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Hatches and Matches

Germans know how to celebrate the big occasions in life.

In the north of Germany, and in particular in Ostfriesland (East Frisia), births, marriages and anniversaries are not simply family events, but often involve the entire village.

If a couple gets married everybody has a part to play. Friends and neighbours embellish the front door with a large garland made with aromatic fir or oak branches and decorated with paper bows and roses. Sometimes, neighbours and friends of the bride add home-made lucky charms like horse shoes to the decor. The door decoration is usually put together in someone else’s home, carried through the village and attached to the couple’s door with great pomp and ceremony as well as free-flowing quantities of alcohol (to chase away evil spirits!).

So that’s it, you’d think. Husband and wife happily married. End of story.

Far from it – as soon as the pitter-patter of tiny feet can be heard in the distance, the neighbours are at it again. To mark the happy return of mother and baby from hospital they climb onto the roof and decorate it with a huge stork as well as baby clothes and paraphernalia so that people can see from miles away: “Here’s a happy family!”. And they need to be rewarded, of course. This time, the new parents serve ‘bean soup’, which is probably the worst misnomer of all times. The recipe? Mix 250g raisins, 125g sugar and one litre of cognac together. Chill for three days. Serve. Cure headache the following morning.

But what if a person never marries? Would he or she not feel left out? Fear ye not, the good old Frisians have thought of everything. Anybody who is not married at the age of 25 gets a fair warning on their birthday that it is high time to find a partner. Men will wake up to a string of old socks attached to the eaves and women to a string of empty boxes. After all, who’d want to be an alte Socke (bachelor) or alte Schachtel (spinster) for the rest of their lives?

Some, however, still don’t get the message and drastic times call for drastic actions. If a man or woman is still not married at the age of 30 – and it doesn’t matter whether they have a partner or not – they have to sweep the street. Surrounded by friends and neighbours and much hilarity (helped by copious quantities of you-know-what) they have to carry on down the road until a virgin takes pity on the sweeper and frees him or her with a kiss. And finding one of those – even in rural northern Germany – believe me, is no mean feat!

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