With the warm weather along comes another season, wedding season. The Rathaus (Town Hall) has been steadily getting busier the last few weeks; on Fridays and Saturdays the city steps are filled with heart shaped balloons, Sekt and brides. All German weddings having to take place at a Standesamt (registry office, usually located within the Rathaus), a church wedding being an optional and non-legally binding extra. German weddings are generally fairly low-key affairs, like the ones Ruth wrote about; receptions too are a little different to those in the UK, but still a great celebration with their own idiosyncrasies as Jane experienced.
Especially in Southern Germany it is common for the legal wedding to be a family only affair, with few, if any, friends invited. The chance for a decent party however cannot be ignored. Let me introduce you to the Polterabend. Taking place in the weeks before the wedding, this is not to be confused with the single sex Junggesellinnenabschied (stag/bachelor & hen/bachelorette parties) which have become ever more popular. This is an event that everyone is invited to.
The word itself comes from the verb Polten – to make a lot of noise and Abend – evening. That noise comes in the form of smashing porcelain and of course the raucous partying that accompanies the evening. The saying goes ‘Scherben bringen Glück’ – shards bring luck, which is actually a reference back to a time when clay pots were known as ‘shards’ and it was regarded as lucky to have one which was complete and undamaged.
Nowadays the shards come in the form of broken porcelain, pottery and sanitary ware bought by the guests and smashed onsite. The party traditionally took place at the home of the bride but nowadays the location is a little more flexible, and usually takes place in the happy couples current hometown. The couple are responsible for cleaning up the shards, to instil in them the need for teamwork in their future married life.
The smashing is a high point of the evening, I’ll never forget seeing a line of young men holding toilet bowls waiting to throw them onto a driveway. It is helpful to know a builder or plumber, for some ready to be smashed avocado bathroom suites if you want to make a big entrance at a Polterabend. Alternatively just keep hold of your chipped cups, plates and bowls, they still smash just as satisfyingly. Never smash glass or mirrors though, unless you want to make the couple unhappy or unlucky.
Making a mess is positively encouraged, the bride and groom will spend most of the night with brooms in hand because as fast as they can clean up the mess, someone will sneak by and destroy their hard work or simply get out another box of china from their car to smash. If you get lost on the way to a Polterabend listen out for the smashing and also keep an eye out for a skip, the easiest way to get rid of a lot of mess quickly.
Other than the smashing, the party, as with most German parties, will go with a bang. Since practically everyone gets an invitation to the Polterabend the guests will be a mix of family, colleagues and friends. If the couple (or one of them) belongs to a Verein (club for music, sport, anything really) or is from a small town (that kind where everyone knows everyone) there may be some special surprises throughout the night that don’t involve smashing.
A few things to know
– Presents are not expected at a Polterabend, but obviously gratefully accepted
– The couple provides food and drink
– No need to dress formally, this is a casual affair
– The party will go on until the sun comes up
With one marked in the calendar for next month I’m off to check my stash of chipped crockery.