Germany isn’t normally on the tourist trail for the British, but I’ve long had connections with the country through my career teaching modern languages and have always had a good time there, so I like to spread the word. This time we had a special reason to go, as we’d been invited to a wedding in a castle near Marburg. Marburg? I know, it’s not exactly well known here, but it’s the seat of the oldest Protestant-founded university in the world and home of the brothers Grimm, who collected many of their fairytales in the area. The half-timbered houses of the old town cling to a steep hillside, where narrow cobbled streets wind their way steeply up to the castle with its Rapunzel towers, steep roofs and rows of tiny attic windows. It was still warm enough in September for cafés to have tables outside; they serve international cuisine as well as German fare. We were there on a Sunday, and it was pleasantly uncrowded, but there must be quite a buzz when the town’s 23,000 students are there in term time.
Marburg is right in the centre of Germany, and we flew from Manchester to Hanover. Frankfurt would have done just as well, but we had friends in Hanover we wanted to see. We went through the airport and as far as the plane at Manchester with very little true customer service; from the self-check-in at Flybe to the self-check-out at W H Smith it was bleep and scan all the way, but the lady at the Duty Free did wish me a nice time when she discovered I was going to a wedding.
The wedding was in the village of Rauischholzhausen. Germany is full of little villages like this with quiet streets, criss-cross wooden fences round neat gardens and half-timbered houses. This one was dominated by the castle, a large country house and estate owned by the University of Gießen as a conference centre and available for hire as a wedding venue.
Our hosts had arranged accommodation for us in the Hotel zum Stern. It proved a great find – spotlessly clean with large rooms and, in contrast to Manchester Airport, excellent service.
German weddings rely on guest input. You’re invited, and you join in. This means providing a page for a guest book for the couple with photos from the past or advice for the future, putting on a sketch or organising a game. Many people had brought home-made cakes with them, and there was an afternoon cake buffet after the wedding service. During the break before the evening meal the couple had a photo shoot and photos were also taken of the guests for a calendar – we were taken in groups according to the month of our birthday.
If money is specified as the couple’s preferred gift, then you don’t just put it unimaginatively into an envelope. There are whole websites and books devoted to money origami, and we saw money folded into many forms, the best being a beach scene with 20 Euro notes made into deck chairs and 10 Euro notes as little fish. The couple spent the day after the wedding ironing out all the creases, which gave a new slant to the term ‘money laundering’.
Our second wedding came a few days later at the VW plant in Wolfsburg, where we visited the museum and did a factory tour. Such was the size of the plant, which covers ‘an area the size of Gibraltar’, that we didn’t need to move from the bus with big windows that drove us round the grounds and along the factory floor. Workers in white overalls stood on an immaculate production line wielding tools and machinery, and remarkably human looking robots lifted their clever arms to glue and install windscreens and put on the wheels. ‘And now we have a wedding,’ our guide noted with satisfaction as we neared the end. ‘The top of the cars are wedded to the bottom.’ We think he meant welded, but we quite liked the notion of another marriage. It rounded off the visit nicely.