Monday, May 14, 2007

12 May: A Bilingual Wedding

There’s nothing quite so much fun as a wedding –especially a bilingual one! John ended up having to work today so he wasn’t able to accompany me. This was probably for the best, as going to a stranger’s wedding was not high on his list for how to spend his precious Saturday afternoons. The wedding was held at the Bergkirche (literally “hill church”) in Heinsheim, a small village near Bad Wimpfen (home of the famous Blauer Türm where, you may recall, I used the watchwoman’s bathroom last spring).

I knew full well that I needed at least an hour to get to the church but I still cut it very close, taking a wrong turn when I was just a few minutes away. By the time I pulled into the parking lot the church bells were ringing, so I quickly swung the E-Class into a too-tight space and got attacked by a thorny bush as I climbed out of the car. I got rocks in my sandals as I trotted past the smiling bridesmaids waiting outside the door and hurried into the church, which was an incredible 9th-century stone structure with a gorgeous view of the Neckar Valley. But I'd have to enjoy the view later - everyone turned to look at me as I came in the side door and I felt incredibly embarrassed! I quickly scanned the group of about fifty people but didn’t see Beth in the black hat she said she'd be wearing, so I slipped into an empty pew near the back. The bells were still ringing when Beth and Axl walked in about three minutes after me. Whew!

A few moments later the church’s tiny organ started up and Judy entered on her father’s arm, a vision in billowing cream silk and pearls, along with her two bridesmaids in fluttery aqua dresses. Judy’s family brought their reverend from London and there was a female German minister from Bad Wimpfen, as the ceremony was to be carried out in both English and German. The English reverend started out by saying how pleased he was that their German hosts had welcomed the “English invaders” into their church. He laid some ground rules before the official ceremony began – including “please throw things at the couple outside the church – rice, birdseed...eggs, whatever.” He said we would find the words to the hymns in English and in German in the program and that we would be singing them in both languages simultaneously – “hopefully arriving at the end at the same time.” He wrapped up his greeting with some reflections on something the Stuttgart registrar had said at Judy and Achim’s civil ceremony on Thursday: A marriage is like two grapes, which “when squeezed together, make fine wine – Auslese. (Auslese is the highest German quality classification for wine.)

The sequence of the ceremony was not far off of that of an American wedding. After the greeting, the Junge Chor Stuttgart (the choir Judy sings in) sang in English, followed by an introductory prayer from both ministers, and then we all sang a hymn together. I found it very hard to sing along in English while the choir sang in German, so I switched to the German version halfway through.

The two ministers gave short individual sermons (I could understand enough of the German to recognize that they were two different sermons), followed by readings of the well-known “Love is patient, love is kind” passage from 1 Corinthians 13. Then the bride and groom exchanged vows – Judy in English and Achim in German. There was a hilarious moment when the English reverend said, “Do you Judy take Achim as your wife,” and Judy responded “I take Achim as my…husband,” and everyone burst out laughing. I couldn’t see the minister or the couple, as my view was blocked by a woman wearing a large fuschia hat with enormous plumes of black and fuschia feathers bursting out of it, but I am sure the minister’s face matched the color of the hat at that moment! The rest of the ceremony proceeded without incident – the giving of rings, the blessing, another song by the choir, and the final prayers. We sang another bilingual hymn together, the marriage bible was presented, and the choir sang a gorgeous rendition of “Scarborough Fair.” (It was so beautiful that two of the small children in the audience were howling pathetically as the last notes faded away.) Finally there was the recessional accompanied by organ music and the audience walked through a red rose arbor formed by the members of the choir as we exited the church.

I stayed for the champagne reception outside – it had been a bit overcast this morning but by afternoon the sky was blue and dotted with puffy white clouds. As part of German tradition, the newlyweds had to perform some little tasks together – one of which involved two of their friends dressed up in lab coats and holding beakers of dubious-looking liquids. We weren’t close enough to hear what was going on but Judy and Achim had to put on lab coats and drink the contents of the beakers. Beth said that at her wedding she and Axl had to saw through a log with a double-handled saw. After greeting the happy couple, I chatted with Beth and Axl for a bit about the Chrysler sale and we explored the grounds of the church while sipping champagne and munching on meat- and cheese-filled puff pastries.

I think I've mentioned that Achim works for the Stuttgart transportation department, so somehow they were able to appropriate an antique Stuttgarter Strassenbahn bus from the Mercedes museum to transport the wedding party to the reception at Burg Hornberg, a few miles away. The newlyweds posed in front of the bright orange bus before driving off. At this point I said my farewells to Beth and Axl and watched the rest of the guests leave. I stayed behind to take some pictures of the church and valley and then drove leisurely back down to the Neckar River, stopping to take pictures of the 12th-century Burg Ehrenberg, which is perched on the side of a hill just a bit north of Heinsheim. I stopped again to take pictures of the E-Class in front of Bad Wimpfen, and then headed home. All in all it was a lovely afternoon!

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