In the distance, what sounds like gunfire is actually young people unable to wait until midnight to light their fireworks.  This sound has been gathering pace over the last few days – the odd burst of fireworks lighting up the sky and the unmistakeable rat-tat-tat of firecrackers or the utterly terrifying boom of explosion surprised us at every turn.  If I were from Beirut or Belfast, I’d be well freaked out by now. We have had mixed reports of how New Years Eve feels in Berlin.  Our friend Derry, who was here last year, said it was totally comfortable, with no drunks, fighting or puking, just everyone having a good time (this was in comparison with Ireland).  Friends living in Berlin have booked in to a venue as they say it can be a bit threatening with everyone firing off fireworks.  Apparently, they are only allowed to sell fireworks between 28th and 31st December. Our local Turkish shop cleared a huge space to make up a display of different kinds of fireworks, and there were pop-up shops filled to capacity with fancy fireworks, just selling for today.  Most shops, restaurants and local bars are closed for New Years Eve night, and remain so until the 2nd.  One of the busiest pubs in the area closed from 23rd December until 3rd January, which seems very contradictory to an Irish mind – surely it’s premium drinking time? Well, since Berliners aren’t going to go wild on drink for New Years Eve, nor even for Christmas, perhaps they have enough money to go to the pub year round.

Christmas feels officially over here. There are still Christmas lights up, but there’s quite a few Christmas trees abandoned on the street. It used to be that nobody got a tree until Christmas Eve, when the mother of the house dressed the tree, complete with candles, and then let the children in for presents. However, I think these days people get their tree a bit earlier, and January 6th is the day the tree disappears for good.  For our own Christmas tree, I found a nice branch out near the University, and hauled it back on the U-bahn (quite a feat in itself!), painted it white and hung decorations on it.  Nic gave me a box of decorations that had belonged to his grandparents, to add to the tree, which meant a lot to me.  It seems like weeks ago that I dressed the tree, but it was just over a week.

As soon as Barry and Clare arrived, I railroaded them onto the S-bahn to head for a Christmas market, which was lovely, pretty and yes, Christmassy, with Church bells either side and the hokiest “pop” music on a large, almost empty stage, played by two middleaged men in anoraks (the Germans really are experts on this kind of cheesy crooning).  Christmas Eve, we invited some friends over for dinner and had great fun, this being the “real” Christmas event for most Germans. On Christmas Day, we walked over to Rixdorf, a little village just off Karl-Marx-Strasse, where we were booked in to eat.  And what did we have for our Christmas dinner? Really excellent Pizza! I really loved the fact that I broke the dinner tradition completely.  After dinner, we wandered up to Weserstrasse, where there is usually a selection of trendy bars, and found one open.  Since all the museums are open from Christmas Day onwards, we tried to fit in a few days of art tourism and murals, some strolling around cafes, and a day of Real Typical Tourist Stuff (tour of the Reichstag building cupola, Holocaust Memorial and Brandenburger Gate).  In between this, we did Christmas things – opening our stockings, watching videos, eating chocolate and tangerines.  The memory of this is now tinged bittersweet for me, as Clare returned home for New Years Eve, and we aren’t scheduled to meet until next May or so.  Leaving her to the airport was one of the hardest moments ever, and I even tried to catch a glimpse of the Ryanair plane on the runway, but couldn’t.  It simply points up how lucky I have been to have had so much time with her up to this.  Both of us headed back in to this week with a workload to face, her more than me, and both of us return to college next Monday (whereas Barry is off until Jan 20th).

During this last week, we had a bit of rain, but lots of dry days, some sun, and it wasn’t too cold.  Sunday, Monday and today, the temperature dropped, but it means crisp sunny days and frosty clear nights.  We walked each day, Sunday in the Tiergarten to the Café am Neuen See, too packed to have coffee unfortunately, Monday to the fantastic Russian War Memorial in Treptower Park and thence to coffee by Gorlitzer Park, today to Schillerpromenade to sit in Pappelreihe café and read.  Last night, the local bars, many of them closed for Christmas, were open for a night or two between holidays, and we did a bar-hop.  So amazing when my Cola (2.50 – but it’s organic or something!) is more expensive than Barry’s beer (2.00).  I lost my wonderful bag in the last café, a red cotton totebag that I got from a Psychology conference for students in Maynooth last year – fitted in so well here.  I went back today to try to find it, but the café (Laika, after the dog in space) was closed for New Year, so I’ll have to claim it next year.  Next year, which will be here in 6 hours or so, so funny to think of how we mark time.  Happy New Year everyone, here’s to fireworks, champagne, kisses and many more New Years to come.