When you step outside your front door on New Year’s morning, the traces of the night’s New Year’s Eve celebrations regularly appear on the street – firecrackers, rockets, firecrackers and sparklers are part of a successful start to the new year for many.
However, “recreational fireworks” are subject to certain rules – and especially when it comes to handling explosive devices, the lawmakers don’t take a joke.
But what penalties can be imposed in individual cases?
The acquisition and use of explosive devices is regulated by the Explosives Act (SprengG):
Section 3a (1) SprengG divides so-called pyrotechnic articles, which also include fireworks, into four different categories depending on the degree of danger.
Small fireworks (e.g. sparklers or firecrackers) and small fireworks (e.g. rockets and firecrackers sold in Germany) fall into the first two categories and are permitted subject to certain age and time limits.
In contrast, the use of fireworks in the third and fourth categories, i.e. the use of so-called medium and large fireworks, requires an official licence in accordance with § 7 and § 27 of the Explosives Act.
Anyone who does not obtain this and still uses such fireworks on New Year’s Eve is liable to prosecution under Section 40 of the Explosives Act. Depending on whether the offence was intentional or negligent, a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years may be imposed. Anyone who knowingly causes a concrete danger to life and limb or other people’s property can even face a prison sentence of up to five years.
The most well-known illegal fireworks are probably the so-called “Polenböller” or “Chinaböller”.
These are firecrackers that are usually manufactured in China or Italy and, due to their much higher volume and destructive power, pose a greater risk of injury than the explosive devices authorised in Germany.
In most cases, these are ground detonators that fall into the prohibited categories due to their explosive composition and/or have safety deficiencies. In most cases, they also contain banned flash-bang devices.
The explosion is therefore often faster and stronger, the substance mixtures can vary greatly in some cases, are not verifiable and there are often defects, such as fuses that are too short or defective latex closures in the casing.
In some cases, the illegal explosive devices can even have the effect of a hand grenade; every year on New Year’s Eve, there are reports of torn limbs, burnt body parts or even deaths in this context.
In some cases, the objects are even used to blow up vending machines or carry out terrorist attacks.
In some countries, such as Poland, the Czech Republic or Spain, the purchase and use of such fireworks is permitted without restriction, which means that some people from Germany set off shortly before New Year’s Eve to purchase such pyrotechnic articles at the German-Polish border and bring them home for the New Year’s Eve celebrations and use them in Germany.
However, it is not only the handling of illegal fireworks that can have unpleasant consequences.
According to Section 23 (1) of the First Explosives Ordinance (1. SprengV), anyone setting off legal explosives on New Year’s Eve must ensure that they stay away from fire-sensitive buildings, churches, hospitals and children’s and old people’s homes.
In addition, legal fireworks in the second category may only be used by persons of legal age between 31 December and 1 January in accordance with Section 23 (2) sentence 2 of the 1st Explosives Ordinance.
In the event of an infringement, this constitutes an administrative offence in accordance with § 41 Para. 1 No. 16 SprengG in conjunction with § 23 Para. 1, 2 in conjunction with § 46 No. 8b 1. SprengV, which is punishable by a fine.
Quite apart from the provisions of the Explosives Act, the general criminal offences of the Criminal Code may of course also be relevant in individual cases:
In particular, the offences of bodily harm and homicide (§§ 212 ff. and §§ 223 ff. StGB) as well as damage to property (§ 303 StGB) and arson (§§ 306 ff. StGB) come into consideration here.
It is therefore worthwhile – quite apart from the possible consequences for other people, other people’s property and the environment – to observe the relevant regulations in your own interest, despite the exuberant party mood, and thus start the new year without having to face criminal charges.