It’s New Year’s Eve in Munich, and we’ve just gone for a stroll in the fading winter light. Everywhere around us was the smell of gunpowder. From the small stash of fireworks we bought at the supermarket that morning, and were attempting, at great risk, to light despite not understanding the German instructions. From the 10 year old boys we walked past who looked slightly askance at the idea of adults watching them light up some bangers. And from the geeky looking guy doing some test firing from just behind his garage.
I remember similar wintry walks growing up (without the snow of course). In Australia, in my childhood, the Queen’s Birthday weekend in June* was known as Cracker night. Everyone bought their own fireworks and let them off in the backyard. Most neighbourhoods had a huge bonfire on the Monday night, with communal fireworks, and all the children competing for who could find the parachutes. But it is illegal for ordinary people to buy fireworks in most of Australia now.
During the 1980s, most states in Australia banned the sale of fireworks except to fireworks professionals (although some keen people managed to buy them by filling out copious forms). Here in Germany, people over the age of 18 can buy them on the last three days of the year only.
It’s yet another example of the difference in views on safety between Australia and continental Europe. The stereotype most Australians have of themselves, and outsiders have of us, is that we are fairly free and easy, laid back people, without a lot of rules and regulations.
In reality, over the last 30 years or so, our legislators have become much more risk averse than average. They’ve been much more willing to legislate so that people can’t take risks, even if they want to. So when we go places where risks are available, we are not quite sure what to do about them.
With the result that with Mr Penguin trying (unsuccessfully) to set off the bungers this afternoon with some snowy matches, and Chatterboy and Hungry Boy poking curiously at the iced over pond nearby, I was ridiculously (but fortunately not obviously) worried about the theoretical risks all three of them were taking.
*not New Year ‘s Eve or the 5th of November, of course, as two years out of three there was a total fire ban.