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New Year’s Eve can be a mixed bag. Most of us have had our share of exciting ones, and perhaps a few we would prefer to forget. So what’s the key to seeing off the old and welcoming in the new on just the right note?

The first question might be whether to greet the new year in the comfort of home or out among the masses. Home means not having to fight the crowds, good food and drink within arm’s reach, and staying warm and dry. Home is always a safe bet.

But suppose you wish to venture out. What’s worth thinking about beforehand?

First, consider whether you’re up for only a couple of hours of nightlife in a local city or town or a full-fledged break of several days. What are your best bets in each case?

Wherever you go, here are a couple of points to consider:

Public transportation schedules will be altered, so check on your return options before setting out. Certain lines might be overwhelmed with revelers, so be sure to have enough cash for taxi fare if the need arises.An overnight stay in a larger city might make for a memorable evening, but if you don’t want to kick off 2006 by nodding off in a bar or clinging to warmth in a bus station, do yourself a favor and book a hotel, no matter how late you plan to turn in. When you book, ask for the room to be guaranteed for late arrival.Finally, if New Year’s 2006 appears to be your year to dream big, you might not be too late to book a fabulous break away from where you are stationed. Check with local Morale, Welfare and Recreation offices, the USO or the Internet for options.Following is a quick overview of some places to consider for ringing in 2006.

Close to homeFrankfurt: According to its tourist office, the city hasn’t planned anything official for New Year’s Eve. However, people tend to congregate at one of three places: on the square in front of the Old Opera House; by the river near Eiserner Steg; or on a hill known as Lohrberg, in the northeast of Frankfurt near Seckbach.

If you’re venturing off base to a European New Year’s celebration for the first time, be warned: Ffireworks often are not part of officially sanctioned displays but instead are privately purchased and set off. Stray rockets have been known to shoot into crowds, so keep your wits at all times and think hard about whether to take young children.

Frankfurt’s “oldsters,” defined as those past the ripe old age of 30, can go to a special party at the Palais am Zoo. No tigers will be on the dance floor, but music from the ’80s and a smoke-free disco are promised by the Web site www.silvesternight.de. Tickets start at 17.50 euros.

Stuttgart: Dust off your glass slippers and head to the ball. Stuttgart’s Culture and Congress Center Liederhalle hosts its 49th annual Silvester, or New Year’s Eve, ball. The theme changes each year, and for 2005, you’ll be transported to Paris’ Moulin Rouge. Stars from the Moscow State Circus will perform, a Big Band will play Viennese waltzes, swing, Latin and oldies, and another band will crank out tunes from “Cats” and the “Phantom of the Opera.” Tickets start at 39 euros, and were still available as of this writing. See www.agenda-production.com/silvesterball for details.

Trieste: This is just one of many Italian cities that will host celebrations. Its Festa di fine Anno will be organized in the Piazza Unità d’Italia. From 10:30 on, an orchestra, musical ensembles and fireworks will help you to meet Capodanno — the new year — Italian style.

Jerez de la Frontera: From 11:30 p.m. on, crowds will gather in front of the Alcazar de Jerez (castle). Admission is free, and, according to the city’s tourist agency, suitable for children. As clocks chime midnight in the square, revelers will gobble down grapes, one for each stroke of the bell. From midnight on, the bars are open for business. Dining at a restaurant is a common New Year’s Eve activity, and best booked beforehand. Expect to spend some money: a gala dinner served at the hotel and restaurant Los Jándalos Jerez, for example, will set you back 80 euros, tax not included. (Web site www.jandalos.com.)

Bigger citiesBerlin: Just as Times Square in New York is the place to be in the States, the area between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column is the hot spot in Germany to welcome in the New Year. What’s the attraction? Pumping music, endless stages of entertainment, a giant Ferris wheel, food stalls, tents, an open- ended disco and wall-to-wall people.

Unique to this year’s blowout will be its focus on soccer, with the 32 countries playing in World Cup 2006 represented by giant soccer balls bearing their national flag. More than 1 million party-goers are expected to converge on the town. See www.silvester-berlin.de for details.

Vienna: This stunning city welcomes the new year by transforming its historical center into a massive dance venue. Food and drink from around the world will be available at more than 80 booths, and live music will keep the atmosphere electric. Billed as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Ballroom,” Vienna’s celebration will pay tribute to Wolfgang Amadeus and kick off Mozart Year 2006. On New Year’s Day, the fun continues with the traditional Katerfrühstuck, or hangover breakfast, on Rathausplatz.

If you didn’t book tickets for the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Day concert a year in advance, you’re out in the cold, but there are plenty of other classical music events to which you will be able to get tickets. Or if you’re interested in a moving feast and can afford the best, book a gala five- course dinner on the Orient Express. The train stops on a bridge over the Danube at midnight to allow the guests a first-class view of the fireworks. Details are on the Web site www.wien.info.

Rome: The place to be in Italy’s capital is the Piazza del Popolo. This lovely square is thronged with Romans and visitors of all ages out to enjoy the concerts and fireworks. The next day, if you still have energy, take the kids back to the piazza for a children’s celebration. Round off your visit with a trip to Piazza Navona’s Christmas market, which runs through Jan. 6.

Seville: If you’re up for a fiesta on a grand scale, head to La Plaza Nueva. Champagne will be not only on your lips but in your hair and everywhere else.

Take offRock-bottom rates for all-inclusive package tours over the New Year’s holiday are limited, but if you’re interested, drop into any tourist agency and see what’s available. As of this writing, it was still possible to book a holiday from Frankfurt to the island of Majorca with a two-night stay in a studio apartment for just 232 euros per person, double occupancy, including airfare. From Nuernberg, packages to London including accommodation in a luxury-class hotel for three nights come in at 342 euros. (Go to www.ltur.de.)

If you ski, what would be more enjoyable than slope-side revelry on the big night? Even the tiniest Alpine dorf will have something going on. If you’re in the bar or pub of a small village, you stand a good chance of spotting the locals out in their traditional garb. The town of Interlaken, Switzerland, goes all out for New Year’s, and its Kursaal-Park will be the site of a giant outdoor party under the open sky.

The fireworks display is set off not on New Year’s Eve but on New Year’s Day, and if you can stretch your visit to Jan. 2, you could catch the Harder-Potschete, a centuries-old tradition revived several decades ago. Young people throughout the region put on elaborately carved wooden masks representing mountain spirits and march through the streets accompanied by the noisy beat of drums to mark the new year. It’s a great way to get the year off with a bang.

E-mail Karen Bradbury at bradburyk@stripes.osd.mil especially if you have a favorite New Year’s activity to recommend for next year.

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