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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Getting Married in Germany: Wedding Planning, Pt. 1

Neither my German fiancé nor I have ever really cared much for weddings. So, for the first six months of our engagement we never really talked about our wedding at all.

Planning a wedding in Germany

Now don't get me wrong. Both Marco and I have a great respect for marriage, which is why we are getting married. We also love seeing people that we love get married. But all the wedding hoopla? Eh. Not for us.

Since we registered our marriage at the beginning of August, however, we have had to dive right into wedding planning. And with both of our laid-back attitudes about the whole thing, I have been pleasantly surprised with how smoothly it's all going. Here is everything we have gotten done so far:

The local German registry office let us reserve a date for our civil ceremony already (even though our application is still sitting at the regional court and could be rejected). But assuming that doesn't happen, we are getting married on December 30th!

Ceremony Location
Our local registry office has five locations throughout the city for civil ceremonies. They are all located in beautiful and historic buildings, but one definitely stood out to us from the rest: the water tower. The Lüneburg Water Tower was built in 1905, but hasn't actually served as a water tower since the 1980s. Now it is a museum and viewing platform of the city.

Here are some images of wedding ceremonies held inside the water tower:

After the ceremony, we can roam the water tower and take pictures. Here some pictures from inside the water tower and on the platform:


Wedding Dress
My dress is actually the very first wedding-related thing we got. I knew I wanted to go wedding dress shopping with my mom, and the last time I would see my mom before the wedding was when I was in New York in July. So, my mother and I went to a wedding dress shop one day and walked out 30 minutes later with my dress. Best of all, the dress fits perfectly, and I only need the bottom hemmed.

Over the past couple weeks, I have also purchased shoes and a stole. So, my outfit is almost complete!

We need to send out about 40 invitations. Exactly half of the recipients speak English and the other half speak German. So, the standard wedding invitation templates were not going to work for us. We were also horrified with the prices at most wedding invitation websites. So, I decided I would design our invitations myself and order them through Vistaprint.

I am no graphic designer, but I am still happy with the result. I added the Lüneburg skyline at the bottom, with a heart marking where our wedding ceremony will take place. Our invitations are personal to us, and nobody else has one like it!

(the details are written on the back in English & German)

Reception Location
After setting our date and choosing our ceremony location, the next step was to pick a location for the reception. Knowing our wedding would be small (>30 guests) and knowing we didn't want to waste spend a lot of money, we kind of figured that we would just end up booking a private room in the back of a restaurant somewhere. So, we started doing some internet research to figure out what restaurants in our city offered appropriately-sized rooms.

What we didn't expect is that the famous hotel in our city (famous among German women over 60 for its prominence on a German soap opera) would have several awesome venues for us to choose from, and that their wedding packages are very reasonably priced!

Ultimately, we chose the Mühlensaal (mill hall), which is in the city's old mill. Today, the building is known as the Lüner Mühle (Lüne mill), but a document from 1391 refers to the building as the Klostermühle (monastery mill), as it was originally owned by the monastery.

How many Americans can say they had their wedding reception in a building built in the 14th century?!

In the picture below, you can see me standing in front of the building. The entire second floor of the building is the reception hall - below is a restaurant and above are hotel rooms.

And here is a view of the building from the other side. As you can see, the building hangs quite precariously over the water, which means there are some great views from inside the reception hall.

That's the status of our wedding planning for now! Up next on our list of things to do: hire a photographer, pick out Marco's suit, get wedding rings, and get my dress altered. I'll check in again next month!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Intimate Dancing | Mistranslation Monday

Mistranslation Monday has been missing from the blog lately. Unfortunately, this is not because my German is getting better. It's more likely due to the fact that I took a vacation to the U.S. and have been speaking a lot of English lately.

So, today's Mistranslation Monday doesn't come from myself, but my lovely friend Adele from Lithuania.

As you may know, the German fiancé and I are currently planning our wedding. Since we will only have about 30 guests, we have been discussing whether or not there should be dancing at the reception. When Adele came over last week for coffee, I asked her what she thought.

[Note: we speak German with each other, so this is a translated version of our conversation]

"I would dance!" she told me.

"Really? You would feel comfortable dancing in front of our families, even if nobody else was dancing?" I asked.

"Sure, but of course I would bring my boyfriend on the dance floor with me, then we could dance as a team." She replied.

Or, at least that is what I heard. Marco, on the other hand, heard something else:

"Sure, but of course I would bring my boyfriend on the dance floor with me, then we could dance intimately."

"You're going to dance intimately in front of our families?" Marco yelled from the other room, trying to hold back his laughter.

For my German-speaking readers, here is what Adele really said: "...dann können wir in Team tanzen."

But due to her small grammatical error (in Team instead of im Team), what she said sounded the same as the German word for "intimate" (intim).

So, I apologize to all of our wedding guests in advance if Adele and her boyfriend make you feel uncomfortable with their intimate dancing at our wedding reception. :D

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Torschlusspanik & Permit Problems

I am graduating. Soon. So, I am panicking. Now.

In German, the panic as something is coming to an end is known as Torschlusspanik, which translates literally to gate-closing panic. The castle's gates are closing, the enemies are encroaching, and you need to get through those gates ASAP. But you still have to herd your sheep, pack up your belongings, gather your wife and children. There's not enough time. AHHH!!!

I have been writing my thesis since about mid-May, and it is just about done. Still, I am terrified to turn it in. Even more terrified to get feedback on it. And most terrified to defend it.

Then there is also the bureaucratic side of graduating as a foreign student. Luckily, Germany allows foreigners that graduate from German universities to get a job-search permit for up to 18 months. This is what I was hoping to get when my student visa becomes invalid on September 30th.

Just one problem: I won't be turning in my thesis and other term papers until the end of September.

