Friday, September 9, 2011

If you don't get the girl, go smash stuff in front of her house

I witnessed a very interesting cultural event last night and it fits perfectly to share it here.
It was around 7pm, just before dusk set in and I was cleaning up from dinner. I heard what sounded like someone dropping a glass outside on the street. Since glass tends to be broken indoors I figured this was something worth peeking out the window to see what was up. Such things constitute real excitement when you've been home with your little child all day. Before I could even get to the window I heard more crashing and clanging. What the hell?! I looked out to the street and lo and behold there was a small gathering of people ~kids and adults~ with baskets full of dishware throwing it on the street. Hey, a Polterabend!!! AAAaaaaaaaaa! I've only ever heard of this, and for whatever reason believed it was a rather outdated custom ~and it may well be.

The word Polterabend is like so very many German words that is two (and some are even three or four) words combined to make one. Poltern means to make a racket, Abend means evening. Any American who made it through the seventies will recognize the word Polter from the movie Poltergeist. Geist means ghost, so that explains that word. Hey is Poltergeist even a word or was it just the movie title? In any case, a Polterabend is an old German tradition whereby friends and family break crockery outside the home of a couple about to wed. I knew that part, but I was curious to learn more so I looked it up on good old Wikipedia. Apparently, it comes from a German belief that "shards bring luck" ~I'd never heard that one before. It has to be dishes though, not glass.  It's not exactly known where this belief and tradition come from. Some possible ideas are: from the practice of old Germanic tribes throwing shards to repel evil spirits. Or an even more ancient ritual of breaking sacrificial clay altars after they were used in ceremonies. Also mentioned was that perhaps the guy who didn't get the bride would just show up to her house the night before her wedding to someone else and break dishes to express his frustration in a manner which would not lead to anyone getting killed. This would be the most hilarious explanation for sure, but back in ye olde days I can see it being true!

Another part of this tradition is that the bride and groom have to clean up the mess:

This part represents that the couple will have to work hard to overcome life's rough spots. Me being full of Saturn astrologically and just the way I am, I especially love that part! You can count on the Germans to include mention of life's crises in their wedding traditions. That's one thing I adore about Germans ~they do not sugar-coat anything. They are very quick to admit how hard something is (some say they complain too much and this may be true, but it's perhaps just this realism gone too far at times) and will always be honest if things aren't hunky-dory. This quality can be kind of harsh to encounter in reality, especially if you're American where you're used to everything being "just fine" and even saccharin. (Reminds me of the excellent movie American Beauty, which so poignantly portrays this aspect of American culture). In fact, it's one part of my American conditioning I try to let go of and learn from the Germans how to be more real and honest. I'm always scared of offending someone, but I sometimes have to remind myself that Germans or people who live here are not likely to be as easily offended as Americans are. They're used to brutal honesty.

I'd love to illustrate this kind of stark German honesty, but of course I'm not able to find anything in my memory bank right now even though I witness it all the time. But let's just keep this one out on the shelf and I'll keep my eyes open and report on the next incident I encounter where this comes up.

I'm also storing up some of the neat and nifty German traditions I witness as the year goes on. There are some in every season it seems. I'm looking forward to sharing my view of these old traditions that still live on. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. BTW I have no clue why the pictures are coming out so small, I'm importing them as large as possible onto my computer. Sorry if you have to squint to see them, I'm working on it.