I met Stephan and Christine while studying at Sichuan University in 2004. And I’d like to say I hung out with them all the time there, but they spent most of their time in and out of the classroom making out with each other and not paying much attention to the rest of us (not really). Fortunately Stephan loved soccer almost as much as Christine (ok, actually not even close, but at least he loved soccer enough to join the foreigner team at the university), so I did get to know him pretty well as we valiantly fought side by side in our bloody battles with our Chinese opponents (the bloody part is only a slight exaggeration). And then years later after I moved to Beijing, Christine came over often from Munich for business with BMW, and we were able to meet up several times for sushi or beer, occasionally both if we were feeling really wild. So I managed to keep in touch with the two lovers over the years, and when they finally took enough time off from making out and realized they might just want to get married and make things official, they asked me to do the honors of photographing the big day(s) for them.
So in August 2010, I ventured off to Munich with camera equipment and not much else in tow. I stayed with Stephan and Christine in their swank city apartment, spent some quality time with them in the days leading up to the wedding (they were incredibly relaxed… either that or they were fantastically skillful at hiding their shaky nerves), and accompanied them to take pictures of their smaller marriage registration day events. Only family and close friends were invited this day, but everyone was still dressed to the nines and on their best behavior. And that was a fortunate thing too, as the registration hall was AMAZING! The inside of the marriage registration hall looked as though at one time it might have housed a Prussian king. Or just a Bavarian prince.
I was too busy taking pictures to inquire how the whole marriage registration process works in Germany, but basically we were led into the former king’s quarters and a minister (he may have just been a state official, but he did carry out the proceedings with the Bible in hand) came in and took charge. He was a young, handsome, and very humorous guy who kept what could have been a very serious crowd laughing gaily thoroughout the 20 minutes or so it took to take care of business. Then some papers were signed, rings exchanged, saliva exchanged (I don’t think that was required, but Stephan and Christine hadn’t been able to kiss for several hours up to that point and I think they were getting a bit anxious), and that was that. After we finally managed to pull the two lovebirds apart, I corralled everyone back into the center of the room and got a group picture (see below).
The Germans have a lot of lovely wedding traditions (or at least they seemed like traditions as everyone seemed very natural and unsurprised when carrying them out) that I witnessed throughout the next few days, the first one being the cutting out of a large heart from a big piece of cloth and Stephan carrying Christine through it. Then champagne corks were flying, hugs were being passed out with abandon, and all the poor little kids wearing their Sunday best who had been hushed for the past hour let loose and chased each other along the riverbank. It was a fantastic afternoon, and the mood wasn’t the least bit dampened by the light drizzle falling on our heads.
The next afternoon we drove into the Bavarian countryside south of Munich to the small town of Aying, home of the Ayinger Brewery that would be providing the fuel for the evening’s festivities. Friends and relatives from the farthest reaches of the great German Republic flowed into the town’s central restaurant/brewhouse that evening for a smorgasbord of delectable sausages, cheeses, and pretzels, and of course enough Ayinger beer to flood a Texas county. We filled the entire front room of the restaurant, and these were only the earlycomers. Tomorrow there would be far more people arriving for the actual wedding to be held up the road at a private farm.
Yes folks, a wedding at a traditional Bavarian farm. If someone tried that in Texas in the middle of August, you’d have half the guests dying from heat stroke and the other half complaining incessantly about the flies (which is why my fiancé and I will have our Texas wedding on a farm in the middle of the winter!), but this place was evidently booked solid every summer for weddings. It was a brilliant idea actually. The owner had a big chunk of land that he used for farming and raising livestock, but he also added a cute little Bavarian chapel in the back of the property, a huge reception hall for the hard-partying German guests, and plenty of other amenities that qualified it as one of the coolest wedding venues I had ever seen.
