Germans Ring in New Year With Donations
The party mood was darkened by Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, who told the crowd at midnight: "Today we know that we can't celebrate a joyful New Year."
As a huge fireworks display lit up the skies over the German capital for 11 minutes, Berliners and their compatriots ignored an appeal by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to give money to the Asian relief fund instead of spending it on firecrackers, as the Germans are wont to do for New Year's celebrations.
Despite the sadness caused by the tsunamis that killed some 125,000 people in the Indian Ocean region, including at least 34 Germans, the bangs of firecrackers were matched by the pops of champagne corks. As in other European capitals, security was tight around the Brandenburg Gate with some 800 policemen and hundreds of firemen and paramedics, but no "notable incidents" were reported.
Donations via cell phone
In a growing trend around Europe, people were being urged to use their mobile phones to make donations to the UN Children's Fund. By sending the word UNICEF to a special number displayed on giant video screens, €2.65 ($3.60) of the €2.99 fee would be sent to the emergency relief fund. By midnight at least €333,000 had been collected.
The Berlin celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate, which features a giant fairground including a big wheel, are the biggest in Germany.
The traditional New Year's concert by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle raised €50,000 for the Asian fund. Taking part were American soprano Sally Matthews and tenor Lawrence Brownlee, and German baritone Christian Gerhaher.
In his New Year speech, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder warned the nation to brace for more bad news. "The terrible destruction means we must fear that several hundred Germans will be among the dead," he said in an advance copy of the speech. Schröder also said his government would push for Indian Ocean nations caught up in the devastation to receive debt relief from