Fünf, vier, drei, zwei, eins....
"F%&k me!" exclaimed the British guy standing next to me, as the hundredth firecracker went off next to him, numbing his left ear even more. "Guys, how about we go get some beers or something," he pleaded to his friends. But they weren't listening. It was 15 minutes to midnight and 2005, they were standing near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin with a million other people and didn't want to miss the countdown.
A few days ago, German Foreign Minister Joska Fischer had made a televised plea for Germans to forgo their fireworks this year and instead donate their money to the tsunami relief fund. Well, as far as I could see, about two people had bothered to do this, because there were fireworks above me, next to me, under me...everywhere. And not just the little firecrackers - some were a good four inches wide, and when they blew up it sounded like it was 1945 and the Russians were back in Berlin for revenge.
I was torn between admiring all the skyrockets going off one by one every second and resenting the firecrackers which were being flung around with complete abandon. I didn't fight in 'Nam, but the night gave me an idea of what shellshocked might mean. I've never seen so many people all using fireworks at once - especially fireworks that were banned from private use in New Zealand over a decade ago because too many people were hurt and too many houses caught fire.
But apart from the noise, everyone was pretty well behaved. We were trying to make it to the Strasse des 17. Junis, the long street in Tiergarten which ends with the Siegesaule (triumph column), but it was way too crowded so we ended up near the Brandenburg Gate on Unter den Linden, which still had all its pretty lit-up trees.
Soon a big cheer went up, meaning it was midnight, and everyone started kissing, hugging and drinking cheap champagne. Richard was distracted for a minute by the sight of some girls making out right in front of us, but soon turned his attention back to the skyrockets, which were shooting up with even more frenzy now it was 2005. All heads turned up to watch. There was some official fireworks display, but who could tell? The sky lit up, the rain had stopped a good hour ago, and the temperature wasn't even in the minuses.
Guten Rutsch (happy "slide" into the new year).