For ringing it in, why not Berlin?
If you have ever looked at those Top 10 lists of places to spend New Year’s Eve, the three European capitals whose names crop up consistently are London, Paris and Berlin.
I had taken note of that and vowed that one year I would meet the new year in one of those cities.
Last year, in Berlin, I did.
Why Berlin? Several reasons. We are based in Germany, and when we greeted the new year in years past with friends and neighbors, we always tuned into the German TV channels, which were broadcasting the festivities live from Berlin. Secondly, the city is a drivable distance away. And best of all, as we began planning our trip, we discovered that the cost of accommodation around New Year’s Eve wasn’t nearly as exorbitant as we had feared.
So on the eve of the Eve, we packed the car and made the drive on lightly trafficked but slightly slick highways. Departing from the Frankfurt area, we reached the heart of Berlin in about six hours. The following day, Dec. 31, was spent acclimating and formulating the plan for the perfect New Year’s Eve.
Since the hotel’s buffet breakfast was too pricey, we opted to head for the pink and brown neon sign denoting — yes, it was true — a Dunkin’ Donuts. Thank goodness for that one- day moratorium on the new year’s resolution to steer clear of junk food.
By late afternoon, the area between Brandenburg Gate and the Siegessäule — where festivities were to be held — was already attracting a steady trickle of impatient revelers. The area was a strip running some two kilometers along the length of Strasse des 17. Juni. It was lined on both sides with kiosks selling beer, bratwurst and other typical fest fare, punctuated by the occasional stage or stalls with games of chance. Some stands went further, serving up Sekt and canapés. One Russian-themed stall offered tea from a samovar and caviar sandwiches.
Knowing that we lacked the stamina to dive straight in and keep going until midnight, we took stock of what was offered and returned to our hotel for a few hours. There we warmed up, looked at a map and formulated a plan.
We figured we could reach the far end of the festivities, the Siegessäule, by walking from Alexanderplatz through the forest, so we bundled up and set off the back way. While the Brandenburg Gate side of things seemed like the hip-and-cool option, we chose to rock in the new year on the Siegessäule end of the road to the sounds of the latest incarnation of the group Hot Chocolate (who doesn’t remember “You Sexy Thing?”). Our decision was rewarded with a front-row view.
At the stroke of midnight, we thudded plastic glasses together and drank well-chilled sparkling wine, bottles of which materialized out of nowhere. Those in our merry little group included a talented amateur photographer and a passer-by whose cell phone batteries failed him, leaving him unable to connect with his group of friends. The combination of old music, new acquaintances and my most beloved by my side struck just the right note and ushered in yet another year to remember.
Elsewhere in Europe...For those who can’t make it to Berlin, here’s a look at what is going on at the other members of the Big Three on Dec. 31.
• In London, the new year is celebrated with mass gatherings in public squares, a big fireworks display and a parade on Jan. 1.
Although large crowds traditionally gather in Trafalgar and Parliament squares, much of the focus has shifted to the London Eye, the observation wheel along the Thames where the annual fireworks-and-light display is launched.
This means it will be difficult to get into the immediate viewing area. But the display is visible from vantage points throughout the city and broadcast live on television.
On New Year’s Day, thousands of marchers, musicians and performers from around the world will participate in the 22nd annual New Year’s Day parade. It will begin at noon at Big Ben, pass Trafalgar Square and end on Piccadilly Street.
• Paris might not have the elaborate New Year’s fireworks that other places do, but that does not mean the City of Light is dull. The Champs- Élysées and the neighborhoods around the Arc de Triomphe transform into a glittering sea of people on New Year’s Eve. The Place de la Bastille and Boulevard Saint Michel are also popular gathering sites for party-goers.
Another option is to take a cruise along the Seine for a view of the illuminated monuments while enjoying cocktails and a four-course dinner. Or seek out one of the city’s many nightclubs or famous cabarets, where the action is guaranteed to be lively.
Champagne or sparkling white wine (not to be confused in France, of all places) is the drink of choice. But vin chaud — hot wine — and cider are also popular. Transportation throughout the city is free all night. For details, go to the Paris Web site, www.paris-touristoffice.com.
Just about any city, town or village in Europe will be having some type of celebration to welcome the new year. And if you can’t find one, you can join the neighbors on the street corner launching their own fireworks.
Whatever you decide to do, check dates and times before heading off, line up accommodations (or a ride home) and dress warmly.
That should get 2008 started right.
This story includes information from previous Stars and Stripes articles.
Know and go ...Berlin Open End is an annual event attracting more than a million revelers each year. Find out who’s on stage this year at www.silvester-berlin.de/English/start.html. The area by Brandenburg Gate attracts the top-name artists and correspondingly biggest audience, but the crowd tends to thin out the closer you get to the far end of Strasse des 17. Juni.
There is no entry fee, and costs for food and drink are relatively reasonable. There is no shortage of after-hours parties throughout Berlin for those who want to keep going.
Even if it’s not bone-chillingly cold, the several hours you will spend outside dictate the need for warm and waterproof clothing.
We splurged and stayed at the Hotel Intercontinental. This year, two nights, Dec. 30 and 31, cost 410 euros, breakfast and New Year’s festive program not included. For details, see www.berlin.intercontinental.com.
Longing for a taste of home? Dunkin’ Donuts serves its familiar flavors of donuts at 24 locations in Berlin. Scout one out in advance at www.dunkin-donuts. de.
— Karen Bradbury