Posted by: Jack Hope | Wednesday December 19, 2012

German Excursion 1: A Wedding in Filsum

Well, at long last here is the first of my series of posts about my trip to Germany in September, delayed as they were due to a sudden unexpected brain failure. For those who have been patiently waiting I hope you enjoy this post and the posts to follow.

The plane just prior to departure

Arriving in Germany, jet lagged and seriously squished after having sat in the middle of the middle row on my flight over with Condor (Luftansa’s charter airline cousin) which was not exactly the greatest way to cross the Atlantic. I did manage to sleep some, but I was pretty much exhausted and with my knees locked at a 90 degree angle by the time I hit Hamburg.

The seating plan of Condor airline’s cattle… er, cargo class. Note the J in the middle signifying me:

XX  XJX  XX

Maike and Sorën at Sorën’s Mother’s House

It was absolutely worth it though. Maike (the eponymous Angela, who graciously agreed to allow me to use her real name, approximately pronounced as Mike-Ah) picked me up at the airport. That first moment seeing her as I came out of the gate in Hamburg is one that I will long treasure.  Her fiancé Sorën (approximately pronounced ‘Zurin’) was already at his home village, Filsum, but their other guest from Canada, Mrs P, was already there. And hard at work.

Mrs P was Maike’s host during her exchange to Canada when Maike attended the high school that I went to. She is also the mother of a friend of mine, also from my high school days. I arrived in the late afternoon to discover that Mrs P was hard at work, as she is master seamstress and she had volunteered to do alternations to Maike’s wedding dress. I was also put to work, cutting lengths of ribbon and other odd tasks.

We drove out to Filsum that night, which gave me a great opportunity to catch up with Maike despite my own tiredness. Finally I met Sorën for the first time.

The countryside near the village of Filsum

The countryside near the village of Filsum

I crashed completely after arriving in Filsum, exhausted from the long trip. As I have already discussed in earlier posts I had intense and long-lasting jet lag which I started to strongly feel the following day when I slept quite late. Still the next day I started to discover this interesting corner of Germany.

My prior visits to Germany had been pretty much only to the urban areas, primarily the cities of Hamburg, Berlin, Hannover and Frankfurt. While I had visited Maike’s home village outside of Hannover, I didn’t have a lot of experience with rural and small-town Germany. Ost Friesland though, is actually quite isolated in its way from Germany’s urban centres. Bremen is the nearest big city and it’s over an hour away on the autobahn. The nearer city of Oldenburg and the town of Leer are both quite small, Oldenburg only having a population of about 162,000 and Leer having a population of about 35,000.

garden 1

Garden outside of where we were staying in Filsum.

Filsum has a population of about 2000 and is a beautiful German village, clean and well taken care of. This garden at the little guest house that we stayed at is actually fairly typical for what I observed. Filsum is also right in the heart of Germany’s dairy country and the entire area is devoted to raising dairy cows. We briefly toured some of the farms which were quite interesting. The contrast between these small farms and the much larger cattle farms that I’ve seen here in Alberta was quite marked.

But everywhere I went around Filsum I was really struck by the beauty of the region. The landscape both natural and man-made impressed me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here: Germans have really taken city and town building and turned it into an art form. Germany doesn’t have a huge amount of impressive architecture, in my opinion, but it has an unparalleled ability to create places. Coming from North America, a region of the world deficient in the skill of place making, it really stands out that every village seems to have a defined sense of itself, even if all the houses look the same.

On the Thursday night there was a barbecue held at Sorën’s family home. Mrs P and I were introduced to many of Sorën’s relatives and to the neighbours and friends as well. The villagers decorated the garden and put up an archway to celebrate Maike and Sorën’s upcoming nuptials. Sadly, my photos of this did not turn out as my digital camera was less than stellar especially in the twilight, although you can see some of the remnants of the decorations in my first picture of Maike and Sorën at the top of this post.

It was amazing how many people came out to contribute and help celebrate their wedding and I was really struck by the sense of community in this rural village. Urban people could learn something from this I think.

Unfortunately, I have to admit I was struggling badly with the effects of jet lag and, I’m now quite certain, the beginning of the onset of the negative effects of Effexor, as I detailed in my post: An Experiment in Depression.

