Sunday, July 9, 2017

Welfenhochzeit: My Royal Wedding Report

Going to any royal event as an onlooker always includes lots of standing, waiting and guessing. The religious wedding of Hereditary Prince Ernst-August of Hanover and Ekaterina Malysheva on Saturday was supposed to start at 12pm; I was at the Marktkirche in Hanover three hours earlier shortly before 9am. I had already met my fellow royal watcher Arjan at the main station and at the church we met some more royal enthusiasts. After a bit of debating, we decided to split up and go for different spots along the protective grating that had been put up - and thus the great wait began.
The marksmen's guard of honour
When we arrived, there were still preparations going on at the church. At one point, some benches were brought into the church and the truck also had some more plants. Pretty soon, the first marksmen and -women started to arrive. Hanover is pretty famous for its Schützen and the marksmen's fair is actually the biggest in the world. So it was no surprise that the marksmen were in attendance to form a guard of honour for the guests. It was actually an ancestor of the groom, Duke Erich I of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who introduced the marksmen's fair in 1529. The parts of the square directly surrounding the church were closed off to the general public and the entrances guarded by security guards. Everyone that wanted to get in had to show their invitation. There was lots of speculation how the guests would arrive to the venue as even the press hadn't gotten a lot of information. 
The first guests
At about 10.30am we noticed that some of the ushers were already in the church. They must had entered the Marktkirche through an entrance that wasn't visible to us. Some cousins of the groom like Hereditary Prince Ferdinand of Leiningen and one of the sons of Countess Marie of Hochberg were among the ushers. I think I also saw Prince Otto of Hanover for a split second though I didn't manage to snap a picture. The ushers occasionally came out of the church for a moment but quickly went inside again. Also among them were Prince Berthold of Baden and Constantin von Veltheim. 
The Schützen play an important role in Hanover
At around the same time we noticed some guests apparently waiting at one of the entrances to the closed off area around the church. Funnily though, they weren't allowed to get in. They instead gathered there maybe 50 metres to our left. Shortly before 11am, we noticed that the ushers greeted the first guests: Countess Marie of Hochberg, née Princess of Hanover and aunt of the groom, as well as Baron Christian and Baroness Marie of Humboldt-Dachroeden. He is the illegitimate son of Hereditary Prince Ernst-August's grandfather and thus a half-uncle. 
While others had to wait
With their arrival it became clear that guests would arrive from both sides of the church. In retrospect it seems that the guests who arrived by bus or privately would walk past us to get to the church, while those arriving by car would come from the other side. Due to a rather thick line of marksmen guarding the entrance by that time, we were hardly able to spot those who came from the other side. Those who arrived by car would include Princess Alexandra of Hanover, who I saw for a second before I could take a picture, and the members of the Greek royal family in attendance. I didn't see any of them and just recall a lady behind us saying that "the tall guy who just went in was Pavlos of Greece".
Lots of guests arriving
By the time the first guests arrived, a lot of people had gathered to see the bridal couple and their guests. I must admit that I was quite surprised! We were some of the first ones to arrive but at the end, there were easily more than 1000 people - and we couldn't actually move an inch. I remember that for the better part of the arrival of the guests, I had the elbow of the lady standing next to me rammed into my ribs as she fought for space and I didn't want to give in, after all I had been there earlier.
Guests and marksmen alike arriving
The first ones to arrive were some local nobles and public figures. Pretty soon, we decided to take pictures of practically everyone and try to identify the people later on. I must say that you don't instantly recognise many of the lesser known nobles. People tend to look slightly different in real life than on pictures, so better save than sorry! We decided that it would be a pretty good sign that someone is noble when they wear a morning suit instead of a business suit. We felt like paparazzi, a feeling that would only get stronger once the more famous faces arrived.
Prince Heinrich of Hanover and family
I think one of the first nobles I instantly recognised even from a distance was Count Karl of Solms-Laubach. Maybe because I had seen him in a TV documentary once? He arrived together with one of his daughters. The aunt and uncle of the groom Prince Heinrich of Hanover and Princess Alexandra of Leiningen also arrived with their families pretty soon after that though I think hardly anyone around us recognised them. The same goes for the Margrave and Margravin of Baden.
