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March 2005

Tying the Knot: Part II

All You Need to Know About German Church Weddings

In last month’s “Red Tape” we look-ed at how to arrange a wedding at a German registry office. This month’s column is dedicated to those of you who would like to celebrate with a church ceremony.

Firstly, though, you should be aware that it is not a question of either/or. Marriage is legal in Germany only if it takes place in a registry office (Standesamt); everything else is simply an add-on in the eyes of the German state. It follows that the civil ceremony must take place before the church wedding kirchliche Trauung).

If a church wedding is important to you, you should be aware of the following: such a ceremony is difficult to arrange at short notice. Your first visit to the church of your choice should be three to four months before you intend to get married. In most cases the bride and groom-to-be (zukünftige Braut und Bräutigam) will be asked to attend counseling sessions (Eheseminar). The priest or pastor (Pfarrer) will probably want to discuss topics such as roles and responsibilities (Rollen und Verantwortungen), expecta-tions (Erwartungen) and family history (Familiengeschichte). No fee (Gebühr) is charged for this service, though couples may make a donation Spende) to the church if they wish to. For those intending to marry in a Catholic church, the bride and groom may be required to produce a certificate of baptism (Taufschein), a birth certificate (Geburtsurkunde) and a statement of residency (Meldebescheinigung). If you are marrying in a Protestant church, proof of unmarried status (Ledigenstandsnachweis) may be required. This is an official document, mentioned in last month’s column, that you will need anyway for the civil ceremony. The procedure for obtaining one of these varies depending on your nationality. In general, however, it will require you to go to your local consulate and swear or affirm an affidavit (Affidavit/eidesstattliche Erklärung) in front of a consular officer. Please note that most consulates charge for this service.

As the date for the wedding ceremony (Hochzeitsfeier) comes closer, you will also want to discuss the exact agenda (Ablauf) for the day. The Catholic church is, perhaps, a little less flexible in this matter than the Protestant (protestantisch/evangelisch), so if you are considering writing your own wedding vows (Ehegelübde), check with your priest first. The same applies if you intend to include any unusual extras, such as musical performances by friends. The Rev. Steve Henderson, whose congregation is the Munich International Community Church, and who was kind enough to give Munich Found pointers for this text, said he is happy to arrange for such elements, provided they don’t detract from the occasion.

If you have no experience of German weddings, you should find out in what way the ceremony and celebrations surrounding it are different from those in English-speaking countries. For example, the stag and hen party tradition does not exist in Germany. Instead the bride and groom organize a party for their friends on the evening before the wedding. This so-called Polterabend is generally a high-spirited affair, which may include much breaking of (specially organized) crockery. cherben bringen Glück (roughly translated, “shards bring good fortune”) is an old German saying and the reason for this tradition. Neither is there a best man or maid of honor. Instead, many of their duties are performed by the witnesses (Trauzeugen).

You may want to look at the Website for more details on how a wedding is celebrated in Germany. Or, even better, ask a married German friend, as these traditions may vary from region to region. <<<

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