Germany no longer surprises me
I have been living in Germany for 24 years – scary, I know. So I more or less know how life works here. And it is not often that I am surprised by Germany or by my beloved German friends, neighbours or the citizens of my second home, Chemnitz city.
There is a routine to life here. There are rules and regulations and customs and traditions – like anywhere, I suppose. There are set times for when you can burn twigs and branches on a fire in your garden. There are strict laws around re-cycling your rubbish. And even set times when you are NOT allowed to throw your glass in the recycling bins. At pedestrian crossings you must wait for the wee green man before you cross – and you will be reprimanded if you walk on red – even if it’s midnight and there are no cars anywhere in sight!
And when you have been living in Germany as long as I have, you get used to people not saying hello when you pass them on the street. Strangers don’t greet each other here. In Ireland this would be impossible, and I still struggle to keep my head down and force myself to say nothing as I walk past a person on the street here. (For the record, on the occasions where I have greeted a stranger on the street with a friendly ‘hello’, I get looked at as if I have just been released from the psychiatric ward!)
But I know all this now. I am seasoned pro now. I have lived here long enough now. Little surprises me now.
With one exception
Except New Year’s Eve.
Or as the Germans like to call it: Silvester. Silvester gets me every year. I should know better. I have lived here long enough to know. But Silvester creeps up and surprises me. Every. Single. Year.
For two reasons:
1. On New Year’s Eve the Germans forget that they are German. At Silvester the Germans forget all the rules. For some strange reason – and I have a theory about that, which I will come to in a minute – the normally very disciplined and orderly, neat and tidy, law-abiding, environmentally friendly, animal loving Germans go berzerk! That’s the only way I can describe it.
It seems to me that at Silvester, every member of the family, from 8 to 80 year olds, has bought a ton of fireworks …that all get ignited on the streets of the city at midnight to bring in the New Year.
And when I say fireworks, I mean FIREWORKS – not the tame little bangers and sparklers that were the only fireworks that we were allowed as kids growing up during the Troubles of Northern Ireland. I am talking about FIREWORKS that you would find at the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing!!! Rockets, missiles, fountains, zippers, smokers, bombers, wheels and wings. The whole shebang! Being lit by every Tom, Dick and Harriet on the street outside their house…with neighbours and other properties only 10 metres away! I have seen fireworks being dragged out in boxes the size of a small sofa. Placed in the middle of the street – as cars drive by (usually paramedics’ cars!) It’s crazy. It’s bedlam. It’s chaotic. It’s toxic. It’s uncontrolled. It’s very dangerous.
And it’s fun.
And spectacular. And strangely beautiful.
And – most of all – surprising. You just do not expect this from the usually very orderly Germans!
So here’s my theory why Silvester seems to me to be the most un-German-like of nights. I reckon that the German citizens have had to deal with, and live under, all the rules and restrictions that society imposes on them for the whole year. They manage to deal with it all – the do’s and dont’s – for 364 days in the year. But at Silvester, the pressure valve is released. Everything explodes. Not just the fireworks. All that has been suppressed and kept down now comes to the surface. All released. And it is a wonderfully chaotic, untypical, and indeed the most surprising night in the German calendar.
2. But let me come to the second way that Silvester in Germany surprises me. People talk to you!
Strangers on the street greet each other. Wishing each other a happy new year, or a gesundes neues Jahr – a healthy new year. On 364 days of the year these very same people will walk past each other and not even think of greeting each other. Why would they? It’s not a done thing here. They are not being impolite (although to outsiders it may seem so). They are not being unfriendly (although to outsiders it may seem so). No. Not at all. The Germans are some of the most friendly, kind and generous people I have ever met. And I travel internationally quite a bit. They just do not normally greet strangers on the street as they pass them by. That’s all.
Except for – Überraschung! – at Silvester. On New Year’s Eve, in the midst of the firework war zone, strangers will cross the street – ducking to avoid the rockets – to say hello and maybe make a toast with their glass of Rotkäppchen sparkling wine, and wish everyone a gesundes neues Jahr. It is lovely. It really is. A nice surprise.
But enjoy it while it lasts, because a day or two later you had better remember not to greet a stranger if you pass them on the street, that is, if you want to avoid the recently-released-from-the-psychiatric-ward look that you definitely will get.
Happy New Year – more than a wish
Happy New Year! A Healthy New Year! These are lovely wishes, aren’t they? Truly LOVE-ly.
I ACTually believe that wishes can come true.
That’s why I want to not only WISH everyone a happy and healthy new year. I actually want to ACT, where possible, in a way that makes my wish a reality for that person. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? To put it another way – how can I help the people in my life – or indeed the strangers that I wish happy new year to – to actually experience a happy and healthy new year? Can I do anything to bring that about?
Good wishes are nice. Who doesn’t love to receive good wishes? But would it not be even better if wishes did not just remain wishes – things hoped for. What if I could make someone’s 2023 actually more happy? More healthy? In some small way better? What kind of a life can I live that would actually make a difference, and make some of my good wishes come true?
Can I pray more? Can I listen more? Can I spend more time with someone? Can I comfort someone? Can I help someone? Can I give more of my finances, time, resources etc. to make it a happy new year for a family, a friend, a stranger?
Join me and help make 2023 a truly happy new year
I want to try to. Do you want to join me in trying? I would love that.
I know that I am not very disciplined. I can talk a good talk, but I don’t always practice what I preach. So I reckon it will not always be easy to be the wish-fulfiller that I would like to be in 2023. But I worship a God who sees me just as I am – with all my faults and shortcomings. And who loves me all the more because of that. And this crazy, chaotic, dangerous, surprising God of infinite love calls me every day to do life with Him/Her, and to help make my wishes come true.
Come join me this year. My “Happy New Year” to you is not just a wish, but an invitation. A call.
Together, let’s see how we can bring healing and happiness in 2023.
Jahreslosung (Verse for the year 2023): “You are a God who sees me.” (Gen. 16,13)