In Germany, there are many customs concerning marriage that vary from region to region and from family to family. I had to deal with the topic “marriage” just recently since got I married only six months ago, and I want to provide you with an insight to what marriage in Germany is like.
Interestingly, there is only one minimal criterion that has to be fulfilled in order to get married. This concerns the legal aspect of marriage. The bride and the groom need to make an appointment at the civil registry office to sign a document, and then they are officially married. If people decide not to get married by a cleric, they usually have a great wedding party following the legal wedding procedure at the “Standesamt”. Religious people, or those who are to a certain degree religiously affiliated, additionally get married in church, which is not required but still popular because of its ceremonial character. The wedding at church is usually associated with a greater celebration after the service including family and friends. Having many maids of honor or best men is rather uncommon; instead both the bride and the groom have a “marriage witness”. Usually these witnesses are also their best friends.
However, the weddings I have attended so far resemble the latter description. It is not uncommon to have the official party and the wedding in a church on the same day. I am not sure if there is an “unwritten law” about the beginning of the church service, but almost every wedding service I have attended started exactly at 1:30 p.m. One tradition in church is to have little girls walk ahead of the wedding couple spreading flowers on the aisle. Self-written wedding vows, as they are common in the United States, have only recently started to become popular in Germany. The service usually lasts one hour and afterwards, the weddings guests drive to the reception, following the nicely decorated car of the wedding couple. Only rarely have I seen a motorcade driven straight to its destination. It seems like an established tradition to make detours to crowded places, honking all the time.
The celebration itself is often ushered in by a time to relax with coffee and cake. During that time, the guests have the opportunity to congratulate the wedding couple and hand over their presents. The following part of the celebration is the wedding program, consisting of creative contributions by family and friends. Obviously, it will be a funny and entertaining program, especially if the families and friends of the wedding couple have a good sense of humor. I have not seen any weddings yet where the bridal couple was not part of the games and quite often they had to perform funny tasks that caused a lot of laughter among the guests. The duration of the wedding program and tasks can differ, and dinner is commonly served either in between or afterwards. Speaking of dinner, it is probably not surprising that it includes a wide range of all culinary delights.
Around late evening to midnight there is often a transition towards the party aspect of the wedding in a narrower sense. Then, the older guests are prone to depart, whereas the younger guests dance to the music of the DJ in accordance to the principle, last man standing, as the bridal couple usually leave a bit earlier.
Disregarding the party, I highly recommend marrying, since I did it less than half a year ago. The different aspects of the wedding celebrations I touched upon in greater detail were quite similar to my wedding, a perfect mixture of conventional customs and modern aspects.