Pragmatic Germans are good at repurposing old buildings, which somehow became the ‘leitmotif’ during my short stay in their country.
I finally reunited with Josh in Berlin after travelling on my own, though it was only going to be a week-long reunion. It was great to re-visit the city all this time later. I’d visited once before in 2006, and those who have been following my travels for a while may recall that it was where I had a bike accident and ended up in hospital. Despite that, I had good memories of the city and have always wanted to come back, so it was good to have a reason to.
We stayed with a friend I originally met in 2001 when he was on university exchange in Sydney from Seattle. I hadn’t seen him in over two years since he’d moved to Berlin, but we’re in frequent contact. The highlight of our time together was going to a music festival on Friday night, held in what was once Berlin Tempelhof Airport.
The airport closed a few years ago and it was an ingenious repurposing of space…and a particularly memorable night as I finally got to fulfill a long-held dream to see one of my favourite bands live. Blur’s music accompanied me through different parts of my twenties, and I sang along to their set at the top of my lungs
The next morning we had a train to catch out of Berlin for a wedding in the country. Josh had been good friends with the groom since they met on university exchange in Holland in 1999 so coincidentally, these were our two main friendships which had come out of cultural exchanges. Thinking about this makes me feel very excited about studying in Europe this year with a group of people from around the world. I’m sure great things will come of it.
The 11am departure from Berlin basically left us no time to even consider voting in the Australian election but neither of us were concerned because the overall political landscape had been depressing of late and frankly, it was a relief to opt-out. Aside from which, I knew that I could personally have no impact on the election because I’m registered in one of the safest Labor seats in the country…and sure enough, when I checked the results a few days later, there had even been a slight swing towards the Labor incumbent, Jason Clare. Coincidentally, the German federal election is coming up, but from talking to friends there also seemed to be a high level of disengagement. A lot of single issue and even joke parties had sprung up, one of which has the poster ‘Merkel ist doof’ (‘Merkel is stupid’). The voting turn-out in the last German election was just over 70%, which was the average level, and they’re predicting an even lower turnout for this next one.
The wedding was held at what was once a hunting lodge for a wealthy Berliner. It was literally in the middle of nowhere at the edge of a pine tree forest, with thousands of pinecones on the forest floor. Just about every guest got lost on the way – the best man arrived at the last minute because he turned up to the wrong village 50km away. The lodge was now a site for weddings and parties, and the decor reflected its past, with stuffed animals and framed pictures of fashion from the ’20s and ’30s. It was a charming setting, especially as we all had free run of the 12-bedroom house and its grounds.
The service was conducted entirely in German, and was officiated very differently to weddings in Australia. Later, we found out that there were quite strict rules in Germany about where a wedding could be held and how much control you could have over the official proceedings. The bride and groom sat on two chairs in front of the government official conducting the service, and they only stood up for the ‘I will’ and ring exchange bit. The only words I heard distinctly were ‘liebe und freundschaft’, essential ingredients for marriages across the world.
It was the only German wedding either of us had ever been to so I have nothing to compare it against, but compared to other weddings I’ve been to it actually felt very foreign, such as the rituals which demonstrate Germany’s formidable work ethic. For example, after the bride and groom were married, their first bit of work is to saw a log together as husband and wife. In their wedding outfits. I’m not sure it’s the most romantic view one could have but it certainly shows that marriage is a team effort.
At midnight, more food was brought out for everyone, including a pile of mince pork called a ‘metigel’ or ‘meat hedgehog’, a popular dish in the region of Germany where the groom comes from. It was surprisingly delicious, especially as I didn’t know it was possible to eat raw pork – so just as well that I thought it was raw beef at first, otherwise I’m not sure I would’ve tried it! At some point I got the karaoke started well after 1am with a rendition of ‘Barbie girl’ by Aqua, which many people have seen us perform, and we finally crashed out not long after. The party kept kicking on until 6.
Leaving the wedding the next day after everything had been packed up, we were driven to Leipzig through the bucolic Brandenburg countryside. It was picturesque and peaceful, and we passed through canola and corn fields, wind farms, woodsheds. Our destination was the bride’s family home where we could recover after the festivities…staying in what was once the hayloft of an old barn.