German New Year’s Eve

For the last ten years and more I’ve spent every NYE with the same group of friends. This year, as more of them have children than before, it was hard to arrange something that went to midnight so instead we had our traditional murder party during the day, leaving us free for the evening, and so instead I went and spent the evening with new friends from my teacher training course.

A traditional English New Year celebration doesn’t really include very much, does it? Auld Lang Syne and fireworks, and is that about it? Because most of the participants are training to be German teachers, and one of us was German and two of us had recently been in Germany for Christmas, we ended up with a German-themed NYE celebration.

Some components of this included:


You start with mulled wine (Glühwein) and you garnish it spectacularly. You take a six inch cone of sugar, soak it in rum and place it on a special grill tray over the pan of mulled wine. You then set fire to the rum-soaked sugar so that the rum burns, there are Christmas-pudding style flames coming off the punch and the sugar caramelizes.

See also my mulled wine blog post.


I half surprised myself by dragging the component parts of that word out of my long-dormant German vocabulary. Gießen means “to pour” and Blei is lead, as in Bleistift (lead) pencil and Bleifrei, lead free as in petrol. So Bleigießen is a fortune telling game where you have a metal spoon and small, hollow lead moulds of things like hearts, coins, etc. You put the lead moulds on the spoon and hold them over a candle until they melt. Then you quickly tip the molten lead into a bowl of water and match the shapes it makes as it quickly sets with a table of shapes on the back of the packet.

Dinner for one

This is a famous English music-hall sketch that is widely watched in Germany on New Year’s Eve. Despite being aware of it and having seen a few clips, and despite it being only short I’d never seen it all the way through before. The version I’ve got above from Youtube is not the one we watched last night, but it will do for elaboration purposes.

German board games

In the last few years there has been an explosion of new “Eurogames” – boardgames that take participants beyond the old traditional range of Monopoly, Cluedo and Mousetrap. Monopoly in particular is a horrible game. It takes ages, it continues after some players have been eliminated, most people play a version of it that isn’t in the actual game rules, and I’m glad I haven’t had to play it for years!

I’ve been playing new German boardgames, ironically with my old English friends, but they made a nice addition to German New Year’s Eve. And they count, because they’re made by Germans, even if they don’t have German names!

One of our friends brought Settlers of Catan, and unfortunately I still have never played it. It has a formidable reputation, but I fear it might be a bit fiddly, and not entirely suited to not entirely sober company (see Feuerzangebowle, qv).

So we played my games: Carcassonne and Nacht der Magier

I can’t rave about Carcassonne enough – it’s a simple game, with only three or four basic rules – but its simplicity belies a complex strategy game with lots of scope for competitiveness. You have a bag of tiles and a small stock of man-shaped wooden pieces called “Meeples”. The tiles depict aspects of mediaeval life: cities, roads, farms and monasteries. Every go, you must play a tile and you can choose to play a meeple. Roads and cities span more than one tile and each tile you play must fully line up with the existing tiles – cities must match to cities, roads to roads. You choose to play a piece, if you have some left, onto the tile you have just played, to claim ownership of a feature, and features are scored once they are complete, so when roads start and end and when cities have walls all around them and when monasteries are surrounded.

Once you have played and enjoyed the base game, there are numerous expansions to make the game just a little bit more interesting still. When I try and introduce this game to other people, I like to play the base game then incorporate the expansions, so that people have a chance to understand the extra simple rules separately to the main game.

We also played Nacht der Magier, a game ideally suited to young and/or drunk people. It has glow-in-the-dark pieces that have be charged under a lamp, and the game itself is played with the lights out. I’ve taken this to a few people to play, and everyone always wants to play it again. You have playing pieces that are witches, red cauldrons with symbols on and a glow in the dark fire. All of the pieces are round, and the playing pieces are surrounded by wooden pieces that replicate trees and discs. All of the pieces sit on an elevated playing board completely filled with the circular pieces. In the dark, you have to push your cauldron into the fire from the edge of the elevated board, but because all of the pieces are circular their movement is unpredictable. Your go ends when a circular piece falls off the board and you can hear it clatter to the table.

I shall now draw this blog post to a conclusion before it goes over 1,000 words, completely unacceptable for a blog!

Happy new year!


One comment on “German New Year’s Eve

  1. Linda Jack says:

    Hey Alex – I LOVE it! Spent last new year with German pals in Bavaria and it was awesome 🙂 today Harald called and reminded me that last year we were ‘Merrilising’! I took my son who said it was the best night of his life. And of course – we watched Dinner for One…….

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