We woke to overcast skies, but since it was our day for leaving, that wasn’t such a big deal. We woke Kai early, and while he was getting himself ready, we went to get rolls and stopped by Imke and Uschi’s for some extra breakfast ingredients. Everyone, even Kai, was dressed and ready to go by 10, with Uschi and Wolfgang taking off a bit earlier than the three of us. We took the country roads from Laboe to Ploen, the county seat for the county that my sister lives in, which was totally adorable. It is right on a lake, has a very cute downtown with vie of the lake, winding cobblestone roads and paths, and a baroque-era palace on top of a hill that overlooks the whole town. We took a leisurely walk around, including the banks of the lake for about a half a mile, and although it was windy and a bit chillt, we had more sunshine than clouds and a very nice view. To Kai’s great delight, a jazz and dixieland band played on the market square, and it even featured a soprano sax player, so he had a lot of fun listening to them. We had dinner in a side street that was more of a walkway, with stairs, and just enough room for the restaurant to set up a row of tables outside, booth-style. We had soups and pasta and really enjoyed ourselves. Then it was time to drive to the place where my sister lives, a teeny village called Schoenboeken, at the center of which is the manorhouse and grounds that the Zen Center where she was ordained as a Zen Buddhist nun runs as a retreat and organizational center. (Her husband, Michael, works there full time, although most of his time is volunteered; she volunteers many of her Fridays, since she does not work on Fridays, and many weekends as well.) This entire weekend, though, was set aside for her and her wedding guests, and I cannot imagine a more beautiful and peaceful location, and although it wasn’t very warm, we had mostly sunshine and it was gorgeous for little walks as well as some outdoor chitchat. We were shown our rooms (Mark and I and Kai shared one, my mom shared a room with her two sisters, who arrived from Hamburg with another family friend from Hanover). The other guests trundled in bit by bit, but Judith’s zen friends were already there for the weekend and had helped set up coffee, tea and cookies for everyone on the lawn. We were about 50 people, from all over Germany; I probably knew about 15 and Mark probably 10, but we made friends quickly and everyone was rather eager to speak English with him and hear more about America. He was also kept pretty busy because he and one other woman, Christine, were the only “official” photographers with cameras rather than cell phones. At 4 pm, we all went over to the part of the center where religious ceremonies and zen meditations take place, and had a Zen wedding ceremony–that is, all of Judith’s Zen friends put on their robes, performed some of their regular rituals, and we heard some “sutras” or chants in Japanese that sounded very festive, and then there was a very brief ceremony that basically blessed the couple; they shared some white and some red wine that was supposed to represent the good and bad that they would experience together, and then they signed a beautifully scripted document with Japanese words on it that we later all got to sign. All in all it took about 30 minutes and was very nice.
Afterwards, we all had some time to rest or walk around or sit on the lawn some more, to get ready for the evening, which started at 6 pm with group photos on the staircase of the manor house, and then moved directly to dinner. With some sous chef help, Judith and Michael had made all the food in the center’s great big kitchen; thankfully, they have plenty of experience cooking for 20 – 50 people, but of course, this was especially festive. There were two big pots of soup, salads and dips and fresh bread, and we had two wonderful desserts. Everything was delicious, and everything was also very simple–nothing was crazy, overwrought luxury food, and yet, all was fresh and homemade. We ate and talked, with no speeches after an initial “prost” with champagne or juice. There was also no formality to starting the dancing (to playlists my sister had put together), or to the opening of the very simple “side gifts” (they had asked for donations to the Zen center instead of gifts), which happened right there and then. At about 8, there was a special performance of Judith’s friend Britta, a belly dancer and Judith’s long-time dance practice partner, and then, at about 10, a surprise in the form of a special wedding cake that the zen friends had made at a cake specialty store, with a big Zen cloth and a lotus flower for a design. I didn’t think the flavor was that great, but the effect was great, and since it isn’t that common to have these here, Mark and I had to give some tips about cutting and eating the first piece of cake jointly, American-style. Kai turned in about 10 pm (poor Kai–he was very, very well-dressed in suit and tie, but also the only person under 20, and quite a bit bored at times). We lasted until a little after 11, but then also went to take showers and go to bed. It was a truly lovely wedding party!