Considering the work that’s required to fulfill the many traditions in a typical German marriage ceremony, the country’s divorce rate really should be much lower. Hochzeit traditions vary from region to region and can be both fun and, for lack of a better term, somewhat peculiar. And I thought I had all the different cultural customs covered when I sat in a bookstore one day and scoured the pages of a book about the strange ways of Germans. But perhaps that was only the appetizer.
The weekend came quicker than we had realized and we boarded an early morning high-speed train to Konigslutter, Germany, for the big wedding of Kathleen’s friend. I wasn’t sure what to expect in a small German town with one castle and a dome church as its claim to fame. Nevertheless, I dragged our suitcase, with its broken right wheel and thin metal rod scraping the ground, out of the train station and in to the modest town.
We journeyed through the streets to a local bed and breakfast where we had our reservations for the evening. After knocking at the inn door for five minutes, to no avail, we placed a phone call to the very building we stood in front of. Moments later, a short, circular-shaped woman sporting a blonde mullet on HGH came barreling around the corner blabbing loudly in German. She gave us the room key and we were on our way.
The hotel rooms I stayed at in France were like grand suites compared to this place. The room was no bigger than a shoebox, and our suitcase could barely lie flat without hemorrhaging. But since this was a small town in the middle of nowhere, I decided to put the limited capacity situation behind me. When I learned of the no soap and shampoo news, however, things got ugly real fast. Kathleen and I engaged in a verbal spat about how I could acquire some soap and I mostly carried on like a high-maintenance catwalk model (desperation will make you do funny things).
When I finally stopped the pouting, a light bulb suddenly went off in my head: prime opportunity to conduct a soap-and-shampoo investigation. I immediately rushed down the stairs and into the first floor bathroom. Kathleen was tailgating my ass but I didn’t care. I started rummaging through someone’s personal belongings while faintly hearing over my shoulder, "You can’t just steal someone’s stuff!"
“You’re damn right I can," I shot back, looking around frantically.
But my mission soon turned sour, as I managed to find only a repugnant bottle of shampoo with more (unidentifiable) stains on it than a poopy diaper. I aborted and then slowly walked back up the stairs to our room, sullen and confused. Kathleen saved the day, however, shortly after. She asked the innkeeper for a small sample of soap and shampoo. I was happy again; life was grand.
We got dressed for the occasion in a single file (remember, the space issue?), then went up the road toward the Kaiserdom, where the ceremony was to take place. I remembered letting out a big sigh as I looked up at the beautiful sky on the walk over. The weather forecast had predicted rain, but there wasn’t a drop in sight. Only sunshine. Mother Nature must’ve known it was German wedding day.
A small trumpet band, a personable yet sincere priest, a smiling bride and groom, and roughly one hundred guests congregated for a traditional German Hochzeit. I had the pleasure of sitting behind the man I would later refer to as Zean-Claude Don Johnson, a French fellow who seemed more appropriately dressed for an evening out at a South Beach nightclub—but I suppose that’s how you roll if you’re a player: tan slacks and blazer, skin-tight short-sleeve black undershirt, and a blonde Don’s eighties hairdo. Kathleen’s friend gave me the Reader’s Digest version of the ceremony as we left the cathedral, and I understood some of what was spoken, and sung, for that matter. Yet, on this blissful day, the emotional state of the bride and groom didn’t require any sort of translation, as their perpetual happiness was evident.
After the ceremony, all of the guests gathered in front of the church to give their official congratulations to the newlyweds. What happened after that was something I hadn’t been privy to at past weddings. And it was all in the name of tradition: giant log on a stand plus a two-handled saw equals the bride and groom grinding away to sever a tree log in half.
“What if the saw blade gets caught on her dress?” I whispered to Kathleen. She looked me up and down, and then faced forward again to observe the log-sawing activity. If you think about it, though, it's a very committed act. If they can get through a tree sawing exercise together in their wedding attire, then any minor issue in their relationship would pale in comparison.
The guests gave a big applause upon completion of the lumberjack event and then the groom picked up the bride and carried her over three nicely decorated track and field hurdles. He knocked over the first one with his right leg but later redeemed himself with the two remaining hurdles, triumphantly stepping over them with bride in arms. Mission two complete.
The wedding crowd eventually circled around the newlyweds for a group picture. "Everybody here speaks English, right?” said the photographer. “Okay, squish together. Let’s go guys, squish together." Here I am thinking that this guy must be American. Who uses the word squish to a large German-speaking crowd? I later confronted him with a "finally, someone who speaks English here" comment. He was, as it turns out, an Aussie living in the States and the bride’s good friend.
The reception was held in the social function area of a really nice restaurant, the environment reminiscent of an American wedding. There was a gift table with pictures, arranged seating for the guests, a large dance floor, and a stage for the band. Once the guests got situated, drinks were served, along with a soup appetizer, and then wine, and more wine, and then more wine continued to be served throughout the evening.
While Kathleen, her friends, the photographer, and I were engaged in an intellectual debate about European vs. American food, Das Essen made its sleek entrance into the room, and then I took back everything I had said about European food being inferior. Buffet-style, the quality was perfect and the quantity was right on the money. I overindulged in the desserts, unable to resist sampling at least five different kinds of cakes, the German cheesecake and Black Forest being the frontrunners.
The wedding planning was methodical—it’s typical for Germans to plan things to the last detail, even in daily life. Dancing didn’t begin until well after the guests were finished eating, with some of the world's worst dancers in attendance, too. Zean-Claude Don Johnson was on his game, though. And speaking of games, there were a few, along with a vaudeville type Cinderella act behind a large white curtain, poems and stories about the bride and groom, a water candle and helium balloon mini-ceremony, small prizes issued for the pick-a-number activity, and a “dance” key, if you were unfortunate enough to be given one.
There were so many little activities happening throughout the night, some of which I neither understood nor could recall, but what I do remember is not receiving the opportunity to use my painting skills on the bride and groom’s wedding board. No regrets, as I’m convinced it would’ve been improper of me to spoil Kathleen’s defining moment as a watercolor artist.
In its entirety, the wedding celebration was one of good fun, unique rituals, rich culture, and wonderful food. And, evidently, time is not a restriction at German weddings. We carried on for ten hours and at two in the morning, we were still some of the first few to gracefully bow out. The only thing left to wonder is how much longer the rest had soldiered on at the German Wedding Show.