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Business

Germans Asked to Forgo Fireworks

Calls by politicians and aid organizations for Germans to donate the money they'd otherwise spend on fireworks to the tsunami victims has worried the companies that rely on New Year's revenue for their survival.

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A guilty pleasure?

New Year's Eve in Germany is traditionally a noisy affair. Not content to leave the fireworks displays to the organizers of large parties, ordinary Germans spend a lot of money -- €97 million ($130 million) last year alone -- on rockets, firecrackers, and sparklers.

But this year, German politicians have been urging people to have a quieter celebration without the assorted noisemakers, and to spend the money instead on donations for the tsunami victims instead.

Seebeben Opfer Nikobaren

Tsunami victims at a relief camp in Port Blair in India's southeastern Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

That's upset the 3,000 people employed in Germany's fireworks industry, which rakes in the bulk of its annual turnover in the last three days of each year.

"It's going to be very difficult for us now to match the €97 million in sales we had last year," said Klaus Gotzen who heads the business association for the German pyrotechnics industry.

While Gotzen said there was no question that donations to help victims in the tsunami-stricken region were necessary, he objected to the name the German aid organization Agro Action gave its fundraising campaign: "Rice, not Fireworks."

"I think it's unfair that the call for donations has focused exclusively on our industry," Gotzen said. "It would have made more sense to leave it up to people to decide for themselves what they'd rather go without."

Call already having effect

Germans have already started to take Agro Action's message to heart. On Thursday, retailers reported less demand for fireworks than in previous years. A department store employee in Frankfurt estimated a 20 percent drop in sales. And a newspaper in Kiel reported how one shop was even prepared to give customers refunds for fireworks they'd already paid for.

But some of the Germany's hobby pyrotechnicians aren't prepared to give up their fun on the loudest night of the year.

Silvester 2004 am Brandenburger Tor

Spectators watch fireworks in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, during the New Year celebrations on Thursday, Jan. 1, 2004.

"There's no way I'm going to give up my fireworks," said one young man stocking up on rocket-like devices near Leipzig. "A proper fireworks display is part of New Year's Eve," another shopper said. "I won't go without."

For other Germans, it's not a question of one or the other. A father in Kiel, out shopping with his children, said he'd still spend around €10 on fireworks, but that the family would also make a charitable donation, as it does every year.

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