My Big, Fat, Bavarian Wedding

Posted on 23. Jul, 2014 by in Culture, Food, Language, Music, Traditions

… OK, so the title of this post is a tad misleading. I didn’t have a big, fat, Bavarian wedding. But I went to one, and that was just as good!

Last year, I attended my cousin’s wedding in Bavaria. It was the first Bavarian wedding I’d ever been to, and there were several things about it that differed to the English weddings I’ve attended in the past. So should you ever attend a wedding in Germany/Bavaria, I thought share my experience with you, to give you a little taste of what you could expect from it!

1. The Church

My family come from Niederbayern (Lower Bavaria), which is a Catholic region of Germany. So the first part of my cousin’s wedding was a Catholic Church wedding. They had a choir, prayers, and readings from the Bible. It was very traditional. Below is a photo of the church she was married in. As you can see, it’s very grand:

Kirche in Zwiesel, Bayern. Photo credit: Constanze Arnold.

Kirche in Zwiesel, Bayern. Photo credit: Constanze Arnold.

2. The reception venue

This was in a place called Eck, and was held in a converted barn. It even had its own brewery, and served its own brand of beer. They had a Bavarian band playing traditional music, dressed in traditional Lederhosen. It was, in a sense, quintessentially bayerisch, and it had a lovely, upbeat atmosphere to it.

Eck. Photo credit: Constanze Arnold

Eck. Photo credit: Constanze Arnold

3. The cakes

At English weddings, this is the point where you go straight to the wedding breakfast. But in Bavaria, they do things slightly differently. Instead of eating your meal first, you get Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). And lots of it!

Kuchen: Cake. Photo credit: Constanze Arnold

Kuchen: Cake. Photo credit: Constanze Arnold

At my cousin’s wedding, there was an entire room filled with cakes that had been made by relatives and friends. I think there must have been around 15 cakes to choose from – and endless coffee to go with them! This did not surprise me in the slightest; the Bavarian equivalent of ‘coffee culture’ would be ‘coffee and cake culture’ . They’re obsessed with it in daily life, frequently baking or buying cakes and inviting people round for a slice (or three) at any time of day – so it only seems natural to extend that practice to their weddings.

I must say that this particular wedding tradition has a very homely, personal feel to it. After all, when you really think about it, why would you spend an extortionate amount of money on one, single wedding cake when you could have 15 wedding cakes made for you, for free, by your friends and family? (That way, there is something for everyone, too!)

4. Die Hochzeitssuppe

This translates to “Wedding soup”, and is a soup traditionally served as the first course at German weddings. Its ingredients vary from region to region, but it is traditionally a chicken broth with meatballs and different vegetables. I didn’t get to try this soup, though, because I don’t eat meat, so I sadly cannot account for its taste. I hear it is very popular though, and is not restricted to being served at weddings – it is available in many restaurants, too.

5. Brautstehlen

This is a German wedding tradition. Brautstehlen means ‘the stealing of the bride’ (Braut = bride, stehlen = to steal). What it entails is this:

The best man and groomsmen ‘steal’ the bride and take her to the nearest pub to get her drunk. This is done without the groom’s knowledge. Once the groom realises his bride has been stolen, he must go on a mission to find her and ‘win her back’. This is a bit of fun which involves some silly games and Trinklieder (drinking songs).

At my cousin’s wedding, I was completely unaware that Brautstehlen was going on until about halfway through. What happened was this:

When I looked up from my table, Simon (the groom) was wearing a woman’s apron and a Viking hat with blonde pigtails, and was holding a broom. He left the barn with the band following him, and all of the guests followed them out. Without questions, we joined them (we were too sozzled to question anything at this point). We all ended up in the bar across the road, where Julia (the bride and my cousin) was sat with the best man.

Brautstehlen. Photo credit: Constanze Arnold

Brautstehlen. Photo credit: Constanze Arnold

Everybody took a seat at one of the various long tables in the room, and helped themselves to a drink. The band took their place on the little stage behind us, and the “master of ceremonies”, I suppose you could call him, told Simon what he had to do to get his wife back. This involved making a speech about how fantastic and amazing she was, while kneeling on a plank of wood next to the best man. Julia eventually “took him back”, everybody cheered, and then the band led us all in some Bavarian drinking songs.

