Getting Married in Germany

Weddings in Germany can be as romantic as you could wish, but allow some extra time for the red tape.

Couples planning to get married in Germany should get started with the legal formalities as soon as possible. Six months early is not too soon. Things can usually be disposed of in far less time than that, but a number of legal issues, particularly previous marriages, can create a hassle.

The first places to check when you decide to get married are your local embassy or consulate and the local magistrate's office (Standesamt). Ask at these places what documentation is needed. You will most likely need a birth certificate, a passport stamped with proof of residence (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) and proof that a previous marriage has been permanently terminated. You will also need a health certificate, a statement of parental consent (if a party is under 18) and possibly other documents. If they aren't in German these documents must be accompanied by a certified translation.

Persons who were previously married must present either a death certificate for the former spouse or proof that the marriage was permanently dissolved by divorce. The former is usually no problem; the latter a rock on which many marriage plans have been wrecked. A simple divorce decree from an American or British court is usually not enough. Proof probably will be required that this decree can no longer be contested. It is usually necessary to get a statement to this effect from the court that granted the divorce.

Though it is no bar to a marriage, those planning to return to their homeland one day may wish to consider the legal status of their partner. There may be some bar, such as nationality, criminal record or medical condition, that would keep the partner from accompanying you. Your embassy or consulate can advise you on all emigration formalities.

Everybody getting married in Germany must first appear physically at a Standesamt for a civil ceremony. This is actually all that is needed, and the great majority of couples go no further. The cost of the Standesamt wedding ranges from €30 to €75 and the ceremony usually is conducted in German so it may be advisable to have an interpreter present.

They take great pains at the Standesämter to avoid any trappings (organ music, for example, or stained-glass windows) that might rightly or wrongly be deemed "too Christian." Quite a few Muslims, Jews and atheists get married at the registrar's office, and they can be sensitive about such things.

Nevertheless, the wedding rooms are usually nice, exclusively for weddings and located in one of the community's finer buildings. Frankfurt, for example, has two magistrate's offices: one in the baroque city hall, or Römer, the other in the equally handsome Bolongaro Palace in the heart of the picturesque old Höchst district. The right atmosphere is created with flowers, subdued lighting, oil paintings and deep carpeting.

If there is to be a more traditional wedding it must take place after the civil ceremony. Germany has many magnificent cathedrals, palaces and castles that offer wedding arrangements. There are agencies in most larger cities that will rent out the clothing necessary for the wedding; not only for the groom and ushers, but also, what was once but rarely seen in America, for the bride and bridesmaids. Wedding coaches, drawn by four white horses, are also available as well as antique cars, limousines and the like.