Georg Friedrich and Sophie of Prussia
This changed when Prince Georg-Friedrich and Princess Sophie of Prussia arrived. The couple's wedding a few years ago was shown live on TV and they regularly feature in magazines. They got a pretty loud cheer from the crowd, probably the loudest after the bridal couple and the Casiraghis - as Arjan noted next to me, "You could think they really are the German emperor and empress!" In addition to some but not very many big-name German nobles, the guest list included lots of London-based nobles and society figures as well as some local nobility, which I was surprised to see. There also were quite a few businessmen, musicians, artists, politicians and other people involved in cultural and social life in and around Hanover present. 
Andrea Casiraghi being approached by a reporter
The internationally most famous guests probably came from Monaco. The groom's father, who himself wasn't present, is, of course, married to Princess Caroline of Monaco, who also wasn't present, but all of her children were. The funniest moment during the arrival of the guests was when Andrea Casiraghi, who must have had entered the church from the other side, came out for a quick smoke. He had already lit his cigarette when he wasn't yet visible to the crowd due to the marksmen but when everyone could see him, the crowd started to cheer. He quickly went to a spot close to the church wall to smoke but was then approached by a journalist. As quickly as he had come out, he went into the church again seemingly without answering any questions.
Pierre Casiraghi and Beatrice Borromeo being approached by the same reporter
I guess the reporters were more lucky with his brother Pierre. He, his wife Beatrice and his sister Charlotte Casiraghi as well as the boyfriend of their younger sister Alexandra arrived by bus. Thus they had to walk directly in front of us. Pierre politely answered questions of a journalist walking next to him and also gave waves to the crowd. He seemed the most approachable by the Casiraghi trio - and his wife Beatrice looks as stunning in real life as she does on pictures! Charlotte mostly kept her head down while they walked past us. I must admit that I can now understand photographers at royal (or any really) events who don't take many pictures of people who arrive directly before or after very famous faces as the same happened to me. You focus so much on taking a good picture that you forget about everyone else.
Maja of Schönburg-Glauchau and Maria-Theresia of Thurn und Taxis
Those of the guests who were also easily recognised by the crowd were Lower Saxon Minister-President Stephan Weil, Prince Alexander of Schaumburg-Lippe as well as Princess Maria-Theresia of Thurn und Taxis and her husband Hugo Wilson. I remember saying to Arjan that she looks even more like her mother in real life than in pictures and him noting that he thought for a moment from the distance that the woman next to her would be her mother Princess Gloria. Only when I looked at my pictures on the train home, I noticed that the woman was actually Gloria's sister Countess Maja of Schönburg-Glauchau. It's funny how you just focus on one or two people and don't pay much attention to the rest during these moments. 
Anunciata of Liechtenstein
Sometimes it even takes you a moment to recognise those who you regularly see on pictures: Case in point for me was Princess Maria-Anunciata of Liechtenstein. In difference there are the people you think you know from somewhere but have no idea what their names are. Taking pictures of everyone simply isn't such a bad idea, though it also means that you need to sort through hundreds of pictures afterwards.
The groom and his mother arrive
Then a car drove through the entrance were the guests had previously entered the square. The windows were blacked out so we couldn't see anything. The car stopped in front of the church and it was the groom Hereditary Prince Ernst-August and his mother Princess Chantal. They got out of the pretty quickly and didn't even look our way. But at least we got a glimpse of them, which was more than we could say for the bride. The car stopped even closer to the guard of honour formed by the marksmen and there were lots of people surrounding her, so we could only get glimpses of her dress and her veil without seeing much of her face. I remember us commenting "a bit anti-climactic" about their arrivals.
The carriage that was already used for another Guelph wedding in the 19th century
Then there was another great wait, this time for the church service to end. The marksmen scattered all over the square but unfortunately we still couldn't move an inch. So we checked Twitter to see some better pictures and videos of the bride from the local newspapers - the wonders of the 21st century! During the wait it kinda hit us that we had been standing in the same spot for more than three hours now! I really admire anyone who goes to big royal events in London or other towns and stands there for twice the time. On top of it, we came up with all kinds of theories whether we would stand in the right or worst spot for after the wedding and if we would be able to see anything of the bridal couple at all.
