Standesamt – The Ceremony

22 08 2012

My poor little Mac needs to go to the Apple store to get fixed, hence the delay in updating about the wedding!  (Don’t worry! I have a full back-up of my computer so no pictures or important documents were lost! Haven’t backed up your system lately? DO IT NOW! You never know when a computer crash will strike!)

Okay so I’ll start with the courthouse ceremony – the Standesamt. (All pictures in this post are by our fabulous photographer, Annette Schrader!)

In Germany, all couples who marry are required to do so at the Standesamt, or registry office. This important step can also be done at any location, provided a government worker from the registry office officiates – so some people tie the knot on a boat, or in a park, or in a forest, etc. But the majority have a simple ceremony at the courthouse, often on the same day as the church ceremony. This is the legal part of getting married, and if you wish to have a religious (or otherwise more personalized) ceremony, you are certainly allowed to do so afterwards, but not before the court has made it official. Kind of like signing the marriage documents before the ceremony: you’re legally married before you actually say your vows. But here it is done in a government building. They still try to make it nice with quotes about love or what your life together will mean, but mostly focus on the legal contract that the couple is entering into.

We decided to have our official wedding two days before the church wedding, and boy are we glad we did! Having that breather between the two wedding days was really great, especially because there was so much to do before the wedding on Saturday! So, governmentally speaking, we got married on August 2. (We count our real wedding day as August 4, though – and it’s the date engraved in our rings). We got ready at our place and Tobi’s wonderful friend Rebecca did my hair and makeup. Then Tante Hannah drove us to the courthouse so we didn’t have to walk and so we could be there early to hand in our passports (and our witnesses’ passports). Weddings take about 20 minutes, and there were several couples there before us. Our friends and family were waiting outside and Tobias and I got a chance to meet & greet a bit before our 11:20 a.m. ceremony at the Rathaus Altona.

Tobias and I, just having gotten out of the car

My sister-in-law Jaimie and my niece Abby (cute pigtails!!) looking at my bouquet

me, with my mom and brother in the background/foreground

surrounded by family and friends

Finally, our time came and we were ushered inside for the ceremony. Funny story: our Standesbeamterin (the lady who did the ceremony) was there when we were picking up my parents from the airport! I don’t remember having seen her before at the registry office, but when we were at the airport waiting for their flight to arrive, I pointed her out to Tobias, saying, “I KNOW I’ve seen that lady before!” I was so surprised when we walked into the courthouse and saw her!

Our guests filed in as we took our seats in front of a large, ornately carved desk with two equally ornate high-backed chairs. There were chairs on either side of the table for our witnesses – the equivalent of a maid of honor and best man here in Germany. Tobi’s cousin Christoph and my good friend Ariane were there to act as witnesses for us, and even though it is no longer mandatory to have witnesses, we liked the tradition and went along with it. They also had chairs for the parents to sit in.

The room was bigger than I expected!

My family didn’t understand the ceremony, but that’s how it goes….My mom looks like she’s about to cry!

So we sat in our chairs and the court was called to order! Just kidding, it wasn’t all that serious. The lady began her spiel, reading out the information we had provided them (place of birth, address, nationality, etc.) but then made the whole audience laugh when she told us she was legally obligated to ask us if our circumstances had changed since we submitted our documents and she had to make sure we hadn’t gotten married to anyone else in the meantime. I was extremely joyful but also so nervous my hands were sweating, but that comment brought some much-needed levity. She then proceeded on with the ceremony and talked on and on about the meaning of what we we were doing that day and what the path together as man and wife will look like in the years to come. I actually don’t remember much of what she said, but only that she spoke very slowly and clearly, enunciating every syllable of her prepared speech with careful precision. I remember looking down at her notes and seeing the text she read pretty much written out, in her own handwriting, on the top page of her notebook. I don’t remember her ever looking down, though, and I am sure knows that speech like the back of her hand.

my witness, the beautiful Ariane (she’s the one who did the illustrations on our wedding invitation, by the way!)

Tobias signing the document that says all of our information is correct. I then signed Sarah Gilmour for the last time. Then she gave us another document and we signed it again – this time, as Sarah Stäbler.

We exchanged rings (his ring is a bit tight, so I had a hard time getting his on his finger!) and then the Standesbeamterin pronounced us husband and wife!

We sealed the deal with a kiss!

And then we were married! Yahoo!

