By Matthias Matussek
Even before this much-anticipated spectacle of bell-ringing and protocol, of rustling lace and crimson carpets, it is clear that Swedes are just like the rest of us when it comes to wedding gifts.
After a torturous eight years of waiting, after the objections of her strict father and after overcoming life-threatening illnesses -- in her case bulimia and in his a kidney transplant -- Crown Princess Victoria and her former fitness instructor Daniel Westling are finally about to say "I do" to each other, and what do they get? Practical gifts.
According to Swedish custom, which is also practiced in the royal family, wedding gifts are unpacked and presented before the actual wedding, apparently because the soon-to-be newlyweds can hardly wait to get their hands on their new mixer.
In the case of Sweden's royal wedding pair, those practical gifts consist of several crates of drinking glasses, a cabinet full of bed linens and monogrammed towels, several spa weekends, a year of free electricity for their palace in Haga, a park near Stockholm, and a green wooden horse.
A green wooden horse? Where was that again in the Ikea catalog? In any event, it's an unusual gift, and it will probably quickly end up in the place where those particularly funny, poetic and bulky wedding gifts always end up and gather dust: The basement. Because Crown Princess Victoria, the daughter of Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and his German wife Silvia née Sommerlath, who is from Heidelberg, is everything but unusual.
A Feat of Courtship Endurance
Unlike Norwegian Crown Princess Mette-Marit, who also comes from a middle-class family, and who had a somewhat checkered past before meeting and marrying Prince Haakon, Victoria took her time after seeing Daniel working out on a strength-training machine for the first time. But then the relationship grew.
She was as single-minded in developing her relationship as tennis legend Björn Borg once was on the baseline. She set her sights on her Daniel and, in a long, grueling match, finally got him. The entire country took an interest in this world record for endurance, and now the global media want to at least benefit from it.
Some 2,300 journalists are expected in Stockholm. The royal court is almost worried that media representatives will outnumber the ordinary people lining the streets. All good camera angles have already been determined. There are no exclusive rights. After all, this isn't some show-business or country-gentry wedding. In Germany, the ZDF public television network alone will be broadcasting live, on Saturday from 2:30 to 7:00 p.m. A documentary the station already aired about the wedding had outstanding viewer ratings. German television station Phoenix will also be involved, and private broadcaster RTL will follow up with a summary.
Meanwhile ARD, Germany's other major public broadcasting network, is competing with its broadcasts of the football World Cup. Rarely have the target groups been this clearly defined: Half of the world is watching kicks while the other half is watching kings. The royal reporters from publications like Neue Post, a gossipy German weekly, to Frau Mit Herz (Women with Hearts), another weekly German magazine specializing in news of the aristocracy among other things, have already been raving about the event for months.
A Spectacle of Solidity in Uncertain Times
Alexander von Schönburg, the brother of the Germany's best internationally known aristocrat, Princess Gloria of Thurn and Taxis, and a writer for the tabloid newspaper Bild, has been preparing the German masses for the happy end with a series he has been writing since last week. Experience has shown that such private moments of bliss cause a substantial spike in circulation among the tabloid press, which has been in crisis of late.
But if there is anything to marvel at when it comes to this wedding -- which, with an anticipated 500 million TV viewers, promises to be another royal TV blockbuster -- it is not about Snow White's quick charm, but instead the triumph of a tough will. Because Victoria is the opposite of Lady Di.
If that royal wedding was all about the look, then this one is about the spectacle of solidity in economically and politically uncertain times. The world is on the brink of chaos, and this couple is a solid anchor. It is the excess of normality and the promise of a middle-class way of life that distinguishes Scandinavian royal families, the promise that it's worthwhile to be real.
Victoria is authentic. Her love is authentic. Her fiancé is authentic.
A Commoner And 'An Outstanding Athlete'
The royal court, and the king, in particular, was initially appalled by her choice. This Daniel Westling had no money, no education and no family (which, among the aristocracy, means that his family name doesn't appear in the Almanac de Gotha, a former directory of European nobility and royalty).
But over the years, everyone has increasingly been impressed. The young man didn't show the slightest tendency toward malice or the sort of lightheadedness to which the daughters of Monaco's royal family once regularly succumbed. But that country, too, is ruled by little more than a pirate dynasty.
Westling, though no shining light in an academic sense, was an outstanding athlete. He comes from Ockelbo, a town of 3,000 people living in red wooden houses in a remote forested area north of Stockholm -- bear and elk country. Last year, remote farms in the region were plagued by hungry wolves roaming through the area and killing house pets.
The mother of the groom worked at the post office and the father for the social security office. The only prominent member of the family is former weightlifting world champion Susanne Formgren, who now runs the local gym. That was the world of Daniel Westling. And it was the challenge faced by a team of specialists consisting of teachers and etiquette consultants, whose job was to turn the jewel of the princess's heart into a diamond suitable for gala appearances.
They taught Westling to converse about the weather in English, German and French, and not to bang on the table during state banquets and shout: "Enjoy your meal!"
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