Brautstehlen. Photo credit: Constanze Arnold

Brautstehlen. Photo credit: Constanze Arnold

To give you an idea of the kinds of songs we sung, here’s a video. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone more stylish than these two singing it (!), but this is one of the songs we sung at the wedding, so it’s worth showing:

YouTube Preview Image

The details of the Brautstehlen tradition obviously vary from wedding to wedding, but that is my own, personal experience of it. Whether it makes sense or not, that is what happened! It’s a wonderful bit of fun, in my opinion!

And from that point on, it was just a great, big party!

So, that was my first experience of a Bavarian wedding. I would love to go to another one! Have you ever been to a Bavarian/German wedding? Were there any traditions or practices that stood out to you?

Some wedding vocabulary:

Wedding – Die Hochzeit

Marriage – Die Heirat

Cake – Der Kuchen

First dance – Der Hochzeitstanz

Church – Die Kirche

Bride – Die Braut

Groom – Der Bräutigam

Bridesmaid – Die Brautjungfer

Best man – Der Trauzeuge


Brautstehlen – the stealing of the bride (wedding tradition)

Hochzeitssuppe – traditional wedding soup

Trinklieder – drinking songs

Pf Pf Pf… What’s up with that?

Posted on 21. Jul, 2014 by in Language, Practice

Pflanze, Pflaume, Pfau, Pferd, Pfad… All of these are words with a silent p if a word starts with this. At least in most everyday speech.  Some people pronounce the p, as you can hear in the recording below, but from own experience, most do not pronounce the p very clearly. It is easier to just pronounce it as an f, but you still need to write the pf!

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Ein Pferd! (Image by Chris Heidenreich on

Ein Pferd! (Image by Chris Heidenreich on

Why does this Pf exist? It all started back in the days of the Germanic people some 1000 years ago. In the so-called zweite Sprachverschiebung (second language shift), the Germanic language became even harsher. A nice example: Pfefferminz (p). This word, just like the English word, comes from the Latin mentha piperita. As you can see, the Germanic languages switched around the words, lost the -ita and silenced down the -a of mentha. And in both German and English, the became an i, and the became an e. This was all the change English went through, and the result is peppermint. However, the German language also went through the zweite Sprachverschiebung, where the became a pf and in words also ff. The became a (t)z – and the result: Pfefferminz.

So this process, which seems quite convoluted, brought about this strange Pf sound in German. There is no rule when to use the Pf, but most words that start with the f-sound, are written with Pf. But yes, there are many words starting with too: Fall, Ferne, Festung, Funke, Fußball. As you can see: it is just a matter of learning how to write it. The good thing is that you can always pronounce it as an f.

Of course, there are also words where pf is in the middle of the word: bekämpfen, Kopf, Hopfen, Kupfer. As you can hear in the recording below, here you do pronounce the p. ALWAYS.


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Translation request: Wirklichkeit, Gestalt, and Gefüge

Posted on 21. Jul, 2014 by in Language


Das Wörterbuch: Dictionary. Photo by jwyg on

This post comes from a comment Dirinella left me on one of my recent posts:

vielleicht kannst Du (oder andere) helfen, und zwar bei der Übersetzung des deutschen Begriffs “Wirklichkeit”. Das englische “real” trifft es leider überhaupt nicht, denn Wirklichkeit oder “das Wirkliche” sagt nur aus, dass etwas Wirkung hat, auch ohne dabei real sein zu müssen.

Ähnliche Schwierigkeiten ergeben sich auch bei den im Deutschen durchaus präzisen Begriffen “Gestalt” und “Gefüge”.

Hast Du Vorschläge?
Vielen Dank!

