This is going to be a long entry :)
It all started out with a youth conference organised by our church one weekend in 1998 (though when I say "conference", it's more a meeting where you go and do stuff and less sitting in a room talking).
I wasn't sure whether I'd be going, especially since we had dancing class on Friday evenings at that time (also organised by the church). However, Oliver Heyen said that he'd be going after dancing and he could take me along if I wanted.
I said I'd think about it and he said I could leave it up to the last minute as far as he was concerned—if I decided to go, I should simply bring along my suitcase to dance class and he'd take me along. I ended up phoning the bishop to tell him I wouldn't be there (I don't remember what calling I had back then—perhaps ward mission leader) and going.
We got to Plön shortly before midnight. I expected people to be in bed, but these were normal youths, not Philips, so they were still up and milling around the common room of the youth hostel, and preparing to go down to the lake. I went and tried to find a room that still had beds free and found one that was empty and started to settle in. Birger Benn joined me shortly afterwards; he had also just arrived.
I then went down to the lake with the others. There, I saw a girl, but didn't recognise her well in the dark. I asked her whether she was <someone> and she replied that no, she wasn't, and it was unlikely I knew her.
I asked her, "Wer bist du?" ("Who are you?") and she understood "Wie alt bist du?" ("How old are you?"), and answered, "19". So that was a little funny. But then I found out her name was Stella.
She had also nearly not come, since the person who was to give her a ride ended up not going, or something, but someone else offered to take her along nearly at the last minute.
Shortly afterwards, people thought they'd go on a midnight hike through the woods, and I went along.
There were only a couple of torches [for the Americans: flashlights] in the whole group and they were at the front. It was pretty dark in the forest, since the trees blocked off much of the light of the moon and stars. Stella was near me and offered to hold my hand so I wouldn't fall, since she could see better in the darkness than I. So she walked a step ahead of me and talked to her friend Ruth, while I tagged along silently behind her with my hand extended in front.
After that walk in the dark, we all went back to the lake, and some people went for a quick midnight swim. I just hung around the shore, but Stella decided to try out the water with her feet.
When we all went back to the youth hostel, she didn't put her shoes and socks back on but went barefoot, which went fine until we got to the youth hostel, which had a gravel driveway. I offered to carry her over that because it probably wasn't very barefoot-friendly. She refused at first but I simply scooped her up in my arms and carried her to the doorstep.
The next day, I didn't really know what to do. There were several groups forming for different activities, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. I think the main choices were bicycling and canoeing/paddleboating.
Since I was kind of shy, I decided to latch on to someone I'd already talked to that weekend; I saw Stella after breakfast and asked her what she was going to do.
(Incidentally, she later told me that she had wanted to get to know Birger better, and was rather annoyed that I tended to be near him, since we had moved into the room together. But this we she got to know me better, which turned out better in the end. Or so I believe!)
So we ended up going down to another part of the big lake together with a bunch of other people.
For some reason, there weren't enough canoes and paddleboats to go around, or something, so we ended up having to wait around for quite a while until one became free, essentially by ourselves, and we spent most of that time talking and getting to know one another. It was quite interesting.
Then when we got a paddleboat, another boy joined us. At first we were a little annoyed because I preferred to be alone with her, but it ended up being a good thing since Stella's legs were too short to reach the pedals without sitting right on the edge of her seat, so that boy and I ended up pedalling nearly all of the time.
We went around a spit of land into another part of the lake, to the end (where we could see the town and the castle) and then on back.
Stella and I also spent quite a bit of time that evening talking.
She was very shy about physical contact, though, and when I asked her whether I could give her a hug before she went home, she said she wasn't sure but maybe she'd shake my hand. When it came time to leave, though, she didn't even do that but just said bye.
On the way home from that youth conference, I thought it was nice meeting her and wanted to meet her again. She had given me her address and phone number (written on the back of a train ticket she happened to have on her) and so I called and arranged a visit in two weeks' time.
I thought it would be a good idea to bring along flowers, so I bought some red roses at Hamburg main station before leaving. That ended up being a pretty good move; she was very happy about them. I met her sister and her parents there.
Over the course of the next six months or so, we ran up quite a telephone bill, and also tried to visit one another once every two weeks or so. When she came to Hamburg, she'd usually sleep with Fischers, who lived very close by.
