Sunday, August 28, 2011

Weekend in Germany

I went to my friend Tina's wedding in Cologne, Germany.  We were volunteers together in Honduras at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos in 2001.  She and Helene, my roommate in Honduras (also from Germany), had traveled to the US in 2002 when I got married, and I hadn't seen them (or any other former N.P.H. volunteers) since.  Now, for Tina's wedding, seven of us (from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and the US) were all together again on the other side of the planet:

Former N.P.H. Volunteers - Daniela, Frauke, Monika, Helene, Gabriela, and Me (Tina is not in the Photo)
Helene has a cousin who lives in Cologne, so we had planned to stay at her place, but the cousin and her husband were out of town, so Helene was supposed to bring the key to the apartment.  Unfortunately, she forgot it.  Fortunately, this meant we ended up staying with Tina, Stefan (her husband-to-be), and Pepe (their 8-month-old son).  It was good to spend time with them and fun to watch Stefan on the morning of his wedding day--while Tina was out getting her hair done, etc., he was having a totally calm, relaxing morning.  I tried to convince him to start panicking and rushing around, but he wasn't interested.

The wedding was really beautiful, and it was interesting to compare it to American weddings.  One major difference is that, in Germany, there is always a signing ceremony at the Courthouse, even when a religious ceremony in a Church is also planned.  Going to the Courthouse was big fun because there were about a dozen other wedding parties there and it was nice to see all the different brides and grooms--some in elaborate white wedding gowns and tuxes, some in traditional German costume, and some (like Tina and Stefan) just wearing nice dresses and suits.  It's apparently not common for German weddings to include bridesmaids and groomsmen.

Family or friends often arrange for and decorate a special car for the wedding couple.  After the signing ceremony, there was a little celebration in the Courthouse parking lot.  There was champagne (and orange juice for non-drinkers) set up on the hood of the car, and everyone made a toast with the bride and groom.

The wedding itself was really nice.  One of the readings was from The Little Prince, Tina's favorite book--it was the part where the fox asks the prince to tame him so they will belong to one another.  It was very sweet, but I was surprised because the ceremony was at a Catholic Church.  I asked about it later and learned that it's not at all unusual for German weddings (even Catholic ones) to use readings from non-Biblical sources.

Tina and Stefan processed out with Pepe, who, by the end of the ceremony, had had enough of being without his mom:

In the evening, there was a big party with dancing and tons of good food.  I drank some rhubarb juice--it was amazing...Try some if you ever get the chance.  The wedding cake was made by Stefan's brother and his wife.  It was chocolate, and super rich and delicious.  It was decorated with a (frosting) map of the world, with a flag stuck in for every country Tina and Stefan have visited.  I wish I had taken a picture of it--it was really impressive and there had to be about 100 flags.  Tina, especially, has traveled all over, and has lived and worked as a nurse in Africa, India, and Central America.

Tina's sister (who served, I guess, as her maid of honor) gave each adult at the party a postcard with a month written on it.  She asked us to write a message and send it to the newly married couple during the month on the card.  Everyone (with the exception of us out-of-towners) also drew one task they needed to complete with or for Tina and her family, along with the month they needed to do it (ex: August - go swimming with them, or, November - fly a kite with them, etc.).  I thought they were really cute ideas, and good ways to keep family and friends celebrating with them throughout the whole year. 

Helene's cousin got back from her trip, so we were able to spend the night of the party at her apartment (though we didn't get in until 3am).  In the morning, she pointed out a flock of parrots (wild descendants of pets) living in her neighborhood.  She also set up her computer so I could Skype with Davin and the kids.  It was really great to talk to them.  I've never spent a weekend away from the kids before and, although it was wonderful to have a couple days off, I also missed them like crazy.

I had a really nice breakfast at a cafe with Tina, Monika, Helene, and Daniela.  Later, I went to Mass at the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom).  It was incredible being there.  After years in college studying the great European Cathedrals and the art they contain, it was quite an experience to actually be in one of them and to see it and the artwork in person. 

Construction of the Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 and, when it was completed in 1880, the Cathedral was the tallest structure in the world.  It houses a huge gilded sarcophagus containing bones and clothes traditionally believed to belong to the Three Kings:

Click here to read more about the Cologne Cathedral and to see more images.  It really is astounding.

I met some great people while I was traveling.  By an unbelievable coincidence, I was assigned a seat on the train from Cologne to Frankfort next to the very same woman I'd sat and chatted with on the train from Frankfort to Cologne two days earlier.  We had a great time talking about our weekend.  And, on the plane from Frankfurt to Bergen, I made friends with a young guy in the Norwegian Navy.  He works on a submarine.  He told me that sometimes the sub surfaces in the harbor near the City Center and people are allowed to board it and take a look inside.  He said he'd call us next time that happens and give the boys a tour.  I really hope he does, because just last week Jonah was asking me how much submarines cost and expressing a keen interest in buying one.

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