The Hereditary Prince and his new wife
At about 12.40pm, the marksmen gathered again in front of the church to form their guard of honour and we thought that the couple was about to come out but it wasn't so. Instead, the carriage they would use to drive to the Herrenhäuser Gärten arrived, as did two policewomen on horses. It was quite funny to see how relaxed the police horses were (after all they are were used to huge crowds of people and noise) and how nervous the horses from the Landgestüt Celle, the state stud founded by King Georg II in 1735, were. The carriage used was already used for the wedding of King Georg V, the last king of Hanover, and Queen Marie in 1843.
The kiss
Ernst-August and Ekaterina left the church at about 1.10pm and as it turned out all our worries were needless and we ended up being in a pretty perfect spot. The couple stood to our right to listen to some music by horn players, while the carriage was to our left. We almost missed their kiss though, as one of the nervous horses acted up and took up most of the attention. The couple (understandably) now seemed much more relaxed and open than prior to entering the church. They stayed outside the church for maybe three to five minutes before walking past us to get inside the carriage. 
Our spot got even more perfect when the couple's families followed them and stood basically in front of us to see them off. It was Prince Christian, who was the bestman, who led a load cheer to his brother and new sister-in-law together with his fiancée Alessandra de Osma, Princess Alexandra, Princess Chantal as well as Ekaterina's parents and siblings. We were in a great spot to take pictures of them all, before they went to the other side of the church. The carriage with a smiling bridal couple then drove directly past us and so we could get another glimpse of them. Some guests then left the church through a side entrance, which meant that we could get look at them again. 
Hubertus of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha and Alexander of Schaumburg-Lippe
Once everyone had left the church, I suggested to walk around the building on the side were no guests were and see if we could see anyone on the other side - and it turned out to be a stroke of genius! Already on our way, we noticed Hereditary Prince Hubertus of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Prince Alexander of Schaumburg-Lippe and his partner putting bags in a car and snapped a few pictures of them. Hereditary Princess Kelly of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha was already sitting in the car, so I could only take a picture of her back.
The Greek royal family and Prince Christian waiting for a car
Once we arrived on the other side of the church, we could see lots of guests waiting for cars and buses there. The area was also closed off and several rows of people were in front of us, so we could only hold our cameras up, take pictures and hope that we would recognise someone in the pictures later on. And then it happened: Prince Christian of Hanover and Alessandra de Osma walked towards the exit we were standing at together with Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece, Crown Princess Marie-Chantal and three of their sons. Apparently they wanted to get in a car, but there was no car. So for a good minute we basically stood two metres away from them and could take several pictures. They then walked back and got into a car in the square next to the church. We could also see Andrea Casiraghi and the boyfriend of Princess Alexandra heading off into the pedestrian area of Hanover. No idea what they were up to.
The church
After the service, the church was open to the public to admire the decoration. While inside, I managed to snatch myself a wedding programme. Unfortunately, some people started to take apart the floral decoration and take some flowers home. That was very awkward. At least in the tiny village were I come from, you leave the decorations in the church so it will be prettily decorated for the next mass.
The wedding programme
With all the royal guests gone, we decided to head to Herrenhausen. The reception after the wedding was to take place there though we were already pretty certain that we wouldn't be able to see much. So we decided to walk there, which takes about half an hour, which was really nice after all the standing, plus Arjan got to see some of Hanover's royal sights. Funny thing: On our way to Herrenhausen, we could see the traces of carriage - and that it didn't always go straight. We could also hear some of the music played at the reception by the House Orchestra of the Prince of Hanover.
As we expected, there was not much to see at Herrenhausen as everything was closed off and screens put up. If you were patient, you could have waited in front of the gate to see guests arriving and leaving though we were certain that most of them were already inside. So we decided to call it a royal watching day and instead headed into the Great Garden for some royal relaxation. Funnily while we were sitting at the Great Fountain, there were some guests of the wedding who walked through the garden as well. We left at around 4pm as Arjan still had to go back to the Netherlands and I also decided to head home. 
Schloss Herrenhausen
A big thank you to Arjan (and everyone else I met around the wedding) for keeping me company and making an even more enjoyable day! It was a great experience, not just because of all the royals we got to see. We were a bit hesitant in advance as the information released didn't sounds like we would get to see a lot of the wedding, but it was better than what we could have even imagined. More pictures of the wedding here, here and here with more still to come, so make sure to check back again in the coming days. Also, go follow Arjan on Twitter as he is just a delight to be around.

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