated as free fireworks on New Year's Eve.
Most of the official and private fireworks shows will continue normally, including the spectacular spectacle at the iconic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and the skies of much of the country will remain lit, saturated with the sound of millions of small explosions.
But as the decade comes to an end, Germany's commitment to one of its most enduring New Year's Eve traditions seems to be diminishing.
The reasons vary: Berlin's ban focuses on public safety, while Aachen, a city in western Germany that limited the use of high-flying fireworks, is concerned about possible damage to its historic buildings. And some areas pointed to environmental and health concerns about fine dust particles created by the explosions.
"I am convinced that for the next Silvester celebration, private fireworks fade into medium and large cities in Germany," said Jürgen Resch, co-leader of Environmental Action Germany, an organization that has sued cities for banning diesel driving (The Germans refer to New Year's Eve as a Silvestre in honor of Pope Sylvester, whose saint's day is December 31).
The peak of fine particle emissions in the days after the New Year celebrations, according to the German Federal Environment Office: fireworks lit only one day a year equals a quarter of the emissions of emitted particles annually for all wood fires in the country.
Under the motto of "Silvesters for Future,quot;, a nod to the Friday for the Future movement launched by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist, Mr. Resch's group contacted 98 areas with particle measurements higher than average and asked them to change their New Year's Eve tradition.
Thirty-six communities responded by promising to make alternative arrangements for the celebration, if not this year, sometime in the future.
The federal government is also considering changing a law that would allow cities autonomy to completely ban the use of private fireworks.
"One of the most important changes is the awakening of young people on this issue," said Resch, who described a one-year debate on the issue.
A survey by the YouGov research firm for the German news service RND showed changing attitudes, with 57 percent of respondents saying they thought a ban was a positive idea.
Another survey, conducted by YouGov last year, indicated that 61 percent of people surveyed thought that fireworks should be banned in dense urban centers, and 86 percent felt that tradition produced too much garbage.
Private fireworks have a long history in Germany, where they have been at the center of Silvester celebrations for years. Many Germans spend hundreds of euros on their own private fireworks.
The German Association of the Pyrotechnic Industry, a commercial group that has represented fireworks manufacturers since the 1960s, estimates that approximately 130 million euros were spent last year on legal fireworks in Germany.
Under current rules, fireworks can be sold in the three business days prior to New Year's Eve, although two large German supermarket chains and a home hardware business recently announced plans to eliminate or reduce fire sales. artificial.
Fireworks can be legally lit only on December 31 and January 1, although in the big cities you can hear the characteristic blows several days before and after that time.
Klaus Gotzen, director of the German Association of the Pyrotechnic Industry, said safety has always been a priority for the group, but the conversation about fireworks is changing.
"This year there is a broader discussion about the meaning of tradition as such," he said.
"For the vast majority of people who use fireworks, it's about the feeling of joy and the feeling of sharing the joy, it's about a feeling of community," he said in a telephone interview.
Even so, the discussion about limiting what some say is an essential part of the celebration of the New Year exposed the usual gap between progressives and conservatives.
These groups were last at odds with another New Year's Eve tradition when the use of lead was banned in 2018 in the traditional "Bleigiessen," a fortune-telling game that involved pouring molten lead into a container of cold water.
A former editor of the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, Hugo Müller-Vogg, He suggested in the online version of a news magazine, FOCUS, that the changing rules surrounding fireworks could cause people to spend more money on fireworks and film this year's rituals.
"So that one can show his grandchildren what he once was: a happy celebration of Silvester," Müller-Vogg wrote.