The quest for love has always been a part of being human. People have tried everything, from spells and potions to websites and apps - but one place that is said to have a unique power is the matchmaking tree.
The Bridegroom’s Oak
In Dodauer Forst, outside a town called Eutin in Germany, there sits an oak tree that is said to be 500 years old. Known as the Bridegroom’s Oak, the staggeringly beautiful evergreen is no regular tree...
At the center of the trunk is a mysterious hole with a dead drop that goes deep enough to pluck a letter out. In the last 100 years, the hole has been transformed into a mail drop. The tree supposedly provides true love to those who long for it - however, the powers of this tree stretch beyond myth.
Legend or Fact?
As legend has it, the mysterious tree was planted in the 16th Century by a Celtic chieftain as a gesture of gratitude to a girl of Christian faith for freeing his son after he was tied to a nearby tree. There is little proof this myth is true; historians believe the story was cultivated by missionaries to encourage paganism.
However, it was not how it was planted that rouses visitors' interest; it is that the tree is allegedly responsible for 100 marriages. Since the early 1900s, people around the world have sent letters to the tree, hoping they may find a partner for the cost of a postage stamp. But how did this strange tradition come about?
The magical oak receives 1000 letters yearly, and even has a postal address for mail deliveries. The postman with the self-endowed responsibility of delivering these letters to the tree’s hole has said that over 20 years of service to the tree, there had been only 10 days without a letter delivered. But more on him a bit later.
Known in German as Die Bräutigamseiche, for those who are close to the mystical spot and wish to visit in person, it is said that any girl who circles the timber 3 times under a full moon, thinking of her beloved and without speaking or laughing, will be married within the year.
In 1890, Minna, a girl from northern Germany, fell in love with a chocolatier, Wilhelm, from the same town. As Minna’s father was a forester with vast land, he greatly disapproved of his daughter’s match and vehemently rejected any union between Wilhelm and his daughter.
Deeply in love, the star-crossed lovers continued to meet in the Dodauer Forst. Before smartphones existed, Minna and Wilhelm were forced to develop another way to plan their rendezvous. Upon discovering the grand tree and its hollow center, the couple planted letters for each other to coordinate their meetups.
Mysticism at Play
As Minna and Wilhelm met secretly and their love for one another grew, as did the strength of the tree. After a year of unspoken trysts, Minna and Wilhelm again approached her father, requesting him to accept their union. Surprisingly, her strict father relented and granted his daughter her desired match.
Minna and Wilhelm were married on June 2, 1891, just over a year after their confidential letter drops began. It wasn’t long before the couple’s romantic story spread, and the evergreen became the magical reason this unlikely couple could share their lives with each other.
The tree soon developed its name, the Bridegroom's Oak, and locals flocked to the mysterious tree to manifest a love story for themselves. The open hole at the tree's center made it difficult for many people to reach the high opening. Local villagers decided to make visitors' access to the trees more manageable.
By installing a thin wooden ladder attached to the strong tree, guests could easily climb the tall timber. Not only did it make dropping easier, but it also made scooping out someone else's letter simple too. People began to pick out random letters and discern whether this could be their one true love.
Dropping Off Their Letters
While locals and neighbors from nearby villages had no problem visiting the tree drop letters or retrieve someone else’s, the world had become obsessed with the mysticism of the tree. People longed to drop their letters, but with no close access, many feared their dreams would never come true.
Considering not everyone could so easily travel to north Germany, the local post office in Eutin decided to provide the Bridegroom’s Oak with its very own delivery address for people to send their letters. A postman would climb the ladder daily and drop deliveries into the drop-down.
Proof of Success
Of course, it wasn’t just Minna and Wilhelm who experienced success from the tree. In 1958, a young German soldier named Peter Pump reached into the oak tree and pulled out a piece of paper with a name and address. He had no idea who it belonged to but decided to write back to the addressee.
It turned out that the letter belonged to a young woman named Marita, who had not written to the tree herself. Her friends had written to the tree on her behalf because she was too shy. Peter and Marita corresponded for a year before they finally met in person. They were married in 1961.
Duty to Deliver
In 1984, a young postman named Karl Heinz-Marten began a job as a postman for the towns nearby Dodauer Forst, and, naturally, he was tasked with bringing mail to the Bridegroom’s Oak each day. With a high demand and limited time, Karl found his delivery job irritating…for the most part.
Recently divorced himself, Karl took comfort in delivering the letters to the cherished tree. He told the Atlantic, “It was my favorite part of the day.” Karl added, “People used to memorize my route and wait for me to arrive because they couldn’t believe that a postman would deliver letters to a tree.”
A Divided Nation
When Karl began his mail-delivering job in the north of Germany, it was a country that had long been split into two halves. West Germany was controlled by the Americans, and East Germany by Russians. Karl and the Bridegroom’s Oak resided on the West half and experienced all the freedom it offered.
Those who lived in East Germany did not have the same freedoms Karl had. However, that didn’t stop people from the East from sending letters to the tree. Those living in the West would regularly scoop letters out from people in the East and long to meet but to no avail.
Letters from the Other Side
Even though Karl’s deliveries to the tree took up a hefty amount of his day, given the remoteness of the tree, he found great joy in connecting people at a time when families were torn in half. It wasn’t just love people were seeking; for many, they hoped to receive long-sought intel.
Karl told the BBC, “Before unification [of East and West Germany], people from East Germany who had no contacts in the West used to write to the tree and ask what kind of cars and music we had available.” He added, “I wanted to write back, but my boss recommended me not to.”
A Lonely Nurse
It was before the Berlin Wall fell that Karl watched the first ever love story unfurl. In 1988, a 19-year-old woman from East Germany had discovered the tale of the supposedly magical tree. Seeking the man of her dreams or even just someone to exchange letters with, Claudia decided to give it a shot.
A few days later, Karl received the letter in his regular daily batch; he even recalled that Claudia’s handwriting was nice. It wasn’t long before Claudia’s letter was scooped out by a young man also searching for companionship. A West German farmer, Friedrich, was thrilled to discover such a charming letter.
Separated by Law
Intrigued by Claudia and her beautiful handwriting, Friedrich wrote back to the East German woman. What began as one letter to anyone who could discover it grew into forty different letter exchanges between the East and West German star-crossed lovers. With no physical contact, the duo had fallen head over heels in love.
With the strict rules and extreme regulations for travel outside her area, Claudia could not leave East Germany without an official reason to cross, and even though Friedrich had more freedom than Claudia did, he would also need a valid excuse to finally meet his faraway love.
Love Knows No Bounds
Fed up and desperate to meet the woman he considered ‘the one,’ Friedrich decided to hatch a plan and travel to East Germany to unite with Claudia. Armed with a map, a rough idea of where Claudia lived, and a heart that longed for his one true love, Friedrich set out to find his pen pal.
Friedrich arrived at the border between the divided nation and revealed his intention to cross to the other side. Suspicious of his motive, border guards questioned Friedrich extensively. He insisted he was only ‘visiting a cousin’ who lived on the other side. Reluctantly, the guards allowed him to pass.
Joined by Oak, Bound by Marriage
Surprisingly enough, Friedrich’s lie worked wonders, and even with limited information on Claudia’s specific whereabouts, the star-crossed lovers were united. It was love in person as it was on paper, and even though Friedrich had to leave Claudia and return to his home in the West, they knew they would soon be together.
A year later, in 1989, the Cold War ended, and the Berlin Wall that had separated families for decades finally fell. Claudia and Friedrich wasted no time joining each other, and in 1990, the couple married. After randomly discovering her mail and two years of exchanging letters, the Bridegroom’s magic worked.
Another Fateful Find
Year after year, Karl watched romantics search for their happy ending. Another story struck him as particularly heartwarming in his interview with the Atlantic. A man had come to the north coast for a stay at a health resort, but with wintry weather, he instead traveled inland and visited the tree.
While he was there, he retrieved a random letter from the drop-down. When he examined the letter, he discovered that the letter had been written by a woman who lived very close to his home on the Western border of Germany. The stars had aligned, and these two found their way to each other and married soon after.
Meanwhile, since the reunification of Germany, the mystical tree was beginning to age, and local authorities decided it needed better protection measures. A gate surrounding the tree was built to prevent drivers from parking on its roots, and only Karl was allowed close access to the tree by a vehicle.
Karl’s devotion to his job and his treasured task of delivering letters into the hollow of the Bridegroom’s Oak was immense. Although responsible for at least ten marriages, and likely more that we don’t know about, Karl never attended any weddings. However, that was soon about to change.
Committed to Singlehood
Karl spoke with the BBC about all the marriages and love stories he had seen unfurl, but none were quite as exciting as the romance of the Bridegroom Oak in the 1990s. He said, “I know of at least 10 marriages brought together by the tree. One, in particular, sticks out.”
Karl had recently divorced his wife when he began his job as the Bridegroom’s mailman in 1984. He told the Atlantic, “I was fed up with women back then.” However, by the late 1980s, he was ready to give women another go. Karl tried the classic dating avenues but wasn’t having any luck.
German TV Star
A German TV show approached Karl in 1989 about producing a segment on the Bridegroom’s Oak, and he agreed to an interview. The show was broadcast to the entirety of Germany (even the then uninformed Easterners), and the tree’s supposed magic had become standard information.
The show asked Karl about the mystery of the tree, his job as the mailman, and the oak’s success stories. Naturally, having visited it six times a week for almost six years, the interviewer was intrigued if Karl had found love from the mystical tree. He responded that he hadn’t. Karl could never have guessed what happened next.
A Unique Discovery
A few days after the nationwide broadcast and his recent claim to fame, Karl ran his usual daily errands for work. He noticed something unusual when he climbed the ladder to post the latest batch of letters for the drop-down. Of the handful of letters, one was addressed to Karl himself.
Confused and surprised, Karl posted the other letters but kept the one with his name on it. He climbed down the ladder and decided to open the letter. He discovered it was sent to him by a woman expressing affection to the lonely postman after seeing the TV broadcast. The woman’s name was Renate.
Much like Karl, Renate was a middle-aged divorcee looking for a new person to share her life with. After many unsuccessful dates, Renate was intrigued by the Bridegroom’s Oak and even more so by the mailman tasked with delivering daily letters. Renate sensed Karl could be a catch.
She later spoke with FAS about her reaction to the broadcast. “I sat in front of the TV and immediately felt a connection with him.” Watching with her son, when Karl revealed he was single, she said, “I’ll change that!” And so, Renate put her words to action and wrote a letter.
Text to Voice
Upon discovering Renate’s letter addressed to him, Karl was surprised by the tone of her words. He later said she was straightforward and clear about her intentions; the letter suggested how much she wanted to get to know this man she had never met. Even though he was caught off guard by her contact, he decided to reach out.
While the other romantic connections created through the Bridegroom’s Oak had maintained contact through letters, Karl and Renate decided to take a more modern approach. Instead, The duo spoke to each other over the phone and would talk for hours. Karl told the BBC in 2018, “I had quite the phone bill.”
Karl moved their relationship to the next level by sending Renate a photo of his precious dog. It was a clever move by the mailman, as it is difficult for most women to resist an adorable dog. After hours of talking over the phone, the duo decided it was time to meet in person.
Karl was to meet Renate in her town on the opposite end of Germany. With few instructions and a vast city to navigate, Karl worried he wouldn’t even find Renate. He told the Atlantic, “I didn’t know the city. So she had to guide me somewhere; we didn’t have smartphones back then.”
A Mailman and His Wife
Before long, things had become serious, and Renate and Karl decided to move in together. It may sound like things sped up quickly for the new couple, but Renate insisted their relationship was different. She told FAS, “If you got to know each other via the Bridegroom’s Oak, it’s different than with someone you meet in a disco.”
It was in 1994 that Renate and Karl announced their intentions to marry one another. And where else would a couple bound by a magical oak tree tie the knot? Why, at the Bridegroom’s Oak itself. At last, the mailman who had journeyed to the remote tree every day finally reaped the benefits of its power.
Union of Trees
After uniting star-crossed lovers, international romances, and even the mailman, the 500-year-old oak was just as lonely as any other single could be. For all the mail and climbs the tree endured, the Bridegroom’s Oak had never found a love of its own. Fifteen years after Karl discovered his love, the tree found love, too.
In 2009, the Bridegroom’s Oak was married off to a chestnut tree based just outside of Düsseldorf and the only other tree in Germany with a mailable address. With a 5.5-hour drive between them, even though the trees were in a long-distance relationship, the ceremony commemorated the symbolism of the mystical oak tree’s powers.
People were so appreciative of the love the oak tree had provided. However, it wasn’t to last. After only six years of marriage, the chestnut tree in Düsseldorf was cut down after a fungal erosion had made the tree rotten. Once again, the Bridegroom’s Oak was left lonely, giving its visitors the gift of love.
Make no mistake, other trees worldwide have addresses, including in South Africa and Australia. It seems unfair that a tree that provides love should not be allowed to have its fair share. However, the historic tree will unlikely be married to another tree anytime soon.
The Mailman’s Bond
Upon losing its equal and marital partner, the Bridegroom also began to feel the ramifications of age. Throughout the early 2000s, the tree developed a fungus and needed severe trimming to combat the spread. While the heart of the magical tree remained, the oak lost many of its branches and protective leaves.
Incredibly and devastatingly, Karl had also developed a case of leukemia that spread through his body. Karl reflected on his health and his bond to the tree to the BBC. “When I started coming here, the tree was stronger and healthier. But I’m not so healthy either, so I suppose we have a special connection.”
The End of an Epic Love Story
It was not only the Bridegroom’s Oak that had its share of heartbreak and lost love; the companion who had posted letters for twenty or so years received his tragic news. While Karl’s cancer diagnosis had slowly subsided, his dear wife Renate discovered she had a bad case of lung cancer.
Almost thirty years after Karl discovered her letter in the tree, Renate died from her illness. In a last gesture of romance, her funeral occurred on Valentine’s Day. After almost a quarter century of marriage, Karl was heartbroken but relished the time he and Renate shared.
In 2018, on Valentine's Day of all days, a reporter from the BBC interviewed the then 72-year-old Karl. Having delivered letters year after year between 1984 and 2004, Karl said he loved his job because it was a "beautiful coincidence" to see people find love through the tree.
In real modern-day life, people connect through what Karl described as "facts and questions," the tree represented a simpler way of connecting with people. As with him and Renata, Wilhelm and Minna, Friedrich and Claudia, and countless more, the tree changed his life. And he continued to return to it long after his retirement.
Power of Nature’s Magic
When visitors caught Karl on his daily trip to the tree, they would ask him the story behind the tree. “Once upon a time, there was a son of a prince,” he would tell them. “He was left in this forest, and no one cared about him until a very beautiful girl rescued him. And because he was so grateful to her, he planted a tree.”
Laughingly, he admitted, “That’s the short version.” A tree with hundreds of thousands of letters with hopes of love, connection, and happiness. With ten proven marriages, and likely many more we don’t know about, the Bridegroom’s Oak proves that nature’s simplicity can produce magic beyond our understanding.