By the end of my first day in Hamburg, Germany I had managed to stay awake for nearly 40 hours and had been drinking for most of them. Like all my arrivals with a new host, I needed the next day to sleep in, wash the shame off, and attempt to be a human again. Good thing Maria knows me well and was not surprised.
This next leg of my journey was the most important one. It was the entire reason I had to come to Europe at all. I was attending the wedding of Maria and Johannes, something I had been planning and looking forward to for over a year. I met Maria in Malta and since then she has visited me in the States, I’ve visited her in Germany, and I’ve met Johannes both times. While I knew I was going to be well taken care of, I was also the only non-German speaking person attending the wedding. I anticipated an interesting experience.
Germans are stereotypically organized and plan well. Maria is very German and on the first day arranged for a friend of hers to take me out for a night on the town. I already knew this friend from my previous visit and was appreciative he volunteered to show me around Hamburg. So he picked me up, brought me into the city, we grabbed some bottles of beer and went out on the town.
One of the best things about Germany is the fact that you can legally drink in the streets, whenever you want. Wonderful, no? So we ended up in this very hip alternative area and went for tapas at a Spanish/Portuguese restaurant. When I ordered a glass of wine, they brought a rather large jug. I tried to explain I only wanted one glass, but it turns out they had this clever marketing gimmick where they leave the jug at your table and you can pour yourself as many glasses as you want. They can tell by level of wine left in the jug how many glasses you had. Bloody brilliant.
So we drank, ate, and laughed a lot. His English was so much better than I hoped for and remembered. The truth is all young Germans can speak English, whether they say so or not. They’ve usually taken around 9 years of it in school and while their grammar might not be perfect or they get lost for specific words sometimes, it’s still a hell of a lot better than they ever lead on. And they won’t speak English unless you make them. Or unless they’re drunk.
Now the reason this whole thing was set up was for me to check out the Reeperbahn, aka the red light district filled with prostitutes, sex shops, and racy clubs. Fun! Unfortunately, this was a Wednesday night so it was not at its best. But we did check out a sex shop and drink at a bar playing pretty decent live music. And yes, my ride home in the morning was already arranged days in advanced. Damn Germans and their planning.
The next day we drove to Anklam; Maria and Johannes’ hometown and the location of the wedding. My Reeperbahn date drove whilst me, Maria, and another friend (a cop nonetheless) drank sparkling wine straight from the bottle the whole way. And yes, this is on the autobahn which means no speed limit for most of it. Gotta love German style road trips.
Once in Anklam, the wedding festivities began. A week before the ceremony is the Polterabend, a huge party where everyone and their mother is invited to celebrate the marriage, mostly because you can’t invite everyone and their mother to the actual wedding. More alcohol than what should actually be expected to be consumed must be purchased. Since returning bottles of beer and champagne isn’t a problem, they loaded up. Family started pouring in around 6:30 and filled a large table with lots of food. Friends started coming over the next few hours and a very large roasted pig, head and all, was set on the table to admire its glory and then carve into.
Outside the party laid a large tarp on the ground; this was for all the broken porcelain. There is this tradition that every guest must bring some old china to break and at midnight it is up to the bride and groom to sweep it all up. It represents the hard work they must put into their marriage and will bring them good luck. So as the guests all arrived they threw down mugs, plates, and even a sink was tossed. Nothing like breaking shit before the party starts. And by the way, the table broke at the end.
So the night progressed nicely; the drunker everyone got, the more they spoke English willingly. When the older people started clearing out is when the dancing really began. And since Johannes and Maria love bad early 90’s dance music, it was damn good fun.
By the end of the night, all 30 bottles of schnapps had been drunk which might explain me slapping Maria’s back, her crying about it, then me crying about her crying, and then me entirely forgetting it all the next day.
Another HUGE horrible mistake I made: I deleted all 300 pictures I took at this event. I know, I know; such an epic failure of mine, I still haven’t forgiven myself. I did this towards the end of the night while drunk and can’t explain how or why. To make up for it I did take some pictures later on, but they’re only from the end of the night which means none of them are pretty, but pretty funny. Check my facebook for eventual postings. Eventually.
