Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What do German weddings have in common with ghosts?

December 20, 2014

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A Polterabend, of course! Traditionally, German nuptials are preceded by an all-night fest that invites guests to smash dishes, tiles, pottery, even toilets—anything ceramic or porcelain. It’s not just a bunch of Germans getting really betrunken and breaking their ceramic steins accidentally. Nein. It’s a deliberate campaign to produce a mess of ceramic shards which, in the end, the lucky bride and groom-to-be have to clean up. This wantonly medieval destruction of dishware may symbolize a precious occasion that cannot be repeated (just as you can’t really reassemble a cup that’s smashed to smithereens). And the happy couple’s janitorial duty is meant to symbolize working together through future adversity—“picking up the pieces” when things get messy. But what does this oddly endearing ritual have to do with the supernatural? In a word: words! Polterabend is a combo of the German verb poltern (to make a racket) and Abend (evening). Essentially, it means “an evening of disruptive pottery smashing.” Seriously, in Germany you might receive an invitation that’s something like “Gerhard and Eva cordially invite you for an evening of symbolic china destruction. Regrets only.” But if the new Herr and Frau are unlucky enough to find a poltergeist (disruptive + ghost) in their new home, they could be in for another, more frightening round of dishware disruption. As if an all-night session of destroying brain cells, dodging sharp, flying shards of porcelain, and a big clean-up at the end weren’t intimidating enough…


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