My friend in Newcastle, Lesley Papworth, was about to leave on a long holiday in Austria. Lesley’s sister Linda, a prima ballerina in a ballet company of Graz, who is married to an Austrian, was celebrating her 50th birthday. As Lesley was packing to leave, she described a wedding she had attended in Austria during an visit in 1983, when Linda’s sister-in-law Lisa Lotta, a student, married a policeman, Gerhard. As we looked through the scores of photographs taken at the time, Lesley described the entire ceremony. It was a story so enchanting that I have to share it.
Apart from the feasting and merry-making that accompany such events everywhere, to an outsider what seemed to mark weddings in Austria’s beautiful countryside was the number of hurdles that everyone seemed bent on setting up to prevent the poor bride and groom from getting together, much to everybody’s huge enjoyment. Lisa and Gerhard registered their marriage at the town hall two days before the church ceremony. On wedding day, the celebrations started at 11 am at the bride’s village. Tables were laid and piled with a variety of food, breads, pastries, wine and beer by ladies dressed in traditional Austrian attire. The feasting had hardly begun than it was time for the bride to leave for the groom’s village. But that was not easy. Boys of the village blocked her door and would let her pass only if the bridegroom paid them adequately. This done, the cars had to proceed according to a traditional protocol, with Lisa in the first car and Gerhard in the last. The distance to his village was not much, but the drive took about an hour as boys in each village along the way would allow her to pass only after the groom got down from his car, walked to the head of the procession and bribed the happy harassers. [ad name=”HTML-1″]
At Gerhard’s village, the place of action was the village square. There was his house on one side, the church on the other side and a guest house where a feast was laid on a third side. A band struck up as soon as the marriage procession arrived and the entire village, which had gathered, most dressed in traditional costumes, fell upon the food and drink. Outside the groom’s house, the procession reformed itself. The women behind Lisa, led by the bridesmaids and escorted by her grandmother, walked to the church amidst great bustle. The men, walking in twos in a separate procession, led Gerhard. The centuries-old Catholic church had huge oak doors and moss growing around the flagstones on the floor. Everyone first went around the altar after which the men and women sat separately. The ceremony over, the health and happiness of the couple was toasted with wine, while outside, crackers were set off all over the place, some bursting right under the skirts of elderly women, sending them scurrying. Then followed a group photograph in the middle of the village square. [ad name=”HTML-1″]
Next on the programme was the great marriage feast. But of course, there were problems. Friends of the groom, dressed as Mexicans, blocked the way, setting up card tables and playing card games. None could pass unless palms were greased. Much bargaining and haggling followed and the matter was settled only after the families of the couple paid up. But it was all worth it. The feast that followed was both gorgeous and unending. Apart from a whole lot of homemade goodies and plenty of exotic wines and ales, there were specially designed cakes. A full course meal kept arriving every hour, with different types of meats, salads and vegetables. Meanwhile, the dancing went into full swing, with swirling waltzes and polkas. [ad name=”HTML-1″]
One would think that after all this, the poor couple could get together at last. No way. The bride has to be kidnapped first. But she cannot be snatched so long as she has her posy of flowers with her. So the flowers have to be stolen – and thrown out of a window as a signal to the kidnappers outside that she can be taken. The ritual was accomplished and even as the feasting was going on, Lisa was seized and taken to concealment in a neighbouring village. Hapless Gerhard and the best man left to look for her in the villages around and finally having located her, could get her released only after paying the ransom – meeting all the eating and drinking bills of the kidnappers. The return of the couple to their village around midnight was marked by intensified wining and dining. [ad name=”HTML-3″]
More dancing ensued, through all of which Lisa had to dance with everyone present, but not with the groom. Another meal followed and around three in the morning, the bride was brought to the middle of the hall and seated on a chair flanked by her mother and grandmother. Her bridal headdress and posy of flowers (quite tattered by this time) were taken away and she had a scarf put around her head and a wooden spoon in her hand. She was thus formally declared a housewife and for the first time allowed to dance with Gerhard, the pair at last being recognised as husband and wife. The guests started to leave slowly. The couple had to stay till the last of them left, which was at 7 am, and then they were free to go on their honeymoon.[ad name=”HTML-3″][ad name=”HTML-3″]