Thank God Johannes’ family (who I was staying with) had a sauna and massage chair. I’ve learned this is the best way to recover from a hangover.
The next week was filled with small wedding errands, but nothing too crucial except on Wednesday which was the actual legal paperwork. This was then turned into a mini ceremony in which only immediate family was invited, and me, by default. Not gonna lie though, I did tear up. And I’m not the kind of girl who cries often, enjoys romantic movies, or thinks babies are always cute, no matter what. But when Maria teared up, then her father and Johannes’ mother, well, I just couldn’t help myself. These two were so happy and in love they wanted to share it with the world and commit to each other forever. Somewhere inside me I knew this was incredibly right and these two actually would make it forever. Alright, that’s enough cheesiness.
After the short ceremony there was champagne and cake back at the house and by this point I was well used to not understanding anything going on around me. Rarely were things translated and I’d become very good at spacing out and smiling as if I knew what was going on. Really though, more often than not I was tired slash hung-over and several times a day someone would always ask me what was wrong or why I was so tired. For fuck’s sake people, you’re speaking a language I do not know for the last hour. How long can I pretend to follow the conversation and not look bored? But really though, it didn’t bug me most of the time. And as for me learning German, it’s pretty damn hard. The only things I’ve learned are dirty and inappropriate. Big surprise.
Thursday was another interesting holiday I feel compelled to share. Referred to as ‘Father’s Day’ and originating from some religious reason, truly this day was Man’s Day. Every man, father or not, gathers with his fellow man buddies and gets drunk starting very early in the day. Often there are bikes and adventure involved and I even saw a motorized wagon honking its horn and the men cheering as they drove by. Quite the ridiculous day.
While most of you would expect some feminist speech at this point about the absurdity of Man’s Day, I must admit it’s not a bad idea at all. In the end, all the men get out of the women’s hair and it’s Woman’s Day as well by default. So Maria, myself, and a couple of her girlfriends sat out all day drinking sparkling wine and eating cake. Can’t argue with that day.
In the night was another friend’s birthday so we all made our way over to his house to meet up with the boys. We were all already drunk in our own ways before the sun went down. Schnapps and drinks were consumed and I must admit this could be the drunkest I had gotten in all my time in Germany.
On the walk home I decided it would be fun to ride Johannes’ bike (not a surprise to most who know me). The one thing I didn’t consider was that I still had a full bottle of beer in my hand. A bottle my friends, not a can. Obviously at some point when everyone was shouting at me to turn I couldn’t maintain staying upright and slightly tumbled to the ground. Luckily the fall wasn’t hard but unfortunately the bottle shattered everywhere. Yes my hand was cut up and bleeding, but the entire beer was lost in the process which was more devastating. And I’ve decided to quit drinking and biking. Finally.
And so came Saturday, the big wedding day. Now the weather leading up to this day hadn’t been pretty or warm but at least it wasn’t raining. Of course this was the one day rain came down all day long. In some cultures this is a good sign for the marriage which was a sweet thought, but not any less annoying.
Maria is Catholic which meant an hour long ceremony with a priest rambling on, obviously in German. To be honest, it was interesting as this was my first proper wedding ever attending, regardless of the language barrier. The only unfortunate thing was how cold it was inside and the fact that I was the only female not wearing tights. Everyone seemed to notice and comment on how cold I must be. Yes, it was cold and I in particular was freezing. Thanks for reminding me. Constantly.
At least Maria looked absolutely stunning. Her elegant strapless dress was all handmade embroidery and she literally could take your breath away when she first appeared walking down the aisle. Seriously, I think this was the most beautiful wedding dress I’ve ever seen. Well done, Maria.
Soon enough the bus collected everyone and brought us all to the hotel a little ways out in the country where the reception was held. Before 4 pm everyone had a glass of champagne in their hand ready for the first toast. The first of the many planned activities was a tradition performed at every German wedding, and they all seemed a little surprised we didn’t do the same.
