German Wedding Traditions: Everything You Need to Know

Your go-to guide to German wedding traditions and customs.
Illustration of German wedding tradition of sawing a log
Illustration: Aurélia Durand
Lauren Dana Ellman - The Knot Contributor.
by
Lauren Dana Ellman
Lauren Dana Ellman - The Knot Contributor.
Lauren Dana Ellman
The Knot Contributor
  • Lauren is a contributor for The Knot covering topics such as music, cakes, venues and speeches.
  • She has been published in a wide array of lifetsyle-oriented publications including SELF and Allure.
  • Lauren is a proud graduate of Syracuse University's SI Newhouse School of Public Communication.
Updated Oct 26, 2023

If you have German roots—whether you're an expat in Germany or someone of German descent living in America—you may consider incorporating German wedding traditions into your wedding plans. Fortunately, infusing elements of your German culture into your wedding is both fun and easy—that is, once you know where to start. To help spark some inspiration, we rounded up everything you need to know about German cultural wedding traditions—from festive foods to pre-wedding events, to traditional dances and more.

German Wedding Traditions in This Story: History | Prewedding | Attire | Ceremony | Reception | Food | Postwedding

A Brief History of German Wedding Traditions

Wondering how German weddings are different from American weddings? From Polterabend to Brautentführung, many German wedding traditions date back centuries. Additionally, while every German wedding tradition holds a different meaning—more on those below!—each is considered sacred, which is also why they've been around for so long. Some of these German traditions are also said to ward off evil spirits and banish bad luck.

German Prewedding Traditions

The days leading up to a German wedding are amongst the most fun, especially for the soon-to-be newlyweds and their close friends and family. Here is what you can expect in terms of pre-wedding customs and festivities.

Polterabend

"This very old tradition is still well and alive today," says Dr. Barbara Schwarck, founder of MyHappyDay.net and a wedding officiant who was born and raised in Germany. Essentially, the night before the wedding, the almost-married couple—along with their friends and family members—break china and porcelain dishes. According to Schwarck, polterabend is usually a "casual event hosted by a close family member," and the custom is said to bring good luck.

Sleeping Apart The Night Before The Wedding Day

"It is considered bad luck to sleep in the same house as your spouse-to-be the night before the wedding," explains Schwarck. To avoid any mishaps, one person typically stays with their parents, close friends or other family members.

Hiding a Penny in the Bridal Shoes

On the day of the wedding ceremony, German brides often hide a penny in their bridal shoes (brautschuh). Legend has it that this German tradition brings good luck and prosperity—besides, what better way to kick off your marriage?

Bridal Toasting Cup as German Wedding Gift

You might be wondering, "What is a traditional German wedding gift?" A silver or pewter toasting cup that depicts a woman holding a cup above her head is a common German wedding gift. This will often be given to the couple before the wedding so that they can use it to toast during the reception or as a unity ritual during the ceremony. The skirt of the bride's dress acts as a cup when turned upside down, while the cup the figurine is holding pivots. Traditionally, the couple will drink together from the chalice or goblet—the groom from the main cup while the bride drinks from the pivoting smaller cup. The idea is to work together to drink at the same time as a show of teamwork.

German Wedding Attire

Back in the day, German brides wore black dresses; however, times have certainly changed. Today, German brides often opt for classic ball gowns. It's also worth noting that most German brides wear wedding dresses without long, sweeping trains. Some brides choose a dress with a short train, while others opt to skip it entirely. Meanwhile, German grooms, like American grooms, typically wear a formal suit or tuxedo in a neutral or dark hue.

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German Wedding Ceremony Traditions

Depending on where you're getting married—Germany versus America, for example—you can expect different ceremony traditions. For example, a few days or weeks before a larger church ceremony, couples getting married in Germany will have a small, simple civil ceremony—which occurs at a Standesamt (the local German registration office).

While American and German weddings are quite similar, there are a few key differences. For one, the couple walks down the aisle together. The idea here is for the two individuals to walk as close together as possible to keep anything from coming between them, which is quite meaningful when you think about it. We've also outlined a few more German wedding ceremony customs below:

Smaller Wedding Parties

According to Schwarck, wedding parties in Germany tend to be much smaller when compared to those in the United States. In other words, don't expect a huge wedding party with a ton of bridesmaids or groomsmen.

