German Wedding Traditions

"A wedding party gathers after the civil ceremony at the Berlin-Köpenick city hall. In order for a marriage to be legal, a civil ceremony is required in all the German-speaking countries. Many couples also have a church wedding."

Germany has many unique wedding traditions and customs. A traditional wedding in Germany lasts three days, but not necessarily consecutive days (Phelan 2005). On the first day the couple is married by the justice of peace, or as in Germany called “Standesbeamte.” This is because in Germany it is not legal to marry “only” in a church ceremony. The civil ceremony takes place one week or one day before the church ceremony, and only the couple’s closest family members and friends in attendance. The ceremony is usually followed by a dinner (German Wedding Traditions, Part 2 2004 & Marriage 2005). In Germany, the couple has to give a six-week notice to the city of their intended marriage. If not, the civil ceremony may take place in the city hall, usually with only two witnesses and the parents (Marriage 2005).

On the second day there is a big, informal party called the Polterabend—“the evening with lots of broken porcelain.” Friends and relatives bring old porcelain and kitchenware to smash in front of the bride and groom. The broken pieces are thought to grant them a happy, lucky life. “The German proverb—‘Scherben bringen Gluck’—which can be translated as ‘Broken crockery brings you luck,’ is derived from this custom (Marriage 2005). The bride and groom have to clean up everything, symbolizing that nothing will ever be broken in their house (Phelan 2005).

A few nights before the church ceremony, the groom and his friends go out to a local pub, which is called junggesellenabschied—similar to a bachelor’s party in America (Phelan 2005).

On the third day the religious ceremony and reception takes place. Since the bride and groom are already married by law, they usually enter the church together and walk down the aisle together. The bride typically wears a white gown without a train. The veils are generally fingertip length and seldom wore over the bride’s face when she walks down the aisle (German Wedding Traditions, Part 2 2004). The bride often carries salt and bread as an omen of good harvest (Phelan 2005). She also carries lengths of white ribbon with her bouquet, which is tied to the antenna of their car after the ceremony. The groom typically wears a black tuxedo and carries grain for good luck and wealth (German Wedding Traditions, Part 2 2004 & Phelan 2005).

It is not customary to have bridesmaids, groomsmen, or flower girls at a German wedding (Walking Down the Aisle, Part 2 2004). According to Tanja St. Pierre, a native to Germany and sociology instructor at Penn State, “the wedding party usually consists of a male and female witness,” she said. “There are no elaborate wedding parties like in the United States” (St. Pierre 2005). Furthermore, wedding bands are worn on the couple’s right hands (Phelan 2005).

Today, both parents and the couple itself share the costs of the wedding, rather than only the father of the bride (German Wedding Traditions, Part 1 2004).

As the bride and groom exit the church, friends throw rice on them. Germans believe that the bride will have as many children as the grains of rice that stay in her hair. Meanwhile, the couple tosses coins to the children (Phelan 2005). Then, the bride and groom ride in the wedding car, which is decorated with lots of flowers, or they take a coach with horses to the reception location (Marriage 2005). The couple and their guests create a car procession and drive through town honking their horns—often times others will honk back wishing the couple good luck (German Wedding Traditions, Part 1 2004).

At the wedding reception, it is custom for friends, or more often, the best man to “kidnap” the bride and bring her to a local pub until the groom finds them; this is called kidnapping the bride. Once the groom finds them, he must pay for all they drank (Phelan 2005).

During dinner the two fathers make a speech to praise the couple. Then, the bride and groom share their first dance together—it is traditionally the waltz (Marriage 2005). The next dance is for the bride and her father and the groom and his mother, while the bride’s mother dances with the groom’s father (German Wedding Traditions, Part 1 2004). Afterwards, all of the guests are invited onto the dance floor (Marriage 2005). Germans often participate in the money dance, or veil dance; this is a tradition where guests have to pay the bride and groom to dance with them (Phelan 2005). According to Tanya St. Pierre, many families practice other traditions or play games that are unique to their family. “At my wedding, my uncles performed skits and played the accordion,” she says. “That tradition gave our wedding a special touch” (St. Pierre 2005). Sometimes a wedding newspaper may even be distributed to the guests (German Wedding Traditions, Part 1 2004).

As the reception nears, friends of the couple block off the exit of the reception with a ribbon. When the couple leaves they must pay a toll—a promise of another party (Phelan 2005). In Germany, the bride and groom stay until the last guest goes home (Marriage 2005).

On the newlyweds first night together, friends often play tricks such as loosening the headboard of the bed, hiding lots of alarm clocks in the bedroom, or filling the room with balloons to make the first night as difficult as possible (Phelan 2005 & German Wedding Traditions, Part 1 2004). On the next day, many couples go on their one or two week honeymoon, and live happily ever after (Marriage 2005).


“German Wedding Traditions, Part 1.” German Culture. 2004. Tatyana Gordeeva. 14 Mar. 2005

“German Wedding Traditions, Part 2.” German Culture. 2004. Tatyana Gordeeva. 14 Mar. 2005

“Marriage in Germany.” TOPICS Online Magazine 2005 14 Mar. 2005

Phelan, Angela. “German Wedding Traditions.”, The Ultimate Internet Wedding Guide 2005 14 Mar. 2005

St. Pierre, Tanja. Interview via e-mail on 14 Mar. 2005.

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