The wedding was a huge success. That morning as she and her bridesmaid frolicked and gossiped, Christine was a bit worried about rain spoiling her big day. After all it had been raining and drizzling off and on for the past three days, and the sun was nowhere in sight. The rain let up later in the morning, but the clouds didn’t give way as people made their way to the small chapel in its bucolic setting at the back of the farm. The ceremony was presided over by a proper minister in full uniform this time, and there was much singing (including a song on guitar by Stephan’s granduncle) and crying and praying that ensued over the next hour. Then not 10 minutes after everyone stepped out into the courtyard to give their regards to the newly married bride and groom, the sun finally pushed past the stubborn clouds and shown its brilliant rays down directly upon our heads. It couldn’t have been planned more perfectly. Then again, maybe it was planned… =)
The wedding cake was cut in the big barn in the middle of the farm. This is when I began to realize how much work Stephan and Christine’s friends had put into preparing the events that would carry us through the rest of the day. First of all, Stephan and Christine had been very pragmatic about wedding gifts and told their friends that more than household goods and extra bedding, which they already had a plethora of at home, they just wanted to have a great honeymoon down the road in the Italian alps. So they told all family and friends who insisted on giving presents to give money, but they asked that the money be given in a creative way. And was I amazed at all the creative ideas their friends came up with. One couple gave a miniature model of the Mini Cooper the newlyweds would be driving to the Alps with rolls of €10 and €20 bills wrapped up like cans and tied behind the car (I guess Europeans share the tradition of tying cans behind the wedding car like we do in the US… either that or like everyone else around the world they’ve watched too many Hollywood films!). One couple gave a waving cat doll (common in China and Japan… it was a gesture to the fact that Stephan and Christine had both spent a lot of time in China) with money stuffed inside. One group of friends filled a huge glass bottle full of layers of multi-colored sand and at the top put mini beach chairs and sea shells made out of euros. And these are just a few of the brilliant presents their friends had obviously spent a lot of time and money (in more than one way!) on making.
The next thing I knew everyone was being handed a red balloon with a little tag tied to the bottom. There were hundreds of them. We all walked outside as a friend explained to everyone what we were doing. It turns out that each tag on each balloon had a return address for Stephan and Christine and asked whoever found the balloon and tag to please mail it back to the newlyweds so they could see how far their love had spread. Pretty neat, but the effect wasn’t fully realized until everyone let go of their balloons on the count of three and they went sailing off into the Bavarian sky. Again, that took no small amount of effort on the part of Stephan and Christine’s friends to put together.
After much more merrymaking and boozing, everyone moved into the ‘Great Hall’ for the real party. And a party it was. The alcohol flowed freely as friends continued to shower the newlyweds with tokens of their love and friendship. My favorite was a fake version of Bravo magazine (evidently a very popular teen magazine in Germany) that was full of pictures of Stephan and Christine in their younger, sillier years. A copy was given to every guest. They did such a good job making it that when I brought my copy back to Beijing, another German friend saw it and thought it was a real copy of Bravo (and rather surprisingly for a grown adult she giddily scooped it up and start reading several pages before realizing it was a fake). After numerous silly games, hilarious skits, and drunken speeches (all of which I could understand surprisingly well despite the fact I speak not a word of German), everyone crashed the dance floor and showed off their hot German moves. I couldn’t help but think with every picture I snapped of the wild orgy of legs and arms swinging through the air that somehow it all needed to be played back in a slideshow with Right Said Fred’s song “I’m Too Sexy” providing the soundtrack. It was a splendid party and eventually I set down my camera for a small break and joined in the dancing, representing the good ol’ US of A with my MC Hammer and Michael Jackson moves. Fortunately at that point everybody was too drunk to notice just how awesome my moves really were.
Most people filtered off to nearby countryside inns in the wee hours of the morning, but the next morning showed up bright and early for the Sunday brunch back in the main hall, which showed no signs of the carnage and pillaging that had taken place the night before. The highlight of the yummy brunch was the white sausage (SOOOOOOOO good!), though there were plenty of other nice treats to drive off all the hangovers. After a bit of cleaning and packing, the small pack of survivors went outside to see the newlyweds off in their Mini Cooper. Everyone gathered around the car for a quick picture surrounding Stephan and Christine protruding from their sunroof, then faster that you can say wiener schnitzel the couple was speeding off into the Alps.
And me, I hit the road and visited some German friends in different parts of the country before hopping over to London to say hi to the Queen!