Eleanor & Armin’s German and American Weddings

Today’s wedding is one of those beautiful international weddings that happened twice. Each with a particular sense of place, each with with a slightly different mix of loved ones. Eleanor & Armin had a civil marriage in Munich, where they live, followed by a homespun, DIY wedding in Sebastopol, California. I love these weddings because thy teach us (me, really) that there can never be an excess of love. Eleanor, today’s graduate, is not only wise, she also happens to be an APW Wedding Elf, and one of the people that helps support this site (yayyy!) She offers beautiful, printable, crazy affordable wedding invitations, and apropos of Friday’s discussion, printable affordable thank you notes (achem). I love her work, but after today I feel so invited into her life, now I want to move to Munich and hang out with her and drink Prosecco. So, for all of you couples with families bridging multiple countries or cultures, this one is for you:

After this year, I feel not only like a Wedding Graduate, but like I’ve just earned my post-doctoral wedding degree! My husband is German and I’m a California native. I’ve lived in Munich for over ten years and we met about four years ago at work. When we decided to get married, we went through the gamut of possibilities, should we elope? Should we get married quickly in the U.S. instead of Germany? Do we have one wedding or two?

In the end, we decided to have a celebration in each country. We didn’t want to ask or assume our guests could just shell out a few grand to fly to Germany or California. We knew if we just had one wedding, it would by default end up being either more my wedding or my husbands. We also didn’t want to have a destination wedding in a place that held no personal meaning for us. It took me awhile to accept this, because one of the things about being an expat is that, in some ways, you live a dual life. I have my American family and friends and my German friends and family and only rarely do the two lives intersect – which saddens me sometimes. It wasn’t until we really started talking about the logistics of getting married, that I had to let go of my fantasy of having one big wedding where both of my lives finally merge in a magical, matrimonial blowout celebration.

It being Germany and all, there was a very logical way to break down the festivities. It is standard in Germany to have both a legal ceremony at the Standesamt (sort of like city hall) followed by some sort of religious ceremony afterward (sometimes months afterward). Since neither my husband nor I are religious it made sense to have the legal ceremony in Munich and then to have some sort of home-made wedding ceremony, several months later at my parent’s place in Northern California.

I’m so glad we ended up breaking things up this way. A dual-national marriage in Germany involves a LOT of paper work; you need to provide a recent copy of your birth certificate, an ‘Apostile’ (basically an international notary) from the state of your birth, then get everything translated into German and finally, approved by a judge. This takes time and patience, but there is a pretty clear process to get it done (I don’t know how people got married internationally – or did anything for that matter – before the internets!) I found all this paperwork and our regular meetings in the government-y but friendly office of our ‘Standesbeamtin‘ (marriage office clerk) oddly reassuring and confirming.

The process provided the space and time for me to savor and appreciate the gravity of our decision to get married. No quick signing of a certificate after the ceremony for us – we were meeting with officials in government buildings, getting international documents approved, having the ins-and outs of marriage rights in Germany explained to us. It was all very serious and grown-up and was the antithesis of ‘it’s all about you and your special day!!!!’ It felt right to me that the sober, serious part of getting married came first. Plus, there are tender little perks to getting married in Germany, one of which is the ‘Stammbuch der Familie.’ This is given to every couple getting married – it’s a little book which contains a place to store your marriage certificate, a family tree template, each and every article of German marriage and family law(!) and a (not too subtle suggestion to get crackin’) book of German baby names.

I also loved the Standesamt ceremony. There is pretty much a ceremony every 25 minutes, but they did a really good job of not making it feel that way. One wall of the Trausaal (room where they perform the legal ceremony) was a huge floor to ceiling window that looked out over the red tile rooftops of Munich. This was also fitting because both of our weddings were so much about place. I was not only marrying my husband, I was committing to a life residing in, as well as a lifelong connection, to a foreign country, as was he by marrying me.

After the small intimate ceremony we went to a great little cafe in our neighborhood, which is sort of a hipster take on a kitschy Bavarian grandmother’s living room (and about the same size). We whiled away the afternoon chatting, visiting, hugging and happily drinking Prosecco with elderberry syrup, eating yummy panninis, soups, snacks and cake. It was leisurely, intimate and wonderful.

