Leading up to my daughter’s High School here in Virginia we decided that we would like to extend our home for a Foreign Exchange Student during the coming school year (2003/2004). We would be hosting a wonderful young lady from Germany for the school year and she would be attending as a Senior along with my daughter. At the end of August, Sarina arrived, exhausted and hungry but excited to be here in America. It was a wonderful school year so full of activities as she immersed herself into everything.
I had such a special bond with her and enjoyed time that we could talk about books, music, food and cultures. It was a remarkable experience for her and for us, and from that point she has always been my other daughter.
Fast forward 13 years to February 2017. I received a FB message from Tobi Lal, who is Sarina’s brother from Germany. He told me that Sarina had recently gotten engaged and the family was making plans and working on special surprises for Sarina and Malte and their wedding. One of the surprises they hoped, would be me and Pat coming to Germany for the wedding. “So, if you have no plans for your holiday yet he said, What about a trip to Germany?”
Oh my gosh, I was so excited and thankful for this invitation. Over the coming days Pat and I talked non-stop about it. We weren’t sure how we would do it, but knew somehow, we had to be there. I did not respond immediately and as the days progressed I began thinking this was going to be doable if I had some photo assignments on the books. But like a house of dominos, one thing after another started to go wrong and was costing large sums of money. My excitement was starting to dwindle, and discouragement was starting to set in.
My correspondence with Tobi went back and forth for several more weeks with no decision coming together. The number crunching was just not working, and the high cost of airfare was a huge part of the equation. Finally, two things happened the first part of April that sealed the deal. The first one came as we were saying good bye to Pat’s parents after their spring visit. Pat’s Dad looked right at me and said, “You need to do this. You will never regret it.” That same week while scanning for cheap airfares I found a miracle. WOW Airlines had tickets that were so cheap that I knew immediately that this trip could very well happen. I ran into Pat’s office and said, “I found them, the cheapest tickets, we have to purchase them.” An hour later, we had two round trip tickets to Germany. And just like that, the trip was on!
We were leaving on June 21st traveling to Baltimore, MD for the first leg of our trip. BWI to Iceland to Germany. We were giddy exited, barely able to sleep and packing two carryon suitcases became a challenge that I was determined to win. After two months of planning our first European trip, we were completely ready to go.
Once in Germany
Pat and I arrived in Frankfurt on Thursday morning completely exhausted but full of new location endorphins. Pat had no clue about anything and I said, just follow me, I think I have it. My plan was to first find the bathroom, an ATM machine for cash, directions to the train and food, pretty much in that order. Once all that was settled, and we got to the train terminal, our next stop for the day was Visbek, Germany where we would meet Sarina’s brother and father.
About halfway there, we stopped at the scheduled train station, but the train was not going forward. After several announcements in German that we did not understand, some kind passengers asked us if we understood the message over the PA system and we said we didn’t. She explained that there had been an unexpected storm and small tornado just to the north of where we were. She explained that this train probably would not go further and should go get on the train across the platform. We literally had minutes to get to the other train but made it to our next stop. At this point I was already thankful that we had small carry on bags and two back packs because it made getting on and off the trains SO much easier.
We finally made it to Visbek and once we got outside of the station I knew Sarina’s Father, Uwe immediately and felt like we were old friends. Tobi came was trying to find us and he caught up with us after Uwe called him to say we were here. They drove us that evening to the wedding weekend house they were renting in the country. The house was lovely, and we stayed in the upstairs bedroom with a big window to open-up to the outside. We spent the next couple of hours downstairs in the kitchen getting to know each other, Uwe, Tobi and Sarina’s Mom, Enid. Uwe had bought our favorite wine, we snacked on amazing cheese, bread and fruit and I was just immediately in love with this family and understood now how Sarina was such a remarkable young woman.
We talked about the next couple of days and how the surprise for Sarina would happen. Sarina and Malte would be married, the next day, Friday, June 23rd in Oldenburg, Germany at the Registrar’s office. It is law in Germany that couple go to the Registrar’s office first, like we go to get a marriage license. A small celebration and lunch would happen after. Our plan was to get to the Registrars Office ahead of Sarina and Malte and hide. I had brought with me a bag of Reese’s Cup candy, Sarina’s favorite American candy and I put it in a giftbag with tissue. It was all quite amazing trying to keep the surprise to the right moment. There were several opportunities that Sarina could have seen Pat and I hiding and Tobi was trying to block her view.
The Surprise and Civil Ceremony
Sarina and Malte stepped into the official office to sign their paperwork before the civil ceremony so we started to move forward. As Sarina and Malte stepped out, Tobi handed the gift bag to Sarina saying, someone had dropped off a gift for them. Not out of the ordinary since the church where Sarina and Malte worked was also in Oldenburg, not to far. As Sarina was peaking in the bag, Tobi was waving us forward. Sarina was pulling tissue out of the bag and then pulled out the bag of Reese’s Miniatures with a puzzled look on her face. As she looked up, I stepped around the corner. The gasp and look of surprise was so perfect and the “NO WAY!” as she reached to hug me was so perfect. As we hugged, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room because we were all crying at this point. It was such a great surprise, and all that went into making it happen was completely worth it at this moment.
From that point, we followed this very in love couple upstairs to watch their civil ceremony. It was a small group of family, parents, siblings and close friends. When the service was over, everyone hugged again, and we followed for the champagne toasts with confetti and more friends outside. I was just so perfect.
After the Civil Ceremony and Toast, it was time for lunch. Immediate family, Best man and Maid of Honor. We walked to a lovely place nearby to eat and despite the language difference, we were greeted with many new English friends who were very kind in their assistance with translations on the menu. This will not be the first time I say this, but we could not have been greeted to our first foreign country with any nicer people. That was my first impression in Germany, how kind the people were.
Later in the afternoon we traveled to Bullmühule, where the Wedding reception would be held the following day. We set up different tables, signs and beautiful wild flowers. It was all just so amazing.
Again, the evening was filled with amazing cheese, wine, bread and conversation ranging from what we were eating, what to expect the next day, politics and genuinely building a bond of wonderful friendships.
The Wedding Day will pick up in the next issue of Fox Star Editions.