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'Love tourists' take shine to Danish town

dpadpa 27/06/2016 Alexander Preker

Tonder, with a population of some 7500 people, is luring couples from across the border in Germany, to get married in the picturesque Danish town.

Tomasz Taporowski uses his fingers to indicate something several centimetres high.

"That was how thick the pile of papers from the German authorities was," the bridegroom says as he stands in a Danish registry office.

Taporowski, a 41-year-old building contractor who lives in Germany, has slipped across the border to the town of Tonder in southern Denmark just to get married.

In Germany, bureaucrats had taken months just to recognise his Polish birth certificate. Given those problems, he decided it was futile to even try to get a marriage certificate there.

But in Tonder - little more than a village with its population of some 7500 - the whole wedding procedure took just 15 minutes.

"Here, in Denmark, things are quicker, less complicated," says the Pole, who, like many of his countrymen, has found a home in Germany after moving west to seek work.

Taporowski has lived in Munich since 1995 and has been in a relationship with Dagmar Hartung, 47, for the past 10 years. They have two children. "We've got through the trial period," he says with a smile.

The Tonder town hall says that some 1700 couples - many of them Germans trying to marry their non-German sweetheart - get married here every year. It's a mini Las Vegas of the north.

There are another six couples waiting for Claudia Brandt, the Danish official conducting the ceremony, to tie the knot on this day. They come from Bosnia, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but nearly all live in Germany.

Attempts at getting married in Germany tend to get hung up for lack of one document or another, often because the authorities in the home country of one of the partners are slow or barely functioning.

And once all the papers have been collected, some of the validity deadlines have expired. For example, the "certificate of no impediment" required under German law is only valid for a few months.

Christine Lassen, a Tonder florist, is one of many business people benefiting from the lax Danish laws on getting married. Hotels also do well out of the cross-border knot-tying.

Lassen always has a couple of bridal bouquets on hand. "Some people come in and ask for express service," the 64-year-old says.

And if her customers are short of the money for a professional photographer, she steps in free of charge to take a few snaps on their mobile phones in the garden of her flower shop.

"It's lovely to see these mixed nationality couples," says Brandt, who, as one of four registrars, conducts the formalities in German.

"We respect different traditions, for example that the groom sometimes does not wish to shake hands with me," she says.

The couples need few papers - registration of residence, passport and where necessary a visa - to register just a couple of days before the ceremony.

The newly wedded German-Polish couple is happy. "Privately we held our wedding party ages ago and have had our names tattooed," Hartung says.

They will have the marriage certificate recognised in Germany and then live under a single name. "Hartung of course - it sounds German and has a quality ring to it," says Taporowski. That, at least, is a simple procedure.

The German and Danish police co-operate to prevent sham marriages through their joint centre in Padborg, says German police officer Bernd Andersson.

If the Danish authorities suspect there is something amiss with the documents they report this to the local police, who then take it up with their German colleagues.

"The vast majority of those getting married are above suspicion," says Andersson, 51.

He says some German authorities dealing with foreigners even recommend getting married in Denmark to couples encountering difficulties.

But the officer also knows of cases where a young and attractive woman has come to get married to an older man. Checks subsequently revealed that she was a prostitute seeking to secure right of residence in Germany through a sham marriage.

Lassen can also tell tales of older men with young Thai brides.

"We do not allow arranged marriages," Tonder Mayor Henrik Frandsen says. "The same laws apply here as throughout the rest of Denmark."

The city authorities are planning an advertising campaign to lure couples across the border to get married in the picturesque town with ease. The love tourists generate turnover, even if they no longer have to spend three nights in Tonder before getting hitched, ever since a change in the law two years ago.

Back in Germany, authorities say they have no intention of loosening up, saying their procedures are a safeguard against bigamy.

"The aim is to ensure that people have not been married somewhere else before," a Justice Ministry spokesman says.

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