As I mentioned in my last post, I am recently engaged to a German man, and we decided that we were going to tie the knot here in Berlin next April. We have already booked a fantastic 1920’s-era ballroom in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin for our reception and have sent out the Save-the-Dates to most of the friends from overseas whom we are inviting (we haven’t sent them to our friends in Germany yet), but otherwise, we still have lots to do.
In our discussions of the wedding, I’ve noticed and learned about many cultural differences in weddings here in Germany vs. the United States, and I’d like to share some of them here.
- You must have a Standesamt wedding.
In Germany, you can’t just decide to have a wedding ceremony anywhere you like. Everyone, even if they plan to get married in a church, must have a wedding in the Standesamt, or the government’s registry office. My understanding is that the Standesamt Wedding is sort of like a city hall wedding in the US, but a bit fancier: the rooms for the ceremonies are generally quite lovely (some are absolutely gorgeous, in fact), and they are usually decorated slightly with some flowers or other simple accoutrements. There are even external locations associated with the Standesamts where you are allowed to have your Standesamt wedding (we are hoping to book one of these, but I am being tight-lipped about which one until it is official!).
The downside of the Standesamt wedding: most of them are rather small, so if you are planning a larger wedding, it is likely that not all of your guests will be able to attend your ceremony. The other downside is that you are not able to book the place until six months prior to your desired wedding date (People have been known to even camp outside of the popular Standesamt sites exactly six months to the day before their wedding date to ensure that they can book the venue!).
Many people only have a Standesamt ceremony and do not go any further, but some couples opt to have another ceremony in a church. Sometimes this is on the same day, but sometimes couples decide to do it on a different date for various reasons. The idea of having two weddings feels strange to me personally, so we are hoping to book a larger, external location that offers Standesamt weddings so that a) we can fit all of our guests into the ceremony venue and b) we can do everything on the same day.
2. Witnesses, Not Bridal Parties
In a German wedding, there are no large bridal parties. Instead, both the bride and the groom choose only one witness each (a Maid of Honor and a Best Man, respectively). I must admit that I am incredibly happy about this tradition. I have watched many a friend be upset over offending another friend by not asking them to be a bridesmaid, and on the other hand, I have also listened to friends (as well as my own siblings) express dismay over being asked to be a bridesmaid. I never wanted a massive bridal party, and with three sisters and lots of good friends from the various places I’ve lived, my bridal party would quickly become much bigger than I’d like. Not to mention the difficulty of facilitating bridal party-related stuff with everyone from overseas. I’m incredibly relieved to not have to worry about all of that. One less thing to stress about!
3. The Bachelor and Bachelorette Parties
These aren’t always done in Germany, but at the party, the group will typically have lots of small, cheap knick-knacks and possibly shots of alcohol that they will try to sell to people while they are out and about.
4. Bridal Registries Aren’t So Common
According to my fiancé, most wedding guests nowadays will just give money as a wedding gift. Sometimes, couples do register at department stores or on websites like Amazon, but although it is gaining popularity, it is not so common.
Traditionally, engaged couples will have a wedding table, or Hochzeitstisch, at a local shop, which is literally a table upon which the bride and groom place items from the store which they would like to have purchased for them as wedding gifts.
5. German Wedding Games
Most German weddings have some, erm, interesting wedding games played. Some occur before the wedding, some right after the ceremony, and others at the reception. We will (hopefully) not have any of these at our wedding, since neither of us are really keen on them, but they are worth noting here anyway. Check out this link for a few of the many games you may experience at a German wedding.
The most interesting one, in my opinion, is one that is practiced traditionally in some parts of Germany and usually takes place the night before the ceremony: the Polterabend. Check out the video below for a glimpse into this “smashing” tradition (pun intended).