As my friend Elyse said afterward,  “I mean, Dayenu, right?” knowing that this was the first of three wedding celebrations. In many ways she was totally right. That simple, happy day would have been enough. Because of our spread-out life, I’m deeply glad we had our multiple wedding parties, but I also saw that you really don’t need much to have a wonderful, happy, lovely and meaningful wedding.

A day later we had a dinner for about 80 in the banquet room at a traditional Bavarian Wirtshaus (sort of like a tavern) around the corner from our apartment. It was a warm and happy dinner full of tender toasts and followed by fun and dancing and hangin’ at the bar. There was a lot of love floating through the evening (which our photographer captured beautifully) We also loved that the events were all at our ‘neighborhood places’ and that we worked with small and/or family-owned local vendors to get everything done. One more way that getting married in Munich helped connect us even more to the city we love and call home.

As I’m sure many of the other wedding graduates have experienced, we were in a blissful haze in the days following. There was a physical feeling to it. I truly believe that some sort of physiological alchemy takes place when you are with everyone you love and they are sending loving vibes your way.

Eight months later. Sebastopol, California…

“Seriously, why are we are doing this twice!?!?!” I would grumble to my husband when I was feeling stressed or frustrated. He didn’t like it when I voiced this feeling as it was not exactly joyful or motivating. However that’s how I felt in the month leading up to our California wedding ceremony (complete with the dress, exchanging of vows, etc.) Our celebrations in Munich were so wonderful, we were already legally married, and yes most of my family or friends from America weren’t there – but we were married. Everyone knew we’re married. It was done. I could have been spending the summer doing nothing but getting up to speed on ‘Mad Men’ and starting my cocktail hour early, but no – I had a head full of wedding decisions, DIY projects, dress cleanings, managing guest issues, etc. (Would you like some cheese with that whine?) but sometimes it just seemed superfluous and decadent.

That all changed when everyone started to arrive. Happily, most of my husband’s family decided to turn our ceremony into an excuse to have a summer vacation in Kalifornien. As all of my family poured in along with all of my lifelong friends, we started to finally and beautifully see our two lives merge. In the days leading up to the wedding there was a lot of DIT, mostly from family, which worked like a sort of festivity enhancer – We were all pitching in for ‘the big event!’

I don’t feel that a wedding is all about the bride and groom, I think the celebration is partly for everyone else to celebrate your people, their place in your lives and vice versa. One of the best DIY things I did was frame and hang pictures of all of our loved ones on the trees. In this way the wedding became about all of us. It was also a really great way to get our guests to get to know one another better. Everyone loved it.

My best friend was my maid of honor and my husbands best friend was his best man, other than that we had no wedding party and kept it all in the family. My cousin officiated our simple ceremony; one of my two sisters read a poem. My youngest sister and my husband’s only sister sang a song together. It was all more beautiful and heartfelt and emotional than I had anticipated. In his very moving toast, our best man mused on the Leonard Cohen quote:

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”

This is true about both life and about weddings.

One of the best moments in the ceremony was when our sisters started to sing their acapella song. They used an ipad to give them their first note. My sister accidentally hit the icon for ‘Jambox’ an app that spits out hip hop beats. My husband looked out at our guests and joked: ‘Wrong app!’ everyone cracked up. The ceremony became so relaxed and light-hearted after that. It was one of those ‘imperfections’ that made the ceremony uniquely ours and even more heartfelt.

In her toast, my best friend mentioned a text she received from shortly after I met my husband: “Dude! – I kind of have a boyfriend” I had completely forgotten about it, and hearing it go full circle from my giddy thumbs, to out of her mouth at our wedding years later is just one more reason it was worth it to have the two celebrations.

We had just spent the bulk of the summer in Sebastopol, and in those short months this corner of California, and our time spent there had become very meaningful to us. A transformation had occurred that had made this place ‘home’ just as much as Munich is. Spending three days together with our families and seeing our people from both lives ‘cross pollinate’ had much more of an impact than I could have ever anticipated. The fact that it was on my parent’s property, made it all the more special. We were at ‘home’ where we could celebrate, eat, drink, laugh, dance and sit around a campfire until the wee hours of the morning.

Wedding #2 definitively answered the question “Why are we doing this twice?” Both weddings were a celebration not just of our wedding, but of our life, the people in both countries that make our life sweet and wonderful, and the places that surround and give context to our life.

Photo Credits: In Munich, Christoph Mukherjee and in Northern California, Charlie Gesell

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