I am not sure if you know how much I enjoy watching street parades (at least as long as they don’t become too military). So when I heard that my new school participates in New York City’s Steuben Parade, I got thrilled. Not only do we live close to the parade route, but also I had never walked in a parade. So this morning I took my dirndl out of my closet, got ready and then we took the subway to our meeting point.
What is the Steuben Parade?
Its full name is the German-American Steuben Parade. Baron Friedrich von Steuben was born in Prussia and immigrated to America to volunteer in the Revolutionary War. He later became a U.S. citizen and presided over the German Society of the City of New York. As von Steuben is still highly regarded, German immigrants to the U.S. founded the parade named after him in 1957. It takes place every year on the third Saturday in September as a highlight to celebrate both German and German-American culture. Thousands of people watch the parade on 5th Avenue between 68th and 86th Street. Sixty years ago 86th Street was known as Germantown or German Boulevard.
Who participates in the parade?
The Steuben Parade comprises all countries where German is spoken, i.e. Swiss and Austrians also participate. There are clubs, marching bands, organizations, companies etc. that are from German speaking countries or from North America with a German speaking background. Esp. brass bands fly in from Europe. There are also floats. My understanding is that pretty much every one with a connection to German(y) can participate. We saw German language clubs and programs, gymnastics and other sports clubs, a Doberman club, choirs, fire brigades, old cars, beer halls and much more today.
Most people dress up in traditional costumes. I mainly saw southern German ones. I only bought my dirndl two years ago, i.e. when I was already in the U.S. because the garb in my part of Germany is very different and nobody would ever wear a dirndl there. Besides, I saw a few carnival societies with their typical hats.
I wore this dirndl* and quite like it. It serves its purpose, wasn’t too expensive and is comfortable. I still felt a little uneasy wearing it on the way to the parade because many people looked and I was very obviously German. But I think it is more that I am clearly not southern German and therefore everyone at home in Germany also thinks it is a little weird for me to have a dirndl.
Is it worth going to the Steuben Parade?
I would say yes! First of all, I had so much fun walking in the parade. There was music everywhere, every party was announced and described to the guests in the stands. I highly appreciate that this parade features very little military (maybe this is my German background, but I actually disliked the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston for example very much for its incredibly high number of military participants, who even shot in the air a lot).
For spectators I think this is also a fun parade. Unlike at other parades, there is still enough place on the pavement to stand and breathe. You get a great view of everything German culture and some participants hand out candy. I liked that so many visitors wore German T-shirts or traditional clothes.
This might sound a little strange, but growing up in Germany I always learned that Doberman pinschers are particularly vicious and dangerous. When we met, the Doberman group was right in front of us. And really all of us eyed them with a lot of suspicion. The dogs are much too big for my liking and I got jumpy whenever they barked at each other. I would say my American boyfriend was the most tolerant towards those dogs.
I personally would have preferred a dachshund group. Firstly, because I adore them; secondly, because they are small; and, thirdly, because I have never seen as many “dackel” in one place as in Manhattan. Unfortunately, it seems that there wasn’t a dackel group walking in the parade.
I think over the next few weeks we might go to the one or other small Oktoberfest happening around here. There are several German restaurants and beer halls in Midtown. Also, American breweries like Sam Adams sell their seasonal Octoberfest beers right now. After the parade we went home and warmed up some frozen pretzels from Trader Joe’s :-).
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