A wedding and staying in Wedding. The chances of experiencing these quasi-homophones are quite small, yet I did so a few weeks ago.
After almost a year, I was back in Berlin three weeks ago. If I spent my first two visits in the German capital as a tourist, this time I did not and could not afford to do the same. I only spent a weekend in the city, mainly to serve as one of the wedding photographers for my friends’ wedding. They are the same couple to whom I lent a helping hand as they moved into the city last year.
The 300-kilometer trip between Hamburg and Berlin took all of only two hours on the EuroCity train. As I cannot stay in the to-be-wed couple’s place in Prenzlauer Berg, I made my way to the adjacent non-gentrified neighborhood of Wedding (pronounced Ve-ding). Here lives Sebastian, whom I met through real social networking. He’s a friend I met through my cousin, whom she met during one of her backpacking trips in South America three years ago.
The name of the borough, Wedding, evokes scenes of romantic bliss and happy-endings. They are not the most accurate description of the area however. Wedding lags behind its northeastern neighbor Prenzlauer Berg that is now dominated by yuppies and DINKYs (double income, no kids yet). It is unfair to say though that it’s not a livable part of the city. It is one of the quarters (aside from Kreuzberg) where Turkish immigrants flock. The same is true with artists who are always on the look out for cheaper rent to live and showcase their art. A familiar atmosphere greeted me as I stepped out of the U-Bahn station. As summer starts to kick in, the warm weather and the symphony of car horns and pedestrian banter filled the air. It is nothing quite close, but for a split-second after seeing the fruit stand as I took the last steps up to the sidewalk, it reminded me of Manila.
Sebastian’s flat is an Altbau, literally an old building. These dwellings now usually refer to high ceilings. This one though still has its old slats of wooden floor, and the old lock mechanism in the toilet. For two nights I stayed in his art studio-cum-living room. A battalion of paint canisters stand on the floor. A painting that looks finished to my untrained eye still leans on the easel. Finished paintings are vertically stacked on a corner, with which he plans to hold an exhibition, or later sell them.
The evening I arrived, I rounded up with my friend Omar, his brother, and some friends of ours. We made up the bachelor’s party entourage, and we did it German style. The groom-to-be needs to accomplish a series of silly tasks before he is “allowed” to marry. The first and probably the toughest was dressing up as a woman- skirt and all- on the busy street of Schoenhauser Allee. Being a part of the pack, it seemed I felt more ashamed than he was. To him, it was an experiment on social behavior, one of the intellectual topics he could rant about for hours. He hurdled his tasks satisfactorily, including singing in a Biergarten. As it was a Friday night, he had a full audience. The buzzing crowd simmered down as he made his announcement to sing. The crowd roared and sang along La Cucaracha. The adjacent table also announced that one of the guys in their group is also getting married in three months. And so the singing continued until a security guy interrupted, ironically reprimanding the other table for singing. Apparently no singing was allowed in the beer garden- a surprising gesture in a place where people are supposed to let their hair down and enjoy. It’s the most natural thing in my country and culture. I reckon it is to prevent hooliganism, usually instigated by football fans when their teams play. Unfortunately, I was asked not to post photos of him. But to give you an impression of how he looked like, he elicited a shriek from a woman sitting outside a cafe as our group passed by.
The following day was the wedding day. I was late for ten minutes, which I found out was the whole duration of the ceremony. The guests spilled out of the civil registry office onto the yard of the civil registry building. They formed two rows in front of the door. After it burst open and the newlyweds exited, they were showered with petals. Kisses between the couple and hugs to the guests reciprocated by best wishes and congratulations. I got crackin’ with the photos. In between snapshots I took sips of my champagne. Everyone was in a jovial mood. The bridal carriage arrived about an hour later. It was a velo taxi adorned with balloon hearts. It led the way to the Charlottenburg palace with the guests in tow. We went Dutch at the Kleine Orangerie, celebrated in the al fresco restaurant beside the castle. After lunch, my friends and I hit the park just behind the palace and had siesta. We still had a long evening reception ahead of us.
Our Freiburg group was first to arrive at six in the evening at the venue of the reception. It was in an Altbau converted into a dining area. We started with cocktails as soon as the guests trickled in. I needed to get down to work again with the photos. As the bride and groom arrived, the crowd went still for a second, then cheered and applauded in their regale presence. Champagne glasses clinked in their honor. The father of the bride gave a speech, and successfully held off his tears. His voice broke though when he reached the part about letting go of his daughter.
The couple made a rollcall of all the guests present, from the bride’s kindergarten bosom friend back in kindergarten, to the groom’s family who flew in all the way from Colombia. Friends and relatives who saw the bride grow up, attend university, and fall in love, were present. The bride’s two sisters and a the friend from kindergarten handled the program during dinner. My class from Freiburg prepared a video. Later, we played how-well-do-you know-the-couple-game: what language did the couple speak when they first met? (French), how many times has the bride flown to Colombia (nine?), and what was the first impression of the groom the first time he visited Germany? (tough bread).
When dinner was over, we gathered in the main hall for dessert. There was chocolate pudding and fruit cocktail. But what’s more significant is the cutting of the heart-shaped cake decked with strawberries. According to my host, Sebastian, the couple should cut the cake at the same time, using only one cake cutter. The person whose hand is over the other’s, is the one who will lead their married life together. Later, the dimmed lights and the slow music signaled the start of the dancing. It started with waltz between the newlyweds, then the bride and her father. Everyone joined the fray. I left after almost an hour and bade the couple and my former classmates who I won’t see for quite a while good bye.
My last day in Berlin was slow, as I am wont to do at least for a day when I travel. The heavy breakfast energised my host and me for the unplanned long walk ahead. We took a bus to the Mauerpark. The place was full of tourists and Berliners alike, as if it weren’t a Sunday in Germany. A long stretch of the park is converted to a flea market on Sundays. The gradual slope of the hill is turned into beach- only without the sand and water. People lay on the ground, some holding a picnic, while others look like they made a spontaneous decision after finding their spot and to lie supine as if offering themselves to the sun. From atop near the portion of the wall that once divided the city and partly the world, a sweeping view of the park is to be had.
As I am not a first time Berlin-visitor, I tried to avoid the touristy route. I allowed my host- and our feet, to guide me. We walked to the general direction of Berlin-Mitte, picked up a cone of ice cream as we talked about growing up without a religion, gentrification, and art. For out late lunch, we settled down in a South American restaurant that slashes half the price for its meals after lunch hour. After our late lunch, we resumed our walking tour to a train station to pick up my tickets, and back to his place in Wedding. Early that evening, I went to the spanking new Berlin train station, and bade the city goodbye.