Everyone went outside to watch the bride and groom cut, not the cake, but a large log of wood. That’s right. They had a massive saw and had to work together pretty hard to cut it in half. Nothing special is done with this log afterwards. Its symbolic meaning is similar to that of the breaking and cleaning of the china at the Polterabend. Congrats were given and we all stepped back inside because it was still freezing and raining.
The wedding festivities ringleader was Johannes’ brother and his girlfriend and let me tell you folks, this was quite the task to take on. Pretty much the entire evening was organized and filled with activities (I seriously wasn’t kidding about Germans and their planning). First were some speeches which I’m sure were touching, funny, and heartfelt but all I could get was that they were in German. There was much to this wedding I’ll never entirely know.
Now it might be bad enough that I was the only English speaker there, but unfortunately I’m vegetarian and that made me high maintenance on two counts. So basically this amazing high class three course meal was planned and I was the only one who needed something special. Maria didn’t even know what I would be eating. Luckily when the first course came I was well impressed and must admit that grilled veggie tower thing might be some of the best food I’ve ever had. Being vegetarian in Germany was never as hard as it sounds. Of course I felt like such an idiot the whole time being so “special”. The good news is I was placed at the designated party table and I already knew everyone I was sitting with. And the wine never stopped coming around.
I mentioned earlier that there were loads of activities and I’m not going to bother explaining them all, seriously there were too many. There was a “Who wants to be a millionaire” game with videos and pictures form Maria and Johannes’ past, ‘which person does this more’ question game for the bride and groom, a day in the life of their baby thing, a song performed by friends, and more speeches. Basically anyone who wanted to say or do something could and it was Johannes’ brother that ran it all and made sure it went smoothly. In the meantime, guests were given a small piece of a picture of the couple and asked to paint only that tiny piece on a large canvas. Collectively, the picture came together but with about 30 or so different artists. Actually that turned out really cool even though it looked quite odd. Dancing games were played as well and of course the traditional throwing of the bouquet and garter.
At midnight Maria’s veil came off and went to the girl with the next wedding and they all had a dance. This was also the time I was permitted to take off my heels and we all finally began to really cut loose. The older crowd started to drift out and us young hooligans were dancing and drinking all over the place. At this point everyone was speaking English to me and I was even totted around like a puppy being presented to family members on all different tables which was quite interesting.
The only people who were spending the night at the hotel were the bride and groom, their parents, and the brother and his girlfriend. And oh yes, a room had already been arranged for me in advanced. I’m telling you, this is the best VIP treatment I have ever received in my life and I am so grateful to Maria, Johannes, and all family members who took such great care of me and my “special needs”.
In the morning, less than 4 hours after going to bed, I made my way to breakfast with the family and found Maria unfortunately with a cold. I felt it was more of a hangover and a culmination of stress but only time would tell. (Luckily she is well now.) We headed back to the house with all the gifts in tow and the afternoon was spent packing and counting the thousands of euros given for their honeymoon to South America next year. I was sad to leave so soon after the ceremony but alas, I needed to catch a share ride and the couple was bound for a week at their country home on the water aka their honeymoon.
So a sad goodbye was shared and a promise to return when they have their first kid. “See you in 9 months!” I joked, but really, made them promise me a couple of years. And so I set off to take a 6 hour car journey with a complete stranger who didn’t speak any English. This ridesharing thing is quite popular in Germany being that trains are ridiculously expensive. On the bright side I slept most of it.
I arrived in Nürnberg at midnight and was picked up by my friend Anna whom I met in Peru. And this is where the story will end. OK, I’ve been here over a week but my laziness dictates that writing and posting this thing is slightly delayed. Hopefully you're looking forward to the next installment as I’m heading to Amsterdam in just a couple of days. You can anticipate too much drinking, smoking, and new and ridiculous ways of embarrassing myself. As usual.