Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben

By Darlene Fuchs on Email

The German-American Steuben Parade is an annual parade held in various cities across the United States. The New York City parade is held every third Saturday in September. It was founded in 1957 by German-American immigrants who, being part of the largest ethnic group in the United States, wanted to keep the traditions of their homeland alive. A number of U.S. cities and counties are named for von Steuben and today he even has his own holiday. As part of the German-American Friendship Week, the Steuben Parade draws huge crowds in New York City and several other cities around the U.S. This year the parade will be held September 17th, 2011.

Friedrich Wilhelm Ludholf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben was born in Magdeburg, Prussia in 1730. He became an officer at a young age in the Prussian army and was a member of the infantry. Due to excellent service he was commended to serve at Frederick the Great’s headquarters.

Eventually, von Steuben would use his knowledge gained through his years in the Prussian military service to join the Continental army in America. In 1777, von Steuben emigrated to the United States and, with the help of Benjamin Franklin, he reported to Washington at Valley Forge and was commissioned to train the troops.

Speaking no English, he communicated with the soldiers in French. Under von Steuben’s training the army became more successful in fighting the British troops.  Von Steuben is still regarded as one of the most important German-Americans, as his training of the young American troops made victory against the British possible and thus his work helped in gain independence for the United States of America.

After the war, von Steuben resettled to New York City, where he died in 1794.

The first Steuben Parade was held in the Ridgewood section of Queens, where many German immigrants lived. Over the years, as the event grew bigger and drew an ever larger number of spectators, the Parade was moved to Fifth Avenue. To this day it starts at 64th Street moving uptown to 86th Street. The Parade finale on 86th Street has a special meaning for German-Americans, as that street and the entire Yorkville neighborhood was home to many German immigrants between the first half of the 20th century until the 1970s. The neighborhoods most important street – 86th Street – was lovingly called “Sauerkraut Boulevard” and hosted many German-American establishments, ranging from coffee shops and restaurants to dance halls.

Every year the German-American Steuben Parade is led by cadets representing the German Language Club of the Military Academy of West Point, which was founded by General von Steuben. But the rest of the parade is dominated by traditional German brass music groups and marching bands, by clubs and organization wearing traditional German Tracht, as well as by carnival groups, marksmen or other traditions. For many years, the parade has had a strong Bavarian theme and was dominated by men wearing Lederhosen, women in Dirndls and groups dancing the traditional Schuhplattler. Recently though, the parade opened up to represent more German themes.

The Annual German-American Steuben Parade of New York is one of the largest observances of German heritage throughout all America and the world. With tens of thousands of German-Americans marching up Fifth Avenue every year in September, the parade is also a showcase of the strong friendship between the two countries.

While the Parade honors great German-Americans of times past, like Steuben himself, it is also a celebration of contemporary German tradition and culture. Among the Parade’s recent Grand Marshals were famous German-Americans like Donald Trump and Siegfried & Roy as well as the highest representatives from German politics.

Each year, the week preceding the Parade is officially declared German-American Friendship Week by the Mayor of New York City. That week is packed with a huge variety of German-American events showcasing a broad cultural spectrum from art exhibits and concerts to sport events.

On the occasion of the 50th Annual German-American Steuben Parade the Empire State Building Company agreed to coat the top of New York’s famous landmark in black,red and gold during the whole weekend. This parade held on Saturday, September 15th, 2007 was the biggest parade ever with 100,000 of marchers and spectators alongside Fifth Avenue from 63rd to 86th Street.


Parade photos © Toast to Life

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Darlene Fuchs