The only way I can even think to start this post is by saying: the past 6 months have been a blur. The chaos actually started before that, when Manuel and I made the decision that I should relocate to Germany, followed by selling most of my things and packing up the rest, followed by a flurry of get-togethers and farewell parties with friends. During all of that, I was planning a pretty epic journey that began right after my last day of work in early June. I spent an amazing 3 months on the road and rails, crashing on people’s couches, sleeping on trains, and staying in some really snazzy hotels. I still have more photos from all of this to share, and lots of thoughts that I’m still working on getting out of my head and onto the Internet.
And then, on the 4th of August, I arrived in Germany and nearly immediately started a language class that was far too difficult and left me very little time or energy for a social life or exploring my new country. After a month in the class, I willingly took on FAR TOO MANY craft projects for our upcoming wedding, which I hoped to finish before our guests from Canada and the States arrived, but ended up finishing while people slept off jet lag or were otherwise occupied with day-trips. The wedding itself was a fantastic blur of merriment and happiness, and not nearly as many nerves as I had anticipated. During the ceremony, I had a brief moment of sheer panic – I nearly always confuse the German “ich will” (which sounds like the English “I will” but actually means “I want to”) and “ich werde” (which very confuslingly translates to the English “I will”), and feeling like either could be correct and unable to remember which one was right. While our English translator was repeating what the German officiant had just said, I whispered my panicked question to Manuel. As it would turn out, I only needed to say “ja”, and all that situational perspiration had been unnecessary.
Speaking of situational perspiration: my first experience with German weddings was at my own wedding. In Germany, the only two options are a church wedding or a civil ceremony, officiated by a government official similar to a Justice of the Peace. To be legally recognized as married, a civil ceremony is required, and the church celebration is more like an optional second celebration. Many people choose to have a small civil ceremony with family and a larger church celebration later. Sometimes the two events are several months apart! For the civil ceremony, it is possible to use one of the many and usually historic local city halls (each village seems to have one), or one of the approved civil ceremony locations. For us, one of the options for a civil ceremony was a castle – Schloss Engers. The castle, which overlooks the Rhine river, was built in the mid-1700’s to serve as a hunting “lodge” and entertainment facility, was converted to a military training facility in the mid 1800’s, and served as a hospital throughout both World Wars and most of the 1900’s. When the castle functioned as a hospital, both Manuel’s grandmother and mother spent time working there. Between the simplicity of only having a civil ceremony and the option of choosing a gorgeous and meaningful location, we decided to have our wedding and reception there.
Our craft projects were a real test of my calligraphy and Manuel’s photoshop skills. For the wedding programs, we took a recent photo of the castle and made it look old. I spent hours searching archives for authentic old photos of the castle, but was unable to find any without military members standing in front – not exactly the aesthetic we were searching for. Luckily for us, Manuel is fast becoming a Photoshop wizard, and was able to turn an existing photo into exactly what we wanted.
Did I mention that with a civil ceremony, there is no dress rehearsal? So, with my hair done and my dress on, I waded into the absolute unknown. Unlike US and Canadian weddings, the bride and groom meet all their guests outside before the ceremony. Manuel and I had a very brief first look (even though we had seen each other’s outfits already, it was really emotional seeing everything together) before greeting our guests. The guests go into the ceremony room ahead of the bride and groom, who then walk down the aisle together.
German weddings are much longer than ones I’ve attended in the US. To give people an idea of the schedule (and the international guests an idea on when they could sneak off to their rooms and take naps), I made programs in English and German. The programs also included an envelope with a small Kleenex, an idea that came from Pinterest.
The civil ceremony was perfect for what Manuel and I wanted. The officiant gave a short history of the castle, which was a nice touch for our friends and family that were not from the area. He also gave a brief overview of the multitudinous steps and paperwork we had filled out to get to that point, and that the decision we were about to make was legally binding. After affirming, yet again, that we really did want to get married, Manuel and I signed an official document that proclaimed us married, followed by our two witnesses (Manuel’s brother Martin and my friend Jenny). After the ceremony, we received a Stammbuch. You can select your own Stammbuch, and each one has slightly different contents, but it has a page for your family tree, a “helpful” list of names for children and what they mean, and a copy of all German laws pertaining to marriage. Should I feel the need to expand my German legal vocabulary, I guess I could attempt to read it. The Stammbuch we selected has a silver sketch of the city hall for Neuwied on a blue velvet background. It really is a lovely keepsake.
One of the really fun things about German weddings is that they usually contain surprises from family and friends. I was a little nervous about the “surprises” – would they be funny or a little mean? Would I be able to understand everything? I had nothing to worry about, because our friends not only made very sweet and funny surprises, but also translated everything for our English-speaking guests! One of my favourite surprises was something called Flaschenpost. Guests were given a card on which to write down an invitation to us (such as meeting up for a barbecue party or playing laser tag together), a wish for our future, or a dear memory. The cards were then collected, placed in individual bottles, sealed, and then thrown into the Rhine river. In a nation known for taking a tough stance on littering, it was a little unusual to watch Germans gleefully throwing bottles into a river! The bottles then float downstream, and as people find them, they mail them back to you. When a card is returned, you can collect on the invitations and the good-wishes are supposed to come true. Here is a smattering of 4 cards and a note sent to us by a man who runs Trabant tours in Rheinbrohl. To date, we have received 11 cards back!
By the time 6 pm rolled around on our wedding day, I was REALLY excited about eating dinner. Two weeks before the ceremony, Manuel and I had a test of our wedding menu and were absolutely blown away. The restaurant in the castle did a great job of serving seasonal dishes that highlighted variations of the local kitchen, accommodating our vegetarian requests, and providing way more than enough food. (We even got several containers of leftovers, which we enjoyed for an additional few days). I wrote copies of the menu in English and German, which Manuel then scanned into Photoshop, edited to center justify the writing, and then printed out. For 60 guests, this was a huge time- and sanity-saver.
In a few days, I will post some wedding photos from my phone, which my BFF and amazing attendant Annie spent the day snapping away, for which I’m eternally grateful. And the professional photos from our photographer should come within the next few weeks.
After the wedding, things didn’t really slow down. The next week, we headed to Neuwied to register me as a German resident, and then headed off on our Honeymoon. We had a fantastic, but colder-than-expected time in Lucerne, the Italian Alps, Venice, and Munich. We are still sorting through photos, which I can hardly wait to share!
After the Honeymoon, I met Mum and my Aunt Doreen in Frankfurt. They were just finishing up a week-long bus tour of Europe. As they re-told all their adventures, I realized how much I needed to step up my tourism game here! My aunt headed back to Canada shortly thereafter, and I had a few more days with Mum before she headed back to South Carolina. It was a real treat to enjoy some time together after all the busy-ness of the previous weeks. Since then, I’ve made some plans to meet up with friends, made some steps to begin my job search, and been exploring more of Germany.
And so, with one very wordy fell-swoop, that has been my life for the past few months and a brief recap of the wedding. Now that life has settled into a modified and controlled chaos, I’ll update the blog more often with our current adventures and attempt to slowly catch up on all the things that happened over the past half year that I was too busy to post at the time. Love to all – XO.