Old-school courting long before the age of the internet

March 3, 2018 GMT

There seem to be a lot of lonely people in this world. Many of them appear to want someone to share their lives and, since the start of the computer age, their needs have led to a proliferation of online dating sites. I’m told these ask myriad questions and promise to match you with the like-thinking person of your dreams.

Before home computing became widespread of course there were marriage bureaus that tried to do the same thing but over in Germany there is a much stranger method of matching couples that is said to help people find their soul mate.

The method is a hole in a tree. Not just any tree though. This one is a fivehundred-year-old oak tree situated deep in the Dodauer Forest near the town of Eutin, sixty miles north of Hamburg. This tree is so special it not only has a name, it also has its own postal address.

The name is Der Brauti-gamseiche, which translates as the Bridegroom’s Oak, and it has been helping to make love matches for more than 128 years.

It all began back when Kaiser Wilhelm II ruled Germany. The year was 1890 and the Dodauer forest was managed by the Kaiser’s forester, a stern man with a pretty daughter whose name was Minna. As young girls do, Minna met a young chocolate maker from nearby Leipzig. His name was Wilhelm, they were young, they were attracted to each other and inevitably they fell in love. The only thing standing in the way of their getting together was Minna’s father, who did not approve of the match.

Minna and Wilhelm were forced to meet in secret but they needed a way to communicate where, and when, their trysts would take place. At that time Minna lived at her father’s house and nearby stood a huge oak tree with a hole in its trunk. The lovers decided they would use the hole as a letter box so they could arrange meetings and send love notes to each other.

This went on for eighteen months until eventually Minna’s father realized he couldn’t stand in the way of true love. He finally gave his consent and his daughter and Wilhelm were married on June 2, 1891, celebrating the event on the grass beneath the oak tree letter box.

The story of their romance, and the part played in it by the hole in the tree, began to spread. It was mentioned in newspapers and shortly after the wedding a letter arrived, addressed to the Bridegroom’s Oak. It was the first of many. They started coming from the local area, then from the state, from all over Germany and, as its fame spread, the tree eventually got mail from all over the world.

The letters sent to the tree are different to Minna and Wilhelm’s love notes of course, the two young lovers wrote to each other but the later letters were from lonely hearts who were hoping the Bridegroom Oak will bring them a companion. The flow of mail grew so much that, in 1927, the German Post Office gave the tree its own post code, assigned a delivery mail carrier to put the mail in the hole and even provided a ladder to enable easy access to the hole.

The letters still come, mostly in the summer, and they number more than a thousand a year now. They are duly delivered to the tree and after they are put in the hole anyone who is interested can go and take a letter and read it. The only rule is that if you take a letter and are not interested in replying to the person who wrote it you should reseal it and put it back for someone else to take.

So, does the system work? Yes, it does according to Karl-Heinz Martens. Karl- Heinz is now in his 73rd year but from 1984 till he retired in 2004 he was the man who took the mail to the tree every day. During those twenty years he says there were only ten days when there was no mail for the tree and he tells several stories about its successes. One of them concerns a girl who was too shy to write to the tree so her friends put a piece of paper with her name and address on it into the hole. A soldier saw it, wrote to her and the couple will celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary this year.

The old mail carrier has several more stories like that and claims the tree has been responsible for at least 100 weddings over the years, but perhaps the best story is his own.

In 1989 a German TV station was making a documentary about the tree. They interviewed Karl-Heinz and showed him on TV. A few days later, when he delivered mail, he found a letter in the hole addressed to him. It was from a girl called Renate who said she’d seen the broadcast and would like to meet him. He called, they met and in 1994 they held their wedding reception under the oak tree. They are still happily married today.

In addition to introducing couples there is also a local legend that if you’re a girl and you’ve already found

true love you should wait for the full moon and then walk around the tree three times. If you do it without speaking and without laughing, the story is that you’ll marry before the year is out.

Having married a West Virginia girl myself I know how wonderful they are and I can’t imagine anyone here wanting to write to a tree to find a companion. If, however, anyone does feel the urge to send something to the Bridegroom’s Oak, then I wish them good luck. The address to write to is:

Brautigamseiche Dodauer Forst 23701 Eutin, Germany Derek Coleman is a part-time writer who is a native of England and who now lives in Hurricane, W.Va. He can be reached at tallderek@hotmail.com.