Wedding Rings

Engagement rings in Germany are typically worn on the left hand. Then, during the wedding ceremony, each person's band is switched to the right hand (read: no separate rings required!). Some believe this tradition dates back to the Romans, who thought the right hand symbolized trust and loyalty.

Bouquet & White Ribbon

When walking down the aisle, German brides typically hold a bouquet tied with a white ribbon. (Often, the bouquet is given to the bride by their soon-to-be spouse.)

After the ceremony, pieces of this white ribbon are given to guests to tie to the antennas of their car(s), making for a beautiful and sentimental piece of decor: If the wedding reception is taking place in a separate location, all the guests will make their way over to the venue as they honk their horns in celebration.

    German Wedding Reception Traditions

    There are a handful of German wedding reception traditions worth highlighting: here are a few of the most unique ones to consider incorporating into your wedding day.

    Baumstamm Sägen (Cutting of the Log)

    Following the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds must face their first challenge as a married couple: sawing a wooden log in half. "This will be their first task together to show their ability to work together as a team," says Schwarck. And, you know what they say: teamwork makes the dream work.

    Brautentführung (Kidnapping of the Bride)

    Some German wedding customs consist of fun pranks, one of them being the kidnapping of the bride (Brautentführung). The tradition dates back centuries. Basically, the best man acts as the kidnapper by "stealing" the bride after the wedding ceremony. The two—as well as the possible addition of the groom's friends —then go out drinking. From there, the groom sets out on a mission to track down his new spouse: once he finds his better half, the groom is responsible for picking up everyone's tab.

    Veil Dance

    Also known as schleiertanz, think of the veil dance as a German twist on the traditional bouquet toss. As part of the custom, the newly married couple dance under the bride's veil, which is then torn to shreds by the single female wedding guests. Legend has it that the person with the largest piece of fabric is the next in line to be married.

    If you're interested in incorporating the veil dance tradition into your wedding day—but you don't want to destroy your veil—consider using a piece of cloth instead.

    German Wedding Blessings

    On the hunt for a German blessing for wedding toasts or speeches? If you're looking for a German wedding blessing, there are a few you can consider.

    • Ein langes leben, ein langes lieben (Translation: A long life, a long love)
    • Erheben wir nun unsere Gläser auf das Wohl des jungen Paares und wünschen wir ihm ein langes Leben voller Liebe. Prosit! (Translation: Let us now raise our glasses to the well-being of the young couple and wish them a long life full of love. Cheers!)
    • Drei gute Ding: Lieb, trink und sing! (Translation: Three good things—love, drinks, and singing!)

    German Traditional Wedding Food

    Celebrate your German heritage by digging into one of these delicious German dishes, including savory soup and mouthwatering desserts.

    Hochzeitssuppe (German Wedding Soup)

    Hochzeitssuppe literally translates to "wedding soup," which makes it a great starter dish during your wedding reception. This traditional German wedding soup features chicken broth, noodles, veggies, chicken and mini meatballs. Everyone at the wedding—including the newlyweds and guests—will enjoy this flavorful soup.

    Baumkuchen

    For dessert, consider serving baumkuchen. This traditional German layer cake, which is sometimes categorized as a spit cake, is mildly sweet with notes of almond and vanilla. Other flavors and ingredients can also be added, including chocolate, rum and honey.

    Spitzwecken (German Wedding Cake)

    This ten-foot-long cake is typically served at German weddings. During the reception, the massive wedding cake, which is often placed on a wooden plate, is often carried into the room by several wedding guests (around ten to 12). Most times, the folks carrying the cake act out a little skit in which they pretend the cake is too big to fit into the reception room—all while dancing and drinking beer.

    German Postwedding Traditions

    German wedding traditions don't stop once the main event comes to a close. Here are some notable German postwedding traditions to be aware of.

    Das Nachfeieren (After Party)

    "In Germany," explains Schwarck, "the official wedding festivities go on until the wee hours of the morning." Put simply, if you're attending or planning a German wedding, be prepared to party.

    Braut Ueber die Schwelle Tragen (Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold)

    Following the wedding festivities, the groom typically carries the bride over the threshold of their home or hotel room (or wherever they choose to spend their first night as a married couple). This tradition is quite common—you've likely seen it reenacted in TV shows and movies—and it's actually quite fascinating. Years ago, this act was said to help repel demons and evil spirits.

    Hannah Nowack contributed to the reporting of this story.

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