I gave my regrets and decided to walk back to the Guest House (which was over a bridge on the other side of the Autobahn) and not all that far away. I got over the Autobahn just fine but then managed to get turned around in the darkened village and spent a good 20 minutes trying to get my bearings until I just gave up and decided upon the methodical approach: I simply walked up and down each street until I found something familiar. Another 20 minutes passed but I eventually found the Guest House again. The next day, in the bright light of day, I made sure to familiarize myself with the route between Sorën’s family home and the Guest House.

ost friesland countryside 2

More of the countryside around Filsum.

In Germany, there is a strict separation between civil marriage and the religious institution. Typically most German couples will go to a town hall on a day or two before the Church service. Maike and Sorën however, for family reasons, had actually had their civil service a couple of months prior. If my timeline is right, they were actually married in a legal sense prior to me receiving the invitation!

However, it’s the Church service that takes precedence over the civil service for most couples and this was also true for Maike and Sorën. Maike explained to me that this was the date that they would mark as their wedding anniversary.

Bells ringing after the Church service.

The Church where they were married in Filsum was over 700 years old and quite the site for a service, I could certainly see the appeal of doing it in a place with a lot of history, especially one that had a great deal of family and personal history to Sorën.

The service was different from common North American Church services in a couple of ways. There really isn’t a formal bridal party, although there is a Best Man and Maid of Honour, and they are typically very close friends. But there were no additional bride’s maids or groomsmen, and the Best Man and Maid of Honour’s main duty’s are to serve as witnesses.

Maike and Sorën walking down the aisle at the end of their wedding.

Maike and Sorën walking down the aisle at the end of their wedding.

The service was conducted entirely in German naturally, so I couldn’t follow it. Nonetheless though, it was a fairly fast service and broken up several times by the singing of various hymns, something that I’d never run into at a wedding before. Even though neither Mrs P or I could understand what was being said the singing and accompanying music was very beautiful.

Afterwards we all gathered outside and Mrs P and watched the array of people who had come out for the service stop and congratulate the happy couple. It really seemed as though the whole village had turned out although that wasn’t really the case. Still, nearly 200 people showed up, making it one of the largest weddings I had ever been to.

Maike and Sorën made sure that both Mrs P and I were treated as though we were family members, something for which I am quite grateful. I had somewhat steeled myself for the prospect that I wouldn’t get to see much of Maike and I was overjoyed at the way both of them took so much effort to make sure that wasn’t the case. I also felt somewhat guilty about it, but given that I only get see her for short periods every couple of years, I can’t make myself feel all that bad about it either.

Still walking down the aisle.

Still walking down the aisle. Sorën’s Best Man, Reinke, can be seen behind Maike.

Sorën

The reception was held in the nearby city of Oldenburg at a very nice restaurant. It opened onto a lovely garden area including a small wooded area with pathway.

There was a cocktail hour prior to supper and the alcohol flowed freely. For such a large wedding, I was a little surprised that it was an open bar, although apparently the concept of a ‘cash bar’ doesn’t exist in Germany. Then again alcohol is a good deal less expensive in Germany than it is here and I will admit I indulged myself a bit. Due to the medications I take I don’t often drink anymore, let alone allow myself to get seriously intoxicated but I definitely came close this night. Although I ultimately managed to keep myself more on the pleasantly tipsy side rather than the sloshed drunk side. I’m hoping that my liver will one day forgive me for the abuse I inflicted upon it.

Supper was amazing. I am a big fan of German food although I have to watch out as it can be quite fattening too and supper for this wedding was no exception. Maike and Sorën were kind enough to place Mrs P and I with their other English-speaking guests and I had some fascinating conversations with one of Maike’s friends who had come in from Strasbourg. She was involved in international law and was telling me many interesting things about the legal climates of France and Germany and how the two countries compared, and the issues that came up with both of them being a part of the European Union.

The food was brought to each table in large serving dishes and then each guest took as much of any given dish as they cared to have. Seconds were brought around and waitresses came around routinely to take away empty serving dishes and refill drinks.

