This is much less a travelogue of a location and more a story of an unforgettable experience we had, with a previously unseen (by us) location as the backdrop. For the sake of privacy, we have not included any pictures of the people involved.
Two close friends of ours -- he an American, she Polish -- invited us to attend their wedding and reception to be held among the small villages near her hometown of Sulecin where Tom had visited the previous year. As is commonly done in Europe, it included both a civil ceremony and a church ceremony in the village of Lubniewice (loob'-nee-VIT-suh), then the reception was that evening at an old manor in another village, Goslar, about fifteen minutes away. Cutting to the chase, the civil and church ceremonies were civil and solemn, but the reception was about the wildest we'd ever seen.
A group of us went up from our office in the Heidelberg area. We were a typical multiethnic American expatriate group, plus Vero who is Indonesian, and another of our group who was Panamanian. Most of us had never previously been to Poland.
We'll start with the setting, because Lubniewice was an excellent case study of some of the smaller towns and villages dotting the modern Silesian countryside, old agrarian societies mixed with a partial post-Communist facelift. The Ratusz (town hall) with its surrounding block of rundown farmhouses is a good example. This building (first photo) looked brand new and fresh (we didn't know whether it was new or recently renovated), while the neighborhood was old wooden houses that had been patched up, chickens running around the backyard, and old tractors for equipment.
The Ratusz hosted the civil ceremony, and it was the first civil wedding ceremony either of us had witnessed. The Ratusz had a special room for such occasions, decorated with bright gold and black striped wallpaper (yes, you read that correctly). The city justice, a woman, stood behind a large executive desk at the front of the room. She wore a dark judicial robe with a huge gold medallion. The bride and groom, best man, and matron of honor sat in the first row of chairs, the family in the second row, and the rest of us stood. The ceremony was conducted in Polish and interpreted in English. First, the justice gave a long speech about the beauty and sanctity of marriage. Then, the rings were declared official symbols of the marriage (can't really say 'blessed') and placed on their fingers. Then, with the happy couple standing together, the justice banged the gavel an declared the couple married. Then, the party began signing all the paperwork, while ushers passed around glasses of bubbly wine to all the guests for a toast.
Once this was finished, it was off to the church ceremony about two blocks away. The second photograph shows the church, which was a typical style of church for the area. It was simple red brick, with the main steeple serving as the entrance gate. The capacity of this particular church was maybe 150, which seemed awfully small for the town. But that was normal for the region, as Poles seemed content to attend Catholic Mass by standing outside the church when it is full. One or more assigned Eucharistic Ministers going outside to offer Communion.
The interior of the church was very decorative, though it was clear that the church had been recently rebuilt, like the Ratusz, the inside seemed intentionally designed to look older, more traditional. The lighting was dim. Figurines of the Madonna, reliefs of Calvary, and other Christian scenes were done up in color, and gold paint was liberally used.
The church ceremony was non-denominational, conducted by a non-Polish minister who was a long-time close friend of the couple, so we can't use that as a typical church ceremony for the region. However, the next morning we stumbled upon on a First Communion when we attended regular Mass which was probably a better representation of how the sacraments are celebrated in this heavily Catholic country. The church interior was decorated with lots of flowing white fabric and summer flowers, mostly white and yellow. Most of the children wore their Sunday best underneath a hand-me-down white Communion gown. Many of the children were assigned roles in the Mass, from a multitude of choirs to flower bearers to lectors (that is, a group of children each got their turn of one sentence from a scripture reading). The families sardined into the church and spilled out through the entrance door and into the courtyard outside. They were also formally dressed, nearly all in coat and tie or equivalent, and solemnity was observed although as one might expect the children exhibited occasional breaks in decorum. Parents went up to take Communion with their child, which was different from our personal experiences where the children went up alone.
With the ceremonies complete, we retired to the town of Goslar and had the reception in the manor building shown in the third photograph. This was a private home dating from Prussian times that was occupied by party leaders during the Communist era. It was set aside from the village with its own private hedge garden in front and open lawn in back with artificial ruins (see fourth photo) at the forest line. The manor was privatized after the Cold War and turned into a combination event hall and hotel. Those of us who came up from Germany stayed in the rooms on the second floor. The rotunda at the center (also seen in the fifth photograph) held the reception.
There were four tables in the reception -- the head table, the two tables on one side with the Polish contingent, and the table on the opposite side with us Americans. We were greeted with live music with several acts taking turns on the stage, from traditional Polish festival music to renditions of popular American wedding tunes. We were also greeted by an impressive array of alcoholic drinks and glassware on the table, the most important of which was a thimble-sized glass that was for the vodka -- two unopened bottles were on the table having just been pulled from the freezer.
The reception was literally an all-night affair, and we at the American table could not get over the quantities of food offered, nor how much vodka the Polish contingent drank. Most of us stuck with beer or wine, and may have done one or two shots of vodka max. The rest of the group were draining bottles regularly, yet showing no signs of its effects whatsoever. Full platters of food were brought out each hour, starting from six o'clock all the way until we gave up and retired near midnight (we were such wimps), and it kept coming. But, we were burning it off -- Polish receptions are eat, drink, and dance, and dance and dance and dance.
We left after the presents were opened, which was publicly done around eleven (a break from the dancing). We would later find out that after midnight was when the 'games' began, the types of games that only take place in environments where inhibitions are completely gone. Among them was a game where a large pair of underpants was wore over the man's clothes and on a signal the men raced to remove it and give to their ladies to put on. The first to successfully complete the exchange won. Weird games like that were played until four AM, when the reception ended and everyone crashed.
It isn't often one gets to see such events conducted according to other's traditions, and we felt like our presence was refreshing for the Poles in attendance. We might never venture to Lubniewice again, but we'll never forget our one time there.
Trip taken 19-21 May 2004 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin