Recently, I attended a German wedding – my second such experience* – and found the experience to be quite different from Pakistani weddings. While Pakistani weddings tend to be family affairs with huge guest lists and are stretched out over days, German weddings are one day affairs. For those of you with knowledge of cricket, a Pakistani wedding is a test match and a German wedding is a one day match. That of course means that Germans try to stuff everything together into one big fest. Before I go into details of what a German wedding entails, let’s get some perspective on marriages in Germany.
Being a secular country, Germany recognizes only civil marriages. Therefore, you can marry however many times in a religious setting, you will only be considered married in the eyes of the state if you marry at a Standesamt which is the Civil
Registry Office and deals with marriages, divorces, births, deaths and other such matters. Many Standesämter (plural of Standesamt) have rooms where people can be married and also maintain certain locations where it is possible for someone who works at a Standesamt to come and officiate a marriage. For this reason, many Germans who want to have a religious wedding ceremony as well, prefer to have only the few closest friends and family at the Standesamt wedding and the religious wedding is then the larger one. For people who don’t want to have a religious wedding, the Standesamt wedding is, naturally, the main wedding with all guests invited there.
For that reason, the latter tend to be not in a room in the Standesamt but at a location where the Standesamt employees can come to as well. With all this official stuff out of the way, let’s talk about German weddings now, shall we?
I’ll start with the kind of weddings I have attended until now where the bride and groom did not want a religious ceremony at all. For such weddings, the guests arrive at a location which is under the supervision of the Standesamt, like I said before. The location can be a castle, a grand house, a scenic spot, etc. The Standesamt employee – who is similar to a Justice of the Peace – officiates the wedding. Friends of the bride and groom are usually the witnesses. What surprised me a bit was that it’s almost never the parents or siblings who are the witnesses. In Pakistan, we’re big on family and this honor would go to family members. Many couples then exchange vows. After the vows, the Standesamt person pronounces the couple man and wife and they kiss to seal their bond. Tears are shed, some rapid blinking done (ostensibly because there’s something in the eyes), some of the more macho guests even whistle, and everyone takes a bunch of photos. Afterwards, champagne or Sekt (German sparkling wine) is served. Non-alcoholic drinks are available for those who don’t drink, as well. The guests then proceed to the location where all the celebration will take place. It’s important to keep in mind here that the Standesamt gives you an appointment for a wedding. And they stick to it. So brides, don’t arrive late please.
People who go for the religious wedding, tend to marry in the Standesamt in a smaller ceremony beforehand. Being a country with strong Christian roots, most religious weddings in Germany take place in churches. So I will describe how a church
wedding goes, simply because it’s the most common type of religious weddings here. A priest officiates the wedding and the whole ceremony takes about an hour. At the end, the bride and groom walk out of the church and mingle with friends and family. When the bride and groom come out of the church, sometimes some friends are standing outside for a spot of fun. The bride and groom are each handed a pair of scissors. Friends hold a white bed sheet with a heart drawn on it. The game is to cut the out a heart, and the groom to lift the bride up and take her through it. There can be other version of such ‘newlywed games’ such as sawing the same piece of wood. In the end, though, photos are taken, hands are shaken and everyone sets off for the celebration location. This is where both the church and the Standesamt weddings intersect.
Ladies and gentlemen, before we proceed ahead, I would like to tell you that Germans like to drink. And my, can they drink at weddings. Of course German guests are nothing compared to their Polish and Russian counterparts. The celebration starts in the early afternoon at a location booked until the wee hours of the next day. The bride and groom are busy in the beginning with having their photos taken and the guests are expected to relax and mingle during that time. At some point the bride and groom make a speech thanking everyone for coming, thanking their special friends and family and so on, and welcome everyone to their wedding. Unlike weddings elsewhere, there is no speech by the best man. Afterwards, dinner is served between 6 and 7 o’clock. Of course, appetizers and drinks are available for consumption before dinnertime. At some point in the late evening, the dance floor opens and the bride and groom have their first dance together, followed by couples, followed by everyone else. The bar is practically raided at this point and calls for backup. The wedding I was recently at had nifty cocktails which was pretty cool.
Depending on how the wedding is organized there are games and traditions done at some point. Here are some popular ones:
- Schleiertanz: After the bride and groom’s dance, friends of the bride hold up her veil. Other men wishing to dance with her (mostly older acquaintances) have to throw money on the veil to have a dance. The money is then kept by the couple as a present.
- Autokorso: This takes place on the way from the Standesamt or church to the celebration venue. Everyone gets a white ribbon to put somewhere visible on their car. All cars then proceed together to the venue and honk their horns for good measure.
- Brautstrauss werfen: This tradition is present in most Western countries where the bride throws her bouquet over her head and the woman who catches it will be the next to get married.
- Slide Show/Book: Friends and family can make a slide show or a book with pictures and funny stories about the couple.
- Balloons: Balloons (usually the heart shaped ones) are either released by the married couple or by guests. For the latter the guests write good wishes for the couple.
- Ehetauglichkeitstest: This frightening word is actually a fun game. The bride and groom sit on chairs with their backs to one another. Each of them holds an object in their hands symbolizing the other as well as themselves. Funny questions are then asked about the couple and as an answer one of the two objects has to be held up. The crowd laughs along knowing when the answers match and when they don’t.
- Waden erraten: In this game, the groom is blindfolded. Many women, including the bride, line up and hike their skirts or pants a bit to expose their legs. They then place their legs on chairs. The blindfolded groom feels the legs and tries to guess his wife’s. The game is then repeated in reverse with the bride trying to guess who the groom is.
Check out this wedding video for some games.**
Usually there are midnight snacks so that you can have food to unwind after some partying. The wedding cake is cut during this time as well. Many people start heading home or wherever they’re staying overnight around this time. Others stay until the wee hours of the morning for some hard core partying. The next day everyone wakes up with a hangover and full bellies. By the way, if you head off to a German wedding, don’t forget to take a wedding selfie. They’re on their way to becoming a tradition as well and you could be one of the pioneers.
*Just to clarify, the second experience of attending a wedding, not getting married.
**This video is of a Swiss wedding but many German, Austrian and Swiss wedding traditions are similar.
Note: Check out this blog if you are a non-EU foreigner and want to get married to a German in Germany.