Europe parties ring in New Year despite terror jitters

Millions of people around the world shrugged off terror jitters to ring in 2017 in style.

Europe parties ring in New Year despite terror jitters
Revellers celebrate at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, undeterred by a terror attack on December 19. Photo: Odd Andersen/ AFP
Revellers crammed into major cities across Europe to celebrate New Year with security tightened amid fears large crowds of people could present a target for extremists.
Celebrations swung into Europe with the night sky over Moscow's Red Square literally painted red by the fireworks.
In Berlin, revellers seemed undeterred by the deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market on December 19,  as they gathered under a freezing Berlin sky for a series of concerts and a large midnight fireworks display over the Brandenburg Gate. 
Nearly 500,000 people gathered on Paris's famous Champs-Elysees, where the Arc de Triomphe was lit up with a colourful countdown to 2017 and the word “welcome” in dozens of languages.
The raucous celebrations drew to an end a year of political shocks, led by Britain's vote to leave the European Union. It has also been a year of celebrity deaths from David Bowie to Prince and Mohammed Ali. 2016 was also a year of bloodshed and misery that has seen the war in Syria, Europe's migrant crisis and numerous terror attacks dominate the headlines.
The German capital beefed up security, deploying extra police, some armed with machine guns.     
“This year, what's new is that we will place concrete blocks and position heavy armoured vehicles at the entrances” to the zone around Brandenburg Gate, said a police spokesman.
In Paris, nearly 100,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers will be deployed across France against the jihadist threat and President Francois Hollande inspected the security measures on the Champs-Elysees.
But fireworks returned to the French capital, after muted 2015 celebrations following the massacre of 130 people by jihadists.   
Brussels also reinstated its fireworks show after last year's was cancelled at the last minute due to a terrorist threat, with large crowds gathering in De Brouckere square. 
In Stockholm crowds gathered on the north side of Södermalm to watch the fireworks over Djurgården
In Copenhagen, the main gathering point was central Rådhuspladsen. 
Rome stationed armoured vehicles and greater numbers of security forces around the Coliseum and St Peter's Square, where Pope Francis will celebrate a “Te Deum” hymn of thanksgiving.¨
At the Coliseum, thousands set off their own fireworks filling the air with smoke and sparkles. 
In Barcelona, hundreds of thousands gathered in the city centre to ring in the New Year. 
They were greeted with a fantastic fireworks display. 
In Rome, earlier on Saturday, the pontiff held a mass at which he urged people to reflect on the plight of the young as the year drew to a close.
“We have created a culture that idolises youth… yet at the same time paradoxically we have condemned our young people to have no place in society,” he said.
At the stroke of midnight, there will be a “leap second” decreed by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service to allow astronomical time to catch up with atomic clocks that have called the hour since 1967.


Op ed: New Year ruminations and firework impressions

Standing on a rooftop watching the New Year being rung in in Vienna every year is an amazing experience, but the only problem is that every year it seems to try and outdo itself with the volume of fireworks being released.

Op ed: New Year ruminations and firework impressions
New Year and emergency services are active. Photo: Paul Gillingwater

This year for those of you who were not in the capital, explosive bangers of the type designed to make noise with no special effects started days before and the New Year fireworks started as soon as it got dark. They proceeded to be launched constantly throughout the night, reaching a crescendo at 12 where the entire skyline was alive with fireworks.

From my rooftop vantage point in the fourteenth district on a hill overlooking the city it was no longer possible to see the outline of the first district because of the volume of fireworks being released.

Days earlier, every firework selling point had queues stretching down the road with people lining up to buy rockets and other fireworks of every kind. For those trying to sleep afterwards, bangers continued to be released into the morning, and the next day the pal of smoke from so much explosives still hung over the city.

Anywhere that there was an open space seemed to have been used to launch fireworks, outside my house the yellow of the grit container had turned black and been partially melted by fireworks batteries that have been placed on the top.

And as I watched the fireworks launching above the city or exploding on the ground, it was still not possible to miss the blue flashing light of an emergency doctor speeding past. About 15 minutes later an ambulance sped past, possibly to the same or different location no doubt related to firework accidents.

This year in my family we did not buy fireworks because quite simply it wasn't necessary, standing on the rooftop you could watch non-stop fireworks for an hour and could probably stay for another hour if the sparkling wine had not run out and it had not been so cold.

New Year's Eve at Stefansplatz.  Photo: Paul Gillingwater

It begs the question, does anybody care and is it really necessary to have such excess? Would not limiting it to 30 minutes have been enough for anyone, many of those releasing fireworks earlier might argue has been done for the children, but is that really the point especially after the excesses of Christmas – is it really worth that much for the children?

What happened in Vienna was I know from experience being repeated across the country, and no doubt now increasingly across Europe.

A short while earlier I had been in my local supermarket and wanted to buy an item, I had to wait while a young man in front of me, unaware I was behind him, stood holding a handful of copper euros to see if he had the 1.49 needed to buy the same item. He looked ragged, I don't think he was counting because he had just forgotten his wallet.

As I stood on the rooftop I compared the two scenes, put aside the pollution issue from so many fireworks, many others have probably discussed that before me, and put aside the destroyed property, the cleanup operation and this year two small fires and surely just one argument is still a good one for so much success.

Would it not be worth that much more if I was really were only to celebrate the New Year at the end of the year, and not constantly being released throughout the night. If only 10% of the fireworks released over New Year were released at the proper time it would probably have been every bit as spectacular, with something for everybody and at a fraction of the cost.

And what about the money saved from that gesture? This year it didn't occur to me to donate what I didn't spend on fireworks to charity, but if I had done I am absolutely positive I would have enjoyed the experience of watching everyone else's fireworks that much more.

I'm not going to donate that money now a day later, what I have done instead was to write this article and to share those thoughts, and if only a few people agree with me and do the same next year, then just maybe the New Year that we wish for will be one step closer.

Michael Leidig is a freelance reporter based in Vienna.