Germany Struggles to Rein In Its New Year’s Eve Firework Frenzy

German officials are urging New Year’s revelers to show restraint in setting off private fireworks, as pollution adds to safety concerns surrounding the holiday tradition.

While an effort in Berlin officially to block parts of the capital from private fireworks failed earlier this year, there’s a growing backlash over Germany’s liberal approach to New Year’s pyrotechnics. Nearly two-thirds of Berliners say the annual tradition has gotten out of control, according to a Forsa survey conducted for the Berliner Zeitung daily.

In Berlin, private fireworks overshadow official celebrations as the skyline gets lit up from east to west by people launching rockets or igniting firecrackers from street corners, balconies and rooftops. There were more than 800 firework-related eye injuries in Germany in each of the last two years, according to the Tagesspiegel daily.

“When I look at the New Year’s scenes in some of the streets in our biggest cities, it seems that many people don’t really understand the dangers,” Guenter Krings, parliamentary state secretary for the German Interior Ministry, told Tagesspiegel.

The country has among the most liberal firework laws in Europe, with very few restrictions around the New Year’s holiday. Limitations include igniting pyrotechnics in large crowds and near churches, hospitals, and thatched-roof buildings. The traditional buying binge began on Friday and is expected to match last year’s 137 million euros ($157 million).

In addition to safety concerns, pollution caused by fireworks has become a growing issue, especially as the German government cracks down on the auto industry over diesel emissions. The Federal Environment Agency warned of health risks from the New Year’s festivities, which in one night produces the equivalent of 15.5 percent of the soot emissions from road traffic for an entire year.

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