German traditional weddings are a mix of centuries-old traditions — some dating back to the time of the Romans — and international customs that have made their way to the country over the last few decades.
Whether ancient or modern, the common thread tying these traditions together is the desire to bless a newly married couple with good luck. In some cases, that means banishing evil spirits by smashing porcelain. In others, it means incorporating lucky symbols into wedding attire.
Whether you want to learn more about your German heritage, have been invited to a German wedding, or want to incorporate German wedding traditions into your big day, keep reading to learn about…
Several popular German wedding traditions are relevant before the big day. These include…
The hochzeitslader, or the official inviter, is a close friend or family member of the couple tasked with personally inviting guests to the wedding (in rhyme form, of course). Originating in Bavaria, this custom predates Germany’s postal system. When a guest accepts the invitation, they take a ribbon from the hochzeitslader’s staff and pin it to his hat.
Although often compared to bachelor or bachelorette parties, junggesellenabschied is slightly different. Throughout the night, the person getting married must sell strangers small items like snacks, shots, or condoms from a small tray they carry around.
Polterabend is a popular pre-wedding tradition dating back to the Germanic tribes. Originally, tribes smashed plates, bowls, and mugs to ward off evil spirits. Nowadays, the tradition is the same, though the focus is on bringing luck to the bride and groom.
Another part of the tradition requires the couple to clean up the mess, symbolizing their ability to work together.
German lore says sharing a bed the night before the wedding is bad luck. To combat this, one person spends the night with their parents or a friend. Although it may seem old-fashioned, a study found that 38% of German couples still follow this tradition.
This tradition, called brautentführung, invites the best man to “steal” the bride on the wedding day. The two go out on a bar crawl while the groom tries to find them using a series of clues. Once the groom discovers the pair, he pays the bill to “rescue” his bride.
Traditionally, German brides wore a black wedding dress with a white veil. However, most switched to wearing white dresses and veils in the late 19th century. Modern dresses are usually ballgown-style and do not have a train. The bride’s veil is often fingertip-length unless the service is held in a church. In that case, brides often opt for floor-length, cathedral-style veils.
Like grooms in the United States, German grooms typically wear a formal wedding suit in a neutral color like navy or dark gray. Accessories might include a tie, cufflinks, and a handkerchief that matches the bride’s dress.
The bridal shoes, however, are likely slightly different from what you’re familiar with.
“Brautschuh” is the German word for “bridal shoes,” and there are some interesting traditions related to this footwear.
The first tradition says the bride must pay for her wedding shoes using cent coins. Doing so shows that she’s a responsible spender.
After buying shoes, a German bride saves one of the cent coins and puts it into her left shoe during the wedding. This custom supposedly brings wealth to the couple. Although modern Germans continue this tradition, many brides tape the coin to the outside of their shoes for more comfort.
Another shoe-related tradition is to auction off one of the bride’s shoes during the reception. Guests place “bids” inside the shoe, but the groom gets to make the winning bid. Afterward, he returns the shoe and the money to the bride.
Due to marriage laws in Germany, many couples have two ceremonies: a small civil ceremony and a larger church ceremony. The law-required civil ceremony occurs at a local registration office called a standesamt. In most cases, the civil ceremony is quick, simple, and only attended by close friends and family members.
If desired, the church ceremony comes a few days or weeks before the civil ceremony. There are several interesting traditions to note at a German wedding ceremony.
For example, the couple walks down the aisle together. The goal is to walk as closely together as possible, symbolizing the couple’s relational closeness.
While walking down the aisle, the bride holds a bouquet tied with a white ribbon. This bouquet often includes blue cornflowers, Germany’s national flower, and a myrtle branch for good luck.
When it comes to the wedding party, Germans keep things simple. Each person getting married usually has one person, called a trauzeuge (for men) or trauzeugin (for women), responsible for planning pre-wedding events and helping out on the wedding day.
As for the wedding ring, Germans wear their wedding rings on the left hand before the ceremony, as an engagement ring. Then, during the wedding ceremony, each person switches the band to their right hand. Yes, Germans use the same ring, usually a plain gold band, for both the engagement and the wedding.
Germans are known worldwide for their love of partying and wedding receptions are no exception.
After the ceremony, each guest receives a piece of the bridal bouquet ribbon to tie to the antenna of their car.
If guests drive from the church to the reception venue, it’s common for them to honk their horns as they drive, as a way of celebrating the newly-married couple.
Referred to as “baumstamm sägen” by Germans, this common tradition requires the bride and groom to saw a log at the reception. The task represents the first obstacle they must face as a married couple.
Many German couples choose to dance the Viennese waltz as their first dance, a style that dates to the 13th century.
The tradition of drinking from a bridal chalice dates to the 15th century, when a goldsmith crafted a bridal chalice to show his love for a nobleman’s daughter. Modern cups are usually made of pewter and swivel, allowing both partners to drink simultaneously without spilling.
No typical German wedding would be complete without the veil dance (schleiertanz). According to tradition, the bride wears her veil until midnight. At that time, she takes it off and four female guests hold it above the married couple as they dance. While that happens, the women attempt to tear the veil. Whoever rips away the largest piece is destined to be the next bride.
An international tradition only recently adopted in Germany, the bouquet toss likewise indicates which guest will be a bride next.
Germans are particular about the wedding menu. The German wedding meal is usually a sit-down dinner, not a buffet.
The first course is often hochzeitssuppe — a soup made with chicken broth, small meatballs, and glass noodles. An Austrian dish, tafelspitz, often comes as the second course. It consists of thinly-sliced beef either served cold with horseradish and onions or hot with fried potatoes and apples.
And don’t forget the wedding cakes! Baumkuchen, a layered wedding cake made with honey and almonds, is a favorite and contains almonds, an ingredient thought to bring luck.
A 2022 study found that money was the most desired wedding gift for 62% of German couples. With that in mind, giving money as a wedding gift is always appreciated. Germans generally give 50 euros to friends, 100 euros to close friends, and 200 euros to family members.
As in the United States, a couple historically expected the bride’s family to pay for the wedding in Germany. This tradition has mostly disappeared. These days, the couple and their families divide wedding costs amongst themselves.
Whether you plan to incorporate some of these fascinating German wedding traditions into your big day or not, we hope you enjoyed learning about how people around the world celebrate their nuptials.
There are so many ways to celebrate a wedding, but, while that can be exciting, it can also be overwhelming. To help you get off on the right track, make sure to check out our list of five tips for planning a stress-free wedding. Or if you need some dance tips, we’ve got your back! Check out our latest blogs for even more tips and info.