Sunday, July 15, 2018

My best friend’s wedding


Every time I return to Europe, I find myself lying in bed my first morning and enjoying the ambience. The sun rises earlier here in the summers, so there’s plenty of light coming in the window as I awaken. Sheer curtains cover the open, screenless window, and light traffic noise wafts in. There is something so bright and fresh about early mornings in European summer. The atmosphere relaxes me.

Me and Stefanie. Photo by Carl Kaiser.
I am now in Mühlhausen, Germany, the first stop on what will be a whirlwind European work/personal trip. If you’ve never heard of Mühlhausen, you’re not alone. It’s a small town in the center of Germany, not really notable for anything except for being the birthplace of Johann Röbling, the architect behind the Brooklyn Bridge. But Mühlhausen is significant to me: it is the hometown of my best friend, Stefanie.

The bride and groom emerging from the city hall.
I first visited Mühlhausen in 2011, shortly after meeting Steffi. We were both living in Bremerhaven, and she invited me for a weekend at her parents’ house. I remember the Medieval city wall and the extensive Tudor style architecture. I remember the giant Gothic cathedral in the center of town. But mostly I remember feeling welcomed, appreciated, and embraced. I’m the only German-speaking friend Stefanie has ever brought home, and my fluency alone was enough to make her parents adore me.

This weekend, I returned to Mühlhausen to witness my best friend marry the love of her life. I am so ridiculously happy for the both of them, and it was more than worth the transoceanic flight to be there.

Bride and groom sawing the log (while the bride's father
holds it in place). Photo by Carl Kaiser.
The ceremony was at Mühlhausen’s Rathaus (city hall), in the heart of the old city. We entered through an arched doorway and climbed a dark staircase to enter a large, domed hall with paintings of Renaissance-era mayors on the walls. Stefanie and André made their way to the front, where they sat sandwiched between their designated witnesses, facing the officiant. For all the time I’ve spent in this country, I’ve never attended a German wedding before, so I was curious how much it would resemble an American ceremony. There were vows, rings, and a “you may kiss the bride,” but one thing did catch me off-guard: when the officiant announced the bride and groom, she identified them each by full name, birth date, birthplace, and current address. It was a lot of personal information said aloud. I was reminded of my church back in Bremerhaven, where the pastor would announce deaths in the congregation by name and address – I guess Germans just identify each other by place of residence.
With new friends at the wedding

The other major difference was a fun one: as soon as we arrived at the reception, we found a log, about a meter long, sitting on a stand with a two-man saw leaned up against it. It’s tradition in Thüringen for newly-married couples to cut through a log together as a symbol of partnership. I must admit, it was quite amusing to watch the bride and groom don smocks over their nice clothes and set to work with a saw. They made it through in just a few minutes, and then the party began!

Stefanie is a fellow traveling scientist who’s actually lived in more countries than me. Friends came from far and wide to attend the wedding, and I was again reminded how much science is an international endeavor. I got to meet her colleagues from Canada, France, and the Netherlands, and of course re-connect with her German parents. It was an exercise in community and just a really awesome day.

Congratulations, Stefanie and André!

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