CONTRIBUTED BY LUCY B.
When my husband and I first started dating, I had a recurring dream that we were getting married in Germany and I had to rent a venue, buy flowers, book a church and do all of the wedding stuff in German, but I couldn’t because my German wasn’t good enough. It was probably a little early to start worrying at the beginning of our relationship, but sure enough, my dream eventually came true.
We decided to have our wedding in Germany in his hometown and a small reception in the US so that my relatives and our mutual friends from college could celebrate, too. I have an amazing mother-in-law, who took care of practically all of our wedding planning in Germany for me (not in an overbearing way)! It was full of great little details and lots of surprises, since my first German wedding was my own!
Unlike most places in the US, Germany requires a civil ceremony. Some people do this on the same day as the church wedding, or split it up, or just have the civil ceremony as the main event. We put a day between the two to make sure we had enough time to figure out details and wouldn’t have to rush. One thing that was very surprising was the amount of information and documentation needed to get the marriage license in the first place. They wanted quite a few original documents from the US (birth certificate, an apostile certifying I was unmarried and passport copies, among other things), and it took a while to process everything.
Since I’m American, we were required to have a translator for the civil service so that it could be legally binding. Unlike the impersonal, courthouse clerk’s window, stand-up ceremonies you might imagine, ours was very tasteful and touching. The officiant took the time to get to know us a little and added personal details to the service for us. There was a vase of beautiful red roses that I got to keep after the ceremony and my husband’s parents arranged a little informal celebration with champagne and snacks (horray for public drinking!) in the lobby afterwards. Fortunately, the documents from the civil ceremony are all in German, French and English, so registering in the US afterwards was no problem.
Having a photographer follow you around all day on the day of the wedding was, at least for us, prohibitively expensive. German photographers charge much higher fees, and the idea of having someone there all day seemed very strange to them. We had portraits taken in my husband’s parents’ garden before the actual ceremony. If you prefer not to see each other before the ceremony, you can have the photographer come right after.
German receptions (in my experience) are much more about the toasting and games than about the dancing. Our wedding featured many, many speeches and jokes (I’m proud to say that I understood almost 25% of what was going on). The idea is to get the couple to perform a little bit and to put them on the spot to highlight their importance to their family and each other. We had to play a version of The Newlywed Game, where we won an “Italian dinner for two,” which turned out to be a can of ravioli, courtesy of my brother-in-law. Some guests compose funny poems or songs, and slide shows are also popular.
There were plenty of great activities for the guests. Everyone tied cards to helium balloons and released them, promising to give certain gifts if the cards were found and mailed back to us. They also worked on several craft projects for our benefit. One table had them leave a thumb print and their signature, together all forming the shape of a heart, symbolizing their support of our love. It turned out beautifully and we now have framed in our home. Another area had them get their pictures taken with well-wishes, which we later got as a photo book for our first anniversary.
Giving cash as a present is absolutely the norm here (not tacky!), but it is common to arrange the cash in an artful way. We were given a few different gifts constructed out of cash folded into origami shapes. People incorporate the money into baskets, put it in piggybanks, or create games in which you have to earn the money from them. My husband’s high school friends gave us a flag decorated with folded bills, which we had to ‘earn’ by sawing through a log together. It was supposed to represent the importance of teamwork.
I always seem to miss the first round of cake and coffee at weddings somehow, so I very specifically requested “double-cake, double-coffee” and that’s exactly what I got. We had a cake buffet. Every woman in my husband’s family brought her best cake and we ended up with an enormous selection, in addition to our official wedding cake. People still talk about the cake buffet. I could barely eat my dinner afterwards. It was epic.
German receptions are a marathon, not a sprint. I have never seen people drink and eat so much. I had four cups of coffee by the end of the evening, and still couldn’t keep up. My husband’s family was so dedicated that when his 10-year-old cousin tripped and cut his head on a rock outside, his parents took him to a nearby emergency room, had him stitched up, and then all came back to the party. We held out until about 3am and then had to call it quits, but that didn’t discourage the other partiers, who stayed up and drank until dawn in my in-laws’ back yard.
All photo credits: Eva Careen Romero