Saturday, September 12, 2009

Guten Tag North Side!

Oh, Chicago, when are you NOT up for a random ethnic holiday parade?

This time on the front burner was...

von Stuben Day!!!!

Who or what was General von Stuben?
Well, if you look at the figure of him in the parade, you'd surmise that he was a brunette 30-something who stood next to some ficus plants on the back of a truck and rolled through Chicago, ushering in the new Drinking Season.

Wikipedia, however, might not agree with me, saying:
Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben
November 15, 1730November 28, 1794) was a Prussian army officer who served as inspector general and Major general of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He is credited with teaching the Continental Army the essentials of military drill and discipline, helping to guide it to victory. He wrote the Revolutionary War Drill Manual, the book that became the standard United States drill manual until the War of 1812, and served as General George Washington's chief of staff in the final years of the war

What a shock, I know.

New York has a big to-do for it, but I consider the Chicago one more famous, having been featured in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (though they have it about 6 months wrong), and this year I was here during it, so I went. I took copious notes, and here's the Kate Kinda-Live Blog blow-by-blow of the 44th annual von Stuben Day Parade:

-ok, so there's a lot of Bavaria represented in this parade, which makes little sense to me, since the majority of Germans in Chicago would be from sort-of the opposite part of the world; I mean, the biggest organizer of this is the Niedersachsen Club (Lower Saxony)

-apropo the Club, I am sitting next to it, and there are a lot of older people, and they're the only ones I've heard so far speaking German...and it's High German, which also puzzles me, since Lower Saxony has quite the accent.

-There's a lot of public drinking going on even outside of the Schlager music-playing beer tent...I can dig this!

-Parade starts off with the Chicago Police's Emerald