BERLIN, Dec. 31 -- Berliners partied away fears of mad cow disease and the Viennese celebrated the city's first population increase in decades as German-speaking Europe enthusiastically rang in the new year Sunday.
An estimated 1.5 million people were expected to jam central Berlin for a fireworks-and-music show at the stroke of midnight, while organizers of Vienna's downtown festival expected more than 600,000 revelers.
The parties were every bit as big, loud and raucous as last year's millennium salute.
Hotels, discos and concert halls were filled to capacity in each capital city for the annual, nightlong party known as Silvester, the German title for New Year's Eve, as Dec. 31 is St. Silvester Day.
Berlin's bash ranked as one of Europe's largest, with outdoor celebrants spread along a main avenue for some two miles. The city's cultural smorgasbord gave Berlin club-hoppers a variety of choices for music and dancing, from "Tokyo Ska" and techno to a "Peruvian Silvester" party and hip-hop. More subdued concert-goers enjoyed special performances by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, the German-Scandinavian Youth Orchestra and others.
Vienna officials pleaded for celebrants to light candles instead of fireworks. In recent days, city police had seized about 70,000 illegal rockets and firecrackers. The city planned to spend nearly $1 million on a safe pyrotechnics show and other elements of the downtown party. The Austrian radio ORF reported a special reason for celebrating in Vienna: a population increase. According to unofficial figures, the report said, about 18,000 babies were born in the city last year, outpacing the number of deaths for the first time in several decades.
In Germany, an annual New Year's message from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was far more sobering.
Schroeder discussed the government's work to solve the mad cow crisis, which has shaken consumer confidence in the German beef industry. Six cases of mad cow have been discovered in recent weeks, which the chancellor said raised legitimate fears that "have horrified my family as much as you and your families."