For "normal" students, you can already move on to the next stage of your life (job search, phD, whatever) as you wait for your official diploma. I distinctly remember going through the official graduation ceremony for my bachelor's degree in the U.S. and not getting my official diploma until over a month later. Unfortunately, foreign students don't receive this luxury. Through recent correspondence with my local foreigners' office, they told me that I will not be able to get my job-search permit until I have my official diploma in my hand.

Until then, I need to enroll in the next semester (that's 350€ in fees) and extend my student visa (~80€). A waste of my money and my time.

So, that's where I'm at. Wrapping up my studies yet extending my student visa as I long for the day that I can move on with my life.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cashing Checks in Germany vs. USA

No matter how long you live abroad, you still come across little everyday things that will surprise you. Things that you know would be so simple in your home country, but are confusing, over-complicated, or even archaic in our host country.

Today, I am talking about cashing and depositing checks in Germany versus the USA.

Checks in Germany vs. USA

As I already bragged about multiple times on my blog, I won an academic prize from the DAAD in July, and this prize included a check for 1,000€. Desperately needing the money to pay for my upcoming semester, I took it to the bank the next day to deposit it in my bank account.

To deposit checks in Germany, you (at least at my bank, Postbank) have to bring it to a teller, who will write down the check number and your account number on a little slip of paper, which you will receive a carbon copy of. Then, you wait for the money to appear in your account 3-5 business days later.

Although you can still deposit checks like this in the U.S., it feels quite archaic for me. In fact, just one week after depositing my prize money, I flew to the U.S., where my wonderful grandmother gave me a check for my birthday. 

To deposit the check, I simply drove to the ATM, feed my check into the machine, and made sure that it read the amount correctly. I could see the pending amount in my account almost immediately.

But who cares? If you have been to Germany, then you know that it's not the most technologically-advanced country in the world. But as long as the system works, it's fine. Right?

Well, after spending 2 weeks in the U.S., I came back to Germany and checked my bank account to see if my 1,000€ check was ever deposited. It wasn't. Cue panic.

I searched for my little carbon copy stub that the bank teller gave me, but I couldn't find it. I stashed it away god-knows-where when I was cleaning out my wallet before traveling to the U.S. Luckily, my proud fiancé had taken pictures of my check on the day of the award ceremony. [Note: I later found the receipt, and all the numbers on it are correctly written.]

So, I called Postbank.

"It's been over 2 weeks and my check still hasn't been deposited."

"Yeah...That's not normal."

I gave the customer service woman the check number and date of deposit. It wasn't in the system. "Just wait for a letter in the mail with more information."

Yeah. I couldn't wait. So, I complained via Twitter.

The next day, Postbank calls me to tell me that if the money still isn't on my account. The check disappeared. Of course they don't outright say that they lost it.

Now I have to ask my university if the check was cashed (Postbank did mention that it was possible that the check was stolen or deposited into the wrong account). If it wasn't cashed, then I have to ask them to cancel the original check and issue another one. Too bad I already tried contacting my university, and  they said it would be too difficult for them to do that. It's Postbank's fault, so they have to fix it.

So, here I am stuck in the middle with no money and no idea who to contact at this point.

Moral of the story? Avoiding using checks in Germany. And maybe bank somewhere else than with Postbank.

Germany, this is an area where you can learn a thing or two from the U.S.

Have you experienced any differences when banking in different countries?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Getting Married in Germany: Registering a Marriage

Over 5 months after our first meeting at the German registry office, my German fiancé and I went back again today to officially register our marriage!

Getting married in Germany: registering a marriage

As I wrote in my previous post about getting married in Germany, we had to collect the following documents on our own:

✓ Foreign birth certificate with name of parents [with Apostille] & German translation (me)
✓ Copy from the birth register (German fiancé)
✓ Copy of passport
✓ Proof of income

Ordering the birth certificate, getting an Apostille for it, and then getting it all translated took the most time, but it was all relatively painless. At our appointment at the registry office, our case worker then put it all together to send to the regional court (Oberlandesgericht), and everything seemed to be going just fine. The problem came when he asked us about changing our names.

Originally, I wanted to change my middle name to my maiden name, and take my fiancé's last name. Theoretically, this is possible. The only problem is that according to all of my German documents, my current middle name is actually name second first name. And you cannot get rid of your second first name when marrying.

actual GIF of my German fiancé and me when the case worker told us this nonsense

So, now I have the following options:
  1. Keep my name as it is (that is what I am registered for currently)
  2. Just change my last name
  3. Have two middle names (my current middle name + my maiden name)
  4. Stick to my original plan by finding a way to prove that my middle name is NOT a second first name
It's not a easy decision, and I have to decide fast. Yikes!

At the end of our appointment, and after signing at least 5 different papers (are you sure you were never married before? are you sure you don't have any children? are you sure you are legally allowed to marry?), we got hit with the bill.

Marco and I originally thought that the only fee came from the regional court. We were wrong. For the registration of the marriage we paid a total of 127.00€.

Here is the breakdown of fees:

Fees for getting married in Germany to a foreigner

  • Postage - 4€
  • Acceptance of an oath - 25€
  • Examination of the marriage requirements, foreign law - 80€
  • 2x Registration certificate - 18€
Total: 127€

The other part of the bill will come after the regional court has approved our marriage registration. This fee is income-based, and since I am a student and my fiancé has a modest income, our case worker told us that the fee will definitely not be the maximum amount, which is around 500€.

Now on to the exciting part: we set our wedding date and location! Our city offers several beautiful, historic locations where couples can get married. One of these is the historic water tower, where couples can get married on Fridays. So, we will be getting married on Friday, December 30, 2016 in the Lüneburg Water Tower!
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