Cedric landed in Germany and opened Tinder. It was February 2019, and the Penn medical scientist student had two months to study brain abnormalities in mental illness at RWTH Aachen University. He figured he might as well have a good time, too.
Four days later, Erik drove an hour to meet this Cedric from America. He had been hesitant to try online dating — this was his first such experience, ever. But Cedric’s profile described a smart, well-traveled person, and Erik, a communications and marketing specialist who ran a growing travel media business on the side, was confident they would at least share an afternoon of nice conversation.
The men talked and walked around the city for an hour, then two, leading to a leisurely dinner. Each found the other handsome and was enthralled with his mind.
Erik, who is now 32, grew up in Berlin. He studied international marketing in the Netherlands and Hong Kong and business management in Great Britain. A love of travel led him to launch the podcast Weltwach, which features his own travel experiences and interviews with German adventurers and travel writers. Weltwach has been recognized for excellence by Der Spiegel, and National Geographic has published a book based on the podcast, Abenteuer im Gepäck. Erik recently launched an English version of Weltwach, Unfolding Maps.
Cedric, who is now 29, grew up in Shanghai. He moved to St. Louis for college in 2009, then to Philadelphia in 2013 for the Perelman School of Medicine’s M.D.-Ph.D. program. He has finished his Ph.D. in neuroscience and is due to complete his M.D. and begin a residency in psychiatry in May 2021.
In the first hour of their first date, Cedric realized he didn’t want any other German Tinder matches. Fretting over his lack of knowledge about local dating customs, he let Erik make the next move. “To my great, pleasant surprise, when he got home, he sent me a 100-word text about how much he enjoyed our time together, and proposed a second date,” Cedric said.
Soon, they scheduled dates for every day their calendars aligned until Cedric’s return to Philadelphia.
A month in, Cedric asked Erik if he wanted to be his boyfriend.
“Is that a thing people do in Germany?” he asked.
“People don’t necessarily do that so much here,” said Erik. “But yes.”
Erik said he can talk to Cedric all day, every day, without ever feeling bored. “No matter if we talk about politics, or one of his projects, or one of mine, I find it enlightening, motivating, and inspiring,” he said. “It makes me feel really good just being with him, and I knew that was something very valuable.”
“Erik is the only person who makes me simultaneously feel he accepts all of my quirks and flaws, yet has this magical way of helping me improve without making me feel bad about myself,” Cedric said. The biggest lesson learned: patience.
Two countries = one too many
It wasn’t devastating when Cedric returned to Philadelphia in late March 2019, because they already knew that in April, they would see the Yiddish production of Fiddler on the Roof in New York, run the “Rocky steps,” and tour the Russell Senate Office Building so the two politics geeks could leave notes for a couple of senators. And in May, Cedric would begin a research internship in Paris — a mere 2.5 hours from Erik’s home. They met up in Paris, Amsterdam, and Prague. They camped on a Netherlands beach and hiked forests and toured vineyards in Germany.
It was all so romantic and gorgeous and … a bit sad. Traveling together wasn’t enough; they wanted a life together. But Erik was tied to work in Germany, and Cedric to school in the United States.
Erik began spending nights, holidays, and weekends working on Weltwach. In mid-March, he left his day job.
Now or who-knows-when
A few days before Erik’s booked flight to the U.S., he woke to a flurry of text messages from Cedric: President Trump had announced a European travel ban. Erik rushed to the airport and waited 12 hours to fly standby.
The couple who had grown so tired of having an ocean between them were now usually within 9 feet of each other — along with Yoha the cat in Cedric’s tiny South Philly studio. Good thing they love talking to each other — there’s been a lot of that, much centered on their future together.
In an alternate universe, they surely would have had a big wedding with family and friends from Germany, China, and the U.S., they agreed. In this universe, even when travel is permitted again, would it be safe for everyone to make such a trip and gather in one large group? Or should they — could they — just get married now?
For several days, they pondered. Then one afternoon, Erik pulled out a small black bag containing two shiny rings he had fashioned from aluminum foil.
“Do you want to marry me?” Erik asked.
“Yes!” said Cedric. “Do you want to marry me?”
“Yes!” said Erik.
Each put a foil ring on the other’s hand.
The 'Love Riders’ take Philly
A Zoom call with a city clerk and a $100 payment got them a wedding license. A week later, they boarded blue Indego bikes, adorned with flowers, and pedaled to the first of seven wedding stops. A different small group of friends waited at each, standing a safe distance apart. Other friends followed the Love Riders, as Cedric dubbed them, on the full journey, broadcasting the wedding live to loved ones everywhere.
At Clark Park, the couple danced to “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” played by a friend on violin.
On Penn’s campus, they stepped over a safety-first fire made of orange and yellow tissue paper, modifying a Chinese tradition that symbolizes passion, love, and new marriage.
Near Boathouse Row, they together used a handsaw to cut a tree branch, an act of cooperation in homage to the German tradition of couples slicing a big log with a two-person saw.
At the Rocky steps, they exchanged the vows they wrote for each other.
At LOVE Park, they took simultaneous bites of an apple dangling from a string — another Chinese tradition.
They were showered with rice at Independence Hall, and a friend tied trailing tin cans to their bicycles for some celebratory noise on their way to Race Street Pier, where they toasted each other and their in-person and virtual guests, and signed their self-uniting license before treating guests to take-out Mexican.
“It was almost like seven small weddings, each with its own setting, ambiance, and guests,” Cedric said. “Cycling between them gave us a chance to reflect on what just happened.”
“It started as a compromise that would allow us to get married now,” said Erik. “But it was so nice and beautiful that we wouldn’t even have wanted to do it in any other way.”
On some future day less influenced by COVID-19, they hope to host a reception for all the people they love, and exchange precious metal rings.