A traditional German top table seating plan
Traditionally, as a couple must be married by law in a civil ceremony prior to a religious church wedding, bridesmaids, groomsmen and flower girls are not customary at a German wedding. This requires a smaller top table at the reception, seating the bride and groom with their parents and grandparents only – a Germanic tradition which honours the two families. However, I understand that this may be becoming less prevalent, as couples opt for a more European table plan (Tischordnung) which includes bridesmaids and groomsmen/ushers.
German wedding receptions
German wedding receptions can be very long affairs, sometimes starting in the middle of the afternoon with dancing, followed by a meal and toasting, followed by more dancing. It is traditional for the bride and groom to stay until the bitter end, celebrating their marriage until the last guest goes home.
Other reception traditions include Brautstehlen – Bride Stealing! The bride is ‘stolen’ from the reception by the best man, who takes her to a local pub where they drink champagne until the groom finds them. Sometimes this can involve a hunt around a village, where the groom will meet other guests and buy them a drink in return for a clue to help him find his way to the bride. When the groom eventually finds his bride, he must pay for all that they have drunk during his hunt.
The bride and groom’s first dance is traditionally the waltz – many children in Germany are taught ballroom dance from a young age and it is a very popular pastime. The next dance is for the bride and her father, the groom and his mother, and the bride’s mother and the groom’s father.
Another popular dance is the money or veil dance, where guests have to pay the bride and groom to dance with them.
It is traditional for the two fathers to make a speech, praising the couple’s happy union. If wine is being consumed, the toast is ‘Zum Wohl!’, if beer is being drunk then ‘Prost!’ – both meaning ‘good health’. Eye contact is maintained with the person or people being toasted from when the glass is raised to when it is replaced on the table.
What a smashing party!
Although not a tradition found at German wedding receptions, an event called ‘Polterabend’ cannot go unmentioned. Held on the night prior to the church wedding, this custom involves the smashing of plates and china as a sign of good luck for the married couple. At the end of the evening, the bride and groom must clear up all the broken crockery together, to show that nothing else will be broken in their marriage. Only china can be broken, as glass is said to bring bad luck. Polterabend often turns into a fun, informal party for the bride and groom, their friends, family and neighbours. Some guests will compete to see who can turn up with the most outrageous objects to smash – ranging from a few simple plates to an old porcelain toilet bowl!