No, it’s not Halloween all over again when a group of costumed kids comes to your doorstep singing nursery rhymes and looking for sweets or coins. The age-old northern German custom of Rummelpottlaufen is just one of many peculiarities of New Year’s Eve in Hamburg.
Hamburg New Year's Traditions
In many households, Silvester, as New Year's Eve is called in Germany, is planned meticulously and with a certain routine. Food plays a huge role: Berliner doughnuts are so popular that it is advisable to pre-order larger batches. But beware, it’s a common prank to fill the occasional pastry with mustard instead of delicious jam.
For dinner, many people have carp, as this fish considered good luck. Other meals are less superstitious, but no less traditional: tasty dishes like fondue or raclette can be enjoyed for hours on end and shorten the wait for midnight.
And speaking of dinner... If English is your mother tongue, people will likely ask you about a certain Miss Sophie and her 'Dinner for One'. Strangely, this English-language sketch is aired every New Year’s Eve in Germany — one of the very few non-German pieces shown on public-service television. The sketch is immensely popular, though widely unknown in the English-speaking world.
And Miss Sophie isn't the only one who enjoys a New Year's Eve drink. Alcoholic beverages play an important role on this holiday. Punch, Glühwein (mulled wine) and Sekt (sparkling wine) are enjoyed in large quantities. Some people even take the time to prepare Feuerzangenbowle: a fiery specialty made of mulled wine, sugar and rum.
Between courses, little games like Bleigießen are played. Leaden figures are melted down and then thrown into cold water; the bizarrely-shaped results are said to predict the future.
Good Luck 'sliding in'
To help make the approaching year a good one, lucky charms can be seen everywhere: from four-leaf clovers to chimney sweeps, ladybugs and piglets. In the same spirit, to make the transition as smooth as possible, people wish each other a 'Guten Rutsch' (lit. 'good slide') into the new year. In recent years, people used to stock up on fireworks to set things off with a bang. Once believed to drive out evil spirits, the fireworks used to be the centrepiece of every New Year’s Eve celebration in Hamburg.
The most spectacular view of the night sky can be enjoyed from the banks of the Alster lakes or at the Landungsbrücken piers overlooking the Elbe river. These are without a doubt Hamburg's busiest spots on the last and most spectacular night of the year, and should be avoided this year for the sake of everybody's health.