Tobi shows off his new bling!

Tobi hugging his brother, Achim

The ceremony was short and sweet, and we made our way outside to make room for the next couple. (I swear, courthouse weddings are a bit like an assembly line!) Before going back home, we spent some time standing outside of the courthouse and receiving lots of hugs, congratulations and well wishes from our guests. It was really lovely!


Friday the 13th

13 01 2012

I’m not superstitious, but I was nervous about today.

Early this morning, at 6 a.m., I hopped on a train to Berlin for my appointment at the US Consulate to do some paperwork related to my wedding.

I slept most of the way over, in that special state of train dozing — in and out of consciousness, somehow waking up right as the conductor was there to check my tickets, even though I hadn’t heard him — as a large group of Polish people chattered around me. In my strange state of dreaming, I thought I even understood some of what they were saying! I’m pretty sure my mouth was open while I was sleeping, though. Umm…talk about embarrassing!

I made it to Berlin and followed my directions I had written for myself on how to get to the embassy. S7 to Zoologischer Garten, U9 to Spichernstraße, U3 to Oskar-Helene-Heim. I had been nervous about navigating a transportation system I didn’t really know. (Last time I just blindly followed Tobias around the town. I’ve got a bad sense of direction anyway.) But it ended up being quite easy, and I was impressed with my directional skills when I guessed the right direction walking out of the  U-Bahn station to get to the Embassy.

At the Embassy

Soon I saw an American flag on a big building, and a line of people standing out front. So I stood behind them. A [German] policeman outside asked me if I had any cell phones, USB sticks, mp3 players, cameras, or electronic equipment. I told him I had left it all at home (without a phone…another reason I was nervous about going to Berlin by myself!) and he joked around with me a bit – he was in a really good mood!

A good-humored American guard called a group of us in to the security check area. Easy peasy. I had gotten there a little bit early for my appointment, like around 9:40.  But that wasn’t a problem –  had an appointment list and they let me come in early (and it didn’t feel like they were making an exception or anything). So I went up and got things taken care of, and I don’t know if it was my luck (take THAT, Friday the 13th!) but I was finished and out of there by 10:00 – which was my appointment time!

That meant I had extra time to go explore a bit around Berlin. Although I didn’t really explore much – I remembered the name Hallesches Tor, so I just went there and walked. (VIP side note: I also found a Dunkin Donuts and bought a dozen to take back home with me, which I then walked around with for 2 hours. But for next time I now know that there are two Dunkin Donuts in Berlin Hauptbahnhof!) So I walked down the U6 line and ended up at Unter den Linden (a huge shopping boulevard with the Berliner Tor at one end) and then took the S-Bahn back to the central station. I spent the rest of my time there looking in shops and ate lunch at McDonald’s while waiting for my 1:24 p.m. train. And then I headed back to Hamburg, sleeping (once again with my mouth open…oy) most of the way back.

My Tips for going to the US Embassy and Consulate in Berlin

A big reason for my nervousness about this process was the lack of answers I found online to some questions I had, so I was worried I wouldn’t have the right stuff. So here are a few tips I’d like to share on the experience:

  • You’ll see it on your appointment print-out, but the embassy is located at 170 Clayallee. NOT the one near the Berliner Tor! Clayallee is about 40 minutes away from the Hauptbahnhof station.
  • Make sure you check the prohibited items list on the Embassy’s website. For this reason, I didn’t even bring any of those items with me from Hamburg. If you’re staying longer, leave them at your hotel. It will expedite the security checkpoint if you don’t have any of these items. That said, they have (tiny) lockers for you to keep prohibited items, so if you absolutely need your cell phone, or if you forget you’ve got a USB stick or a lighter in your bag, it won’t get thrown out. You’ll just have to pick it back up at security on the way out.
  • After you’ve cleared security, the guards will tell you where to go, but it’s easy – you just go inside the doors to the building and follow some red signs. The first floor is for visas. I didn’t need that, however, and went past the guard on the first level to the American Citizen Services section on the 2nd floor.
  • There’s a sign that says to go to windows 1 or 2. If you’re lucky like I was, the office will be empty when you get there. If not, you may have to wait in line, but that’s no biggie. I went to the lady with my documents. She told me what was necessary. (See below.)
  • As with any notarized document, if you’ve brought your own document to get notarized, wait to sign it until the notary tells you to.  For it to be valid, it must be signed in a notary’s presence. I brought a permission slip I wrote to allow my mother to pick up my birth certificate for me, which I just typed up and printed out to bring with me. (Included in that were my name, place & date of birth, my mother’s name and current address, and of course the purpose of the letter.)
  • If you’re looking for a Single Status Affidavit or a Marriage Affidavit (Familienstandzeugnis or Ehefähigkeitsbescheinigung), you DON’T need to bring your own letter. I had brought one just in case, because I wasn’t sure if they had their own form. They do. So just tell them you need one and they’ll type up the affidavit in English and German. They’ll need your passport and your current address, as well as the name of the courthouse you’ll be getting married at.  Wait while they type up the documents, and then they’ll call you over to another window to sign the document. The document is in English and German, and does not need an Apostille.
  • The Single Status Affidavit is just basically a document that says you’ve never been married before and that you are not in the US Armed Forces. (If you have been married before, then divorce papers would of course be necessary.) The notary will ask you to read the documents to verify the information is correct, and that you understand the document, as they are not permitted to explain the contents to you. You then swear (or declare) that the information is true, and they will instruct you to sign the form. You put it back through the window and they’ll sign it, and then you’re official!
  • You’ll need a birth certificate with an Apostille as well, which you can only get in the state where the birth certificate was issued. Since I’m not planning on going back to the US before the wedding, that was my reason behind the permission slip for my mom to pick it up for me. It’s possible via mail and via VitalChek, but the reason I decided not to do it through them was because they can’t get the Apostille part, at least for Washington DC. So I figured it was just as easy to get my mom to pick up my birth certificate as it would be to pay a company to do it.

So that’s a list of the information I wish I could have found before going there. Hopefully it will help someone out there with the same questions!

And last but not least, here are the links I read for information on all this stuff:


Beginning to plan

4 01 2012

(It’s funny how the yellow of the flower makes my blue sapphire look green!)

Monday I went to the Ausländerbehörde (aliens’ office) to get my visa renewed. Thankfully, during that 4-hour long process, Tobias came and waited with me. And since the Standesamt (Office of Vial Records) is in the same building, and we still had a long way to go until my number was called, we decided to kill two birds with one stone and went over there to get some information on what documents are needed to get hitched!

Cultural Differences & Paperwork

Unlike in the US, where you just go to the courthouse to pick up your marriage license and don’t actually get married there, it is a necessary first step here in Germany. Everyone must get married at the Standesamt first in order for the marriage to be legal, and then if you want to later, you can have a church wedding.

It’s different depending on where you live and other factors, but the lady told me I only need three things: my birth certificate with an Apostille (like an international notary stamp), an “Ehefähigkeitszeugnis” (a Single Status Affidavit) and my last paycheck. All Tobi needs is his birth certificate and his last paycheck.

The paycheck is needed because I think how much you pay to get married at the Standesamt is on a sliding scale. The more you earn, the more you pay. The lady told us it would be approximately 180€ for us.

Then there’s this Single Status Affidavit. I am not entirely sure how this works, but basically you have to get proof that you’ve never been married before. It’s strange, because how can you prove that something hasn’t happened? I’m interested in seeing how they find this out. Hamburg unfortunately doesn’t have a consulate here which does citizen services anymore, so I’ll have to go to Berlin.

The more complicated part is that my birth certificate needs this Apostille. Which you can only pick up in your home state. Which means that when I go to the consulate next week, I’ll also be getting a document notarized that says my mom is permitted to pick up a birth certificate for me. It’ll take about a week for that to get to her via mail, although I may pay more to expedite it or make sure it’s more secure/reliable. After she picks up the birth certificate, Mom will have to go to the treasury and get this special stamp, and then send it back to me…which altogether makes a good month of just getting the official documents.

I’ve also heard that in general, documents in Germany must be no older than 6 months. And I may have to get it translated into German, as well! Sure is a lot more than we’d have to do if we just got married in the US…but our desire to do it in Hamburg where we live together is pretty strong nonetheless. Oh well.

Paperwork aside, we’ve been discussing ideas and looking at dates. We may have found one, but still have yet to ask the church, so…no news for you guys yet. 🙂 Otherwise, I’ve been doing a lot of browsing online and gleaning inspiration, and trying to enjoy these early stages of my engagement. And kissing my fiancé a lot, of course!


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