There was the usual round of speeches made, although those were also kept reasonably brief. One or two of our table-mates were kind enough to give us the gist of the various speeches and toasts. One cute idea was that instead of the clinking of glasses, they requested that given table sing a verse or two of a song and the happy couple would kiss.

Maike and Sorën also made sure to express a very heartfelt thank you to Mrs P and I for coming over from Canada to attend their wedding, which got the two of us a nice round of applause.

One of Maike and Sorën's first dances.

One of Maike and Sorën’s first dances. To the right of Sorën in the green is Mrs P, wearing a traditional Chinese outfit. To her right is Maike’s father and the lady in black on the left is Sorën’s mother.

After supper was the requisite dance which was quite a lot of fun. It began fairly promptly after supper, with the requisite first dances, including a mother-son and father-daughter dance. A live band provided the music instead of a DJ and while some of their forays into english language pop were a bit questionable, overall they gave a fun and energetic performance over the course of the night. And considering how long a night it would turn out to be, that was quite impressive.

I was there, and I don't get it either.

I was there, and I don’t get it either.

Still, the band did need the occasional break and one of those breaks was occupied by this game. I only really had a chance to snap a picture of it with my iPhone, so the quality isn’t all that great but basically the groom and three friends were wearing red lettering on their front and backs and the bride and three friends wore green letters. I’m not entirely sure what they were doing although obviously it was some sort of spelling game. They tried to draft me to join Sorën’s team which surely would have left them utterly helpless though.

One of the things that made this wedding such a terrific experience were the people, Maike and Sorën’s friends and family who made a lot of effort to make me and Mrs P feel welcome and included. Whether it was our table-mates or Sorën’s brother or Maike’s father, someone was always there to talk to, even if it took some figuring out of what everyone was trying to say. I had some very good conversations with Maike’s father whom I had met twice before, along with her mother. Despite the communication gap, he told me a lot about his work and his upcoming retirement plans.

Sorën’s brother also talked with me a lot and we had some good and interesting conversations. Sorën is the youngest of 3 and it was the middle brother whom I chatted with the most, his oldest brother being a very stoic person, far in excess of the German stereotype.

The band and the dance.

The band and the dance.

Germans like to party. By midnight it was only the very elderly guests that had gone home for the evening. By about 3:00am, Maike and Sorën’s parents were headed out for the evening. And the alcohol was still flowing quite freely. The reception ended at about 5:00am and apparently there is no such thing as ‘last call’ in Germany. This is also apparently typical for a German wedding to last this long.

I made it all the way to the end. I honestly didn’t think I would. I was scared that I would have to call it early that I would be to tired, especially given that I had gone to bed fairly late the previous night. Still, by the time midnight had rolled around I was feeling quite good, especially as they rolled out the midnight ‘snack’ which turned out to be plates and plates of deserts and other food, virtually another meal for anyone that hungry.

When I got into the cab to head to the hotel, utterly exhausted, but incredibly happy that I had been there for this event. This wedding really was the best one I have ever attended, despite the fact that I knew so few people there. In my life, I have been fortunate enough to go all over the world and I have been welcomed with open arms in many strange and faraway places. But still the warmth and hospitality of so many people at this wedding for a foreign stranger will live long in my memory as one of the most outstanding experiences abroad as I have ever had.

I am tremendously grateful that Maike and Sorën invited me to attend their wedding and for their friendship. This was truly one of the great experiences of my life.

Next up in Part 2, some German wanderings. Given that this is, by far, the longest article that I have ever done on this blog and I still have a lot more to share (and that the next post is already getting quite long), I may be breaking it up in to 2 smaller posts, as well, I have some more picture only posts coming up of some of the neat things that I saw on this trip. Most of these will come out in the new year I expect, as obviously the holidays will be keeping me a bit busy.

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Responses

  1. So glad to see the photos and read the stories behind them. Having never been to any part of Europe its interesting to hear about the towns and villages and how they do things differently and yet some things are the same as here. I do agree that North America lacks creativity as a place. There are some parts that have a personality, but I’ve always admired Europe for having so much history behind thier towns and customs. Beautiful photos. Looks like it was a lot of fun. That garden is stunning. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to more.


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