To sum up, Dirinella wanted me to help find English translations of the German words Wirklichkeit, Gestalt, and Gefüge, as she finds these three particularly difficult to translate. When I started replying to Dirinella’s comment, I realised that my answer was too much to squeeze into a comment box, so I decided to make a post out of it. I won’t lie – these words are more complex than the usual words I translate on here (it took me a while to get my head around Gestalt, for one thing) but I wanted to challenge myself and give it a go. Here is what I came up with.


The Harrap’s dictionary translation of Wirklichkeit is ‘reality’. It then translates In Wirklichkeit to ‘in actual fact.’

There is confusion here because ‘reality’ is considered subjective, whereas ‘fact’ is not. As Dirinella points out, translating Wirklichkeit as ‘real’ is not accurate enough because „Wirklichkeit oder “das Wirkliche” sagt nur aus, dass etwas Wirkung hat, auch ohne dabei real sein zu müssen.“ (“Wirklichkeit or ‚das Wirkliche‘ only says that something is in effect, without it having to be real”).

So does it mean ‘reality’ or not? A distinction is often made between Wirklichkeit and Realität (which, confusingly, also translates to ‘reality’). The distinction is that Wirklichkeit concerns hard facts, and actuality. Realität, on the other hand, is as it looks: it means ‘reality’; and reality is considered subjective from one person to another. In other words, Wirklichkeit is considered similar to objectivity, while Realität is closer to subjectivity.

However, it is common to say “wirklich?” as an exclamation meaning “really?”, which suggests that Wirklichkeit also refers to reality, or your perception of it.

Although ‘actuality’ is probably more in line with its facual nature, I think both ‘reality’ and ‘actuality’ are acceptable translations, because even in English the meaning of those terms are often debated, as you can see. Sometimes it is not the word itself, but the stigma around its meaning that makes a word difficult to translate!


This is a tricky one.

The Harrap’s dictionary translates Gestalt as ‘build; shape; form’. The verb ‘gestaltigen’ is translated as ‘to form/shape someone/something’s personality; to create; to arrange; to organise’.

I have also seen it translated as ‘The essence or shape of an entity’s complete form’.

The word Gestalt is best known in the English language in accordance with Gestalt psychology.

The way I understand Gestalt is: When you put lots of individual elements together to create something (a ‘whole’), that thing takes on a new life that has nothing to do with the elements used to create it. For instance, a song has Gestalt because of its meaning, though that meaning has nothing to do with the individual letters, notes and instruments used to make it. The song takes on new life once it has been created.

For that reason, I think the word ‘characteristic’ might be appropriate to describe Gestalt. For instance, when saying that something has ‘good gestalt’ you may be implying that it has ‘good characteristics’.

The English phrase ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is also appropriate.

However, Gestalt is a term now used in the English language, which hints that there is actually no equivalent in English, and that it might just be impossible to translate!


The Harrap’s dictionary translates Gefüge as ‘structure’. However, the word ‘structure’ has a very broad definition, so let me explain it in more detail.

Other words used as a translation of Gefüge are: framework, structure, system, formation, makeup of, fabric of. What that means is that the word Gefüge can be used to describe physical things, such as the composition of metal, or abstract things, such as the ‘structure’ of society.

One example sentence is:
Das wirtschaftliche und soziale Gefüge eines Staates: A country’s economic and social fabric (structure/makeup/formation).

I think that ‘structure’ is a pretty accurate definition in this case. The only thing is that the word ‘structure’ has many definitions and many appropriate synonyms, so it may seem a bit vague.


What I have learnt from writing this post is that some words are difficult to translate because the meanings of those words are ambiguous, subjective, or otherwise complex in themselves.

So here’s my little language-learning tip for the day: If you come across a word in German that you’re having difficulty translating and/or understanding, try to think about why that might be (ie. what is it about the word that makes it difficult?), instead of getting frustrated with yourself for ‘not being able to do it’. You never know – there may be a reason why you can’t find a clear definition for it. You may not come to any solid conclusions, but you will probably learn a lot more than you bargained for!

Finally, Thank you to Dirinella for providing these words. I hope I have managed to shed even a little bit of light on them. Of course, if anyone has any more advanced insights, please do leave a comment!

Bis zum nächsten Mal – Until next time!