She later said that she knew very quickly that she wanted to marry me, but didn't say that out loud. Good thing, because I'd have got cold feet when being faced with this decision.
But later on she made it more clear that she wanted more from the relationship. I was pretty scared, but thought about it.
At one point, my uncle Wolfgang said he'd quite like to meet Stella. I told her parents "My stake president wants to talk to Stella" to make it sound more scary. It's true that he was stake president at the time, but I think he wanted to meet her as my uncle, not as stake president.
We also talked a little there about our relationship and commitment and stuff and I thought about things more.
On the train ride home from there, I was very quiet and didn't say anything as I thought about what Stella meant to me and whether it would be good to be together and so on.
Two things, for example, that I was a little worried about were our differing levels of education (I had completed twelve years of school and an apprenticeship; Stella had finished only nine years of school and an apprenticeship) and the fact that she spoke basically no English (which also caused some antagonism from some members of my family initially).
I think I ended up deciding that marrying her would be a good idea on "logical grounds": that she enjoys being a homemaker, and a more educated woman might want to "fulfil herself" or something rather than pampering me from head to toe. And also that she takes the gospel seriously and tries to live by its precepts. A weird decision, now.
At any rate, while we were on a draughty platform in Hamburg's main station, waiting for our connecting train, I made a decision and said to her, "Stella?"
She looked at me and asked, "What?"
I asked her, "Will you marry me?"
She was initially dumbfounded, but then recovered and said, "Yes!"
She later said that after my long silence, during which she couldn't "read" me or figure out what was going on inside of me, when I asked her on that platform, she thought I was breaking up with her. So a proposal was just completely weird.
That evening, I brought Stella back to Fischers. It was around ten or so; I asked Daniel whether Inga was still up as we wanted to have them be the first to know. He said she had already gone to bed but might not yet be asleep. We went into the bedroom and said, "Inga? Guess what happened today?"
She replied, very sleepily, "You got engaged?" I wondered how she knew that but answered, "Yes.", to which she replied, "Congratulations."
Since it was late, I then went back home.
Stella left for Kiel early next morning (this was a Monday and I had to go to work so I didn't see her before she left), and I went into shock, more or less, when I realised what I had done. Perhaps it was a good thing I didn't see her again for a while or I might have cancelled my proposal on the spot.
At the end of the day, though, I had calmed down a bit.
Stella wanted me to ask her parents for her hand, in the nice old-fashioned way, before making it official, and I resolved to do so next time I went to Kiel, which was probably about two weeks later.
On the evening of the Friday when I arrived, there was a dance in Kiel, and I danced a bit with various girls, including Sabine Schelewski, a friend of Stella's. She had just broken up with her boyfriend, and talking to her made me get cold feet again; I was unsure whether my decision was correct. But she reassured me, telling me that just because she had broken up didn't mean that our relationship couldn't last.
So the next day, I asked her parents whether I could have a word with them in private. They agreed, and Stella went into her room with her sister. She could barely contain her excitement since she knew what was going to happen.
Her parents didn't, though—they also thought that I was going to break up with Stella and was going to ask them to offer her moral support during the upcoming time, or something. So they were also rather taken aback at first when I asked them for the hand of their daughter in marriage, but after a bit of thought they said yes.
(Once he had recovered a bit, her father quipped that "No, you can't have her hand; you'll either take all of her or nothing"; I had secretly hoped for such a response when I asked for "her hand" in marriage.)
So we were officially engaged. We usually count the 8th of November to be our engagement day; that's when I asked her, on the platform of a railway station.
We bought some silver engagement rings the next time she was in Hamburg; the decision was made simpler, as I recall, because they only had one design that had rings in both her and my size.
We set up a wedding date for May—about six months' time. We hoped that would be enough time to get things organised and get to know each other more but fast enough for us not to do anything we'd regret later.
Part of this time I spent with getting the paperwork done. I went to the registry office in Harburg and asked whether it was possible to get married elsewhere; the lady said it was possible but I'd have to pay the registration fee twice: once at the registry office of either her or my residence, and another time at the registry office where we wanted to marry.
But I wanted to marry in Friedrichsdorf, where the temple is, so that we could have the civil marriage and the temple sealing on the same day and not have to drive down there for six hours right after the marriage in Hamburg or Kiel.
The next time I was in Friedrichsdorf for a temple trip, I walked down to the registry office and made an appointment for the 11th of May. The lady there told me the paperwork I would need to produce for her.
I needed to request a copy of my birth certificate, I believe, from the place where I was born, and a copy of something else which was kept in Tornesch where my father lived. And I also needed an "Eheunbedenklichkeitsbescheinung" (roughly, a certificate of no impediment, basically saying it was OK with the UK for me to marry again since I wasn't married previously according to their laws).
Normally, I'd get that from the registry office of my last UK place of residence. Only I'd never lived there so there was no registry office responsible for me.
Not a big problem; I could apply to the Supreme Land Court for exemption. Fortunately, the Land Hamburg consists only of the city of Hamburg, so I didn't have to go very far. (My sister Ireen, for example, had to go all the way up to Rendsburg to pick hers up, I believe.
I made an appointment there, showed up, and filled out some forms. A while later, they said I could come and pick it up for a fee of about DM 200 (USD 120, CAD 160, GBP 70). When I paid the fee, the clerk said I had got away cheaply(!); he mentioned that especially citizens of African countries tended to have to pay a lot more. Maybe it's cheaper for British people because the UK is more computerised and it's easier to look things up? I have no idea what determines the price.
I didn't actually get the certificate after paying the money; the court would send it straight on to the registry office.
After a reasonable amount of time, I phoned the registry office in Friedrichsdorf to inquire whether they had received the certificate. No, they hadn't.
A short moment of panic later, I decided to call my local registry office in Harburg and ask whether they had it. "Yes, it's here, you can pick it up at your convenience, Mr. Newton."
"What do you mean, pick it up? I had asked for it to be forwarded to Friedrichsdorf, because I wanted to get married there."
"Oh, right; that's what my colleague wrote on the file as well."
Good grief. So why didn't you do it? ... At any rate, good thing I called to get that sorted out.
We drove down to Friedrichsdorf on Monday and got there in the evening. The civil wedding was to be on Tuesday at ten and the sealing at three in the afternoon.
While we were in the cafeteria of the temple hostel, Sabine Schelewski (who would be Stella's witness at the wedding) asked me whether I had a bouquet, and I said now. She suggested it might be a good idea to get hold of one before the wedding :)
So I wonder whether there's a florist in Friedrichsdorf and remembered there's one on the way to the town hall. So the next morning, I got up earlier and went down there and asked whether they did bridal bouquets.
The lady there said yes, and asked me when I needed it. When I said "this morning at ten", she got a bit flustered. But she said she could probably make it if no other customers arrived in the mean time. (Only one person came in, and she seemed to know him, since she asked him whether he'd mind coming back that afternoon or later in the morning.)
So I got a nice last-minute bouquet, but it looked good, and that was the important bit.
In the town hall's wedding room, I got scared again and nearly ran out. But I didn't; I stayed in there and signed the wedding thingy.
On the way out, Stella and I walked back alone. As we walked past a jeweller's, we decided to have a look for some rings. (Yes: Mister Organised not only forgot about the wedding bouquet, but we hadn't got around to buying wedding rings, either.)
We picked out some nice simple ones that were fairly inexpensive, which we'd use until we had the time to go shopping for proper rings. But we ended up liking them so much that we still wear them. (And one of these days, we may even get around to having our names and wedding date engraved in them, which we've been planning on doing for quite a while now.)
Then we went to the temple and signed up. Because Stella had not been through the temple before, she needed to be there a bit earlier. We went through an endowment session together (which went a little wrong at the end because the sister in charge was new and also didn't know that we would be sealed to one another immediately afterwards), and then were sealed afterwards for time and all eternity. We were fortunate to have a sealer whom we knew well; Dietmar Matern is from Hamburg and was along on that trip since it was his stake's temple week, and he had agreed to seal us. There aren't that many people who have the sealing authority, so it's often someone at the temple who does it.
The rest of the week, we didn't want to spend in the temple hostel, where we usually sleep in ten-bed rooms (men and women separately). We didn't want a two-bed room, either, since we wanted a bit more privacy. So we (well, I) decided to get rooms in the "Löwe", which is mostly a restaurant but also has some rooms, and is very close to the temple.
I arranged things via email and we spent the rest of the week in a nice cozy little room there.