Germany is known for wild NYE parties, like the massive open-air party surrounding Brandenburg Tor in Berlin. Think the NYC Times Square party but with alcohol and fireworks allowed in the streets.
We did not go to this party. I must admit, it does look beautiful from a safe indoor distance.
Honestly, the whole legal fireworks thing was kind of… terrifying? They are loud, they are everywhere, and they made the woman sitting next to us at dinner shriek with fright.
I had been to Berlin before in the summer, but as any Berliner will tell you the city feels like two opposite places in summer and winter. The summer boasts beer gardens aplenty and parks full of people lounging, playing instruments, probably smoking weed. Biking, to an outsider’s eye, appears to be Berlin’s primary method of transportation.
Then there’s the winter. The streets are gray and likely raining, and people hide amongst huge coats while dashing from place to place. Before coming to Berlin, I Googled what happens to beer gardens in the winter, thinking they might cover them with giant plastic tents an install space heaters. Nope, is the answer. There just are no beer gardens in the winter.
Doug and I stayed with my wonderful German friend Tatjana in Kreuzberg, one of the coolest neighborhoods I’ve seen. More on that another day. When we arrived on December 31 she immediately took us to ORA for brunch, an über-hip eatery in a former pharmacy building. The decor gives a generous nod to the building’s previous life with medicine bottles lining the dark wooden bar shelves and old-fashioned chandeliers lighting the space. Every hipster bone in my body immediately felt at home here.
The food itself was simple but delicious, things like local eggs and wide-cut bacon served on thick brown German bread. An excellent post-plane, pre-party meal.
We took a quick walk around Alexanderplatz and the Museum Island after brunch, because in Berlin the metro comes so often that it’s no problem to hop into the middle of the city after brunch in the southeast. If we’d had brunch in Williamsburg in New York and then someone asked if I wanted to go check out Times Square, I would have sent them on their weekend MTA journey alone and prayed they made it back by midnight. But thanks to Berlin trains coming every five minutes tops even on Sundays, we got a nice little pre-tour of the city before it was time to come home and change.
To avoid becoming incinerated by street fireworks, we picked one locale for the entire evening, a move which I highly recommend. (“It’s amazing that people don’t die setting off their own fireworks,” I told Doug. The next day he looked it up—two people did die this year, and ten more needed amputations. Germany is just… aight with that?)
Our evening began and ended at BRLO Brewhouse, situated nicely overlooking the Spree river. BRLO (which I kept pronouncing “brillo” but is probably, I’ve realized, “berlo”) featured a NYE fondue dinner special of either meat or cheese fondue (Meat. We chose meat.), a welcome cocktail and two house beers, and unlimited sides. There was so much food, and like an amateur I filled up on the insanely good mashed potatoes. But we took down most of the meat and sides like champs, and laughed at the notion of anyone actually cashing in on the “unlimited” part.
The beers themselves were delicious, and I half-joked that we should go back the next day to sample more. Between the two of us, we tried the Helles, the Berliner Weisse, the Red Ale, and something else that Doug got while I’d moved onto champagne (a cream ale maybe?) Regardless, all were specific and tasty and among the highest quality beers I’d tasted.
At 10:00, the bottom level of the brewery was turned into a dance floor that played hits of the 90s, 00s, and now. Seriously, the DJ knew what he was doing. Just before midnight partiers were ushered outside (we foolishly forgot to grab our coats first) to watch the fireworks over the river. To be clear: There was no grand organized firework show like we’re used to in the states, just the locals saving up their personal firepower for the midnight finale. It felt like the whole neighborhood was participating in the same party, and BRLO and its guests were invited.
As a server, I especially appreciated the fact that the BRLO employees looked like they were genuinely having a great time. They were fun and looked, at least, like they got along really well. The staff celebrated with the customers at midnight, and when we asked our server how she felt about working on New Year’s Eve, she said she’d much rather be at BRLO for the night than out amidst the explosives. Should I ever move to Berlin, BRLO’s the first place I’d look for a job (after learning German).