We’ve been tackling international, bi-cultural weddings a lot during the past few weeks, and it’s turned up so many questions (how do you tackle a bi-lingual wedding service?) and so much wisdom (love is love, no matter what the language). Because of that, this week seemed like the perfect time to share Emily’s graduate post about a German wedding between a Pole and an American. Reading it, I spent a lot of time nodding and thinking (and my wedding was very uni-national and long gone), but which I mean Emily is wise. Oh, and she lives in Munich. That’s three wedding grads in Munich in two weeks, for those of you keeping score. I hope Munich is having a book club meet-up, because geeze! And with that, I give you Emily:
Artur and I met while I was in Munich, Germany for a scholarship program after graduating from college. I went there not really knowing what to expect and fell immediately in love with the country – and 6 months later, in love with my (now) husband. Our story probably sounds familiar to so many couples in love across national borders, cultures and languages – we spent a lot of time the next 4 years visiting government offices, applying for work permits (me), and visitor visas to the US (Artur, necessary because of his Polish citizenship). I got to know his family, learned important Polish words (tea, beer), and he traveled to the US with me to meet my family and friends and fall in love with the sport of baseball. When we reached a stage in our relationship where we were ready to marry, we had already dealt with a whole lot of paperwork.
Our wedding, of course, had to cross several borders as well. We had many unique challenges in our multi-cultural, tri-lingual wedding. Through all of the planning, and the ceremonies, I very much learned about family, community, love, and the concept of home.
Love speaks all languages. Yes, we’ve heard this before – but it’s really true. Our parents do not share a common language – but watching them on our wedding day, you wouldn’t have known it. So much of what happens during a wedding is communicated through smiles, tears, raised glasses, laughter and dancing feet, that the lack of intricately woven toasts or intense debate just left more room for all the above. In fact, my mom found our civil ceremony – which was entirely in German – to be incredibly moving, even though she couldn’t understand it. She couldn’t explain to me why, she just knew that she was moved to tears.
Writing our (non-civil) ceremony was the most challenging part of the process, and we did our best to represent all three languages in a meaningful (and understandable!) way. We worried a lot about people – would they understand? Would they feel left out during certain parts? We ended up including many multi-language portions – Artur said his vows in German, I said mine in English, and my dad played instrumentals of “I Will” and “Edelweiss” on his guitar. In the end, we heard from our guests how moving our ceremony was – they loved the parts they understood and intrinsically got the gist of the parts they didn’t. It seemed, in fact, that it was most important to our guests to simply be able to bear witness to our union – regardless of the language.
Home is where your heart is. Another clichè that turned out to be so true for our wedding. We decided to get married in Buchenberg, a small Alpine town where Artur’s parents took friendly refuge after a long journey from Poland to Germany and then through the process of political asylum in 1987. For us, it is not only an amazingly beautiful place but was the stage for many falling-in-love moments throughout our relationship. We knew the trip would be long for some – and we hoped dearly that our loved ones would be able to make it – but we also knew that it was the right decision for us to get married there. In the end, over 30 family and friends came over from the US. We were completely in awe of how excited everyone was to see us get married in a place we call home.
When in Rome…We were very lucky, actually, because our unique situation left a lot of surprises for our guests, they simply didn’t know what to expect. The US guests expected a German wedding, the German guests expected an American wedding, the Polish guests weren’t even sure. This ended up being a HUGE relief because we kind of got to do whatever we wanted. We mixed and matched traditions as we saw fit, and tried our bests to include elements from all of our cultures.
But of course, the country we chose to get married in dictated a number of aspects of our wedding – we had two ceremonies as is typical in Germany, both a civil and a church ceremony – only we didn’t have an actual church ceremony, but rather had a free officiant at our non-civil ceremony. We had a lot of fun wearing traditional Bavarian dress and were surprised by the townspeople with an Alphorn serenade. We learned the Viennese Waltz for our first dance. We served traditional German fare and our band played traditional German songs, and of course, in good old German style, we partied until 3am. But we also had nods to our own nationalities, in the form of lots of vodka and a slew of Bridesmaids and Groomsmen – and some truly quirky aspects (like our Wall-E and Eve cake topper).
Interestingly, by incorporating a lot of aspects that are generally “traditional” in our home countries, we were seen as being very offbeat by many of our guests. It was a lot of fun to introduce everyone to various aspects of our patchwork backgrounds. Most importantly, though, everything we did was authentic to us – either as a mandatory part of getting married in Germany, a tradition that had a deep meaning within our own culture, or a surprise addition by one of our guests. This means – we didn’t do anything for show, and we thought long and hard about which aspects to include – it was a fine line to walk, but it was worth it to feel really genuine about every aspect of our wedding.
One of my favorite memories from our wedding weekend was watching our parents together, dancing and gesturing and smiling, catching my mom’s eye and her running over to me and saying, “we have Polish relatives now! And Germany feels like home!” We couldn’t imagine a better feeling than knowing that our love and union brought together all of those previously unconnected people in a very real way.
Photos by: The Munich based Andrea Basile from Photo Basile and (The photos where Emily and Artur are in a Dirndl and their are Alphorns) Emily’s brother