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Let Them Eat Cake
James Skinner

Greta is a friend of my wife’s and is German. She is married to Karl and lives in a little hamlet about 30 miles from Munich. My wife has known her for years. On this special occasion we were invited to spend a long weekend with their family to attend their eldest son’s wedding.

I had visited Germany before, but never on a social occasion. My limited contact with this nation was always strictly business and my impression of Germans was of stiffness but without the upper lip. This time was different. I was going to spend a few days in northern Bavaria. This included a night in a beautiful mansion of a hotel at the base of the Alps, near the Austrian border. Huddled between nature and four hundred German wedding guests I was bound to broaden my knowledge of foreign habits.

Karl picked us up at the Munich airport and immediately took us back to his house along the motorway doing the usual 100mph in his Audi A6. “We can do this here” he giggled. “In England, they still crawl along the roads”. I paused for a moment. How right he was. But then German road discipline is something else.

We got to his house and were greeted by his wife and an army of dogs. After plenty of hugs and kisses and much patting of animals, we went inside and were shown to our room for a brush up before dinner. “I wonder if the dogs have their own bedrooms?” I muttered to my wife.

I was determined to pick up on possible culture discrepancies but so far everything seemed quite normal. So they gave us a lot of different kinds of sausages, cheeses and sauerkraut to eat on our first evening meal, instead of ham and cucumber sandwiches. This was followed by plenty of rich sugary cakes, no different to plum pudding or ice cream. We were even offered a choice of beer or wine to slosh it all down with. So far so good.
“Johan and Maria will be married at eleven on Sunday morning. She is three months pregnant, you know?” said Greta. “Hey, that’s great,” I exclaimed. It would be their second child.The next day was a real treat. Beer time! We went to Munich to have lunch but first ‘a middle aged pub crawl’ to savour the best beer in the world. According to the Germans, that is. The procedure is quite a ritual. The brew is poured into a mug very slowly and allowed to settle. It is then topped up at least a couple of times before being served. Now this was definitely different. I know, apart from bitter, we have plenty of lager in most pubs back home. But to caress the beer with such love as they do. That’s something else.

After a quick snack we spent the rest of the day visiting and enjoying the city before going back home for another evening of sausages, cheese, sauerkraut, pudding, more beer and wine.

Next day was wedding day: the day of beer and roses. I was sure that on the most cherished day of any parent anywhere in the world, something would be different.

The religious ceremony took place in the local Lutheran church in this lovely little town a few miles from our final destination. The guests turned up in twos and threes and 4x4s. There was much hugging and kissing all round before entering the chapel. Standing at the pulpit was this huge burly priest that looked like a Hartlepool rugby player and had a strong deep baritone voice. Once we were all nicely seated, the wedding march started and slowly but surely the fortunate couple began walking down the isle. I must admit, it was a great show although I didn’t understand a word.

I was now standing at the reception desk of this magnificent hotel filling in my registration form when a forty something blonde lady approaches me and asks in perfect English: “You must be Karl’s friends from the United Kingdom. Welcome to Bavaria. This is not like the rest of Germany, you know. It is very different”. Just like us - aren’t we always bragging of being Cornish, or Londoners, or from Yorkshire? So why can’t Bavarians be proud of their region? “It is very beautiful”, I replied.

In the evening, after polishing up and putting on our best bib and tucker, my wife and I entered the ‘Grande Salon’ to mingle with the wedding guests. How impressive, they could all speak to me in English. Hang on! Why can’t we all speak German or any other language for that matter other than English?

I now found myself tucking into the various hors d’oeuvres, canapés and other goodies, washed down with plenty of assorted drinks and cocktails. I could have been anywhere in the world. By this time I was really getting hungry. Thankfully, I was assured our hosts had laid on a superb once in a lifetime wedding feast. Finally the newly weds arrived.

Hallelujah! Clapping of hands, another round of hugging, kids scuffling in and out from under long dresses, balloons, rice, confetti, but still no announcement of food. All goes silent. What next I thought. Suddenly, in comes the wedding cake. So, it’s a wedding cake. So what. Wait, I’ve got a plate with a slice in my hand. So what happened to dinner? Karl grinned. “Don’t worry. The fun has just begun”.

I’m on the return flight back to Heathrow, wallowing in the after thoughts of a great few days in the Bavarian Alps and all I could recall as odd was: ‘Germans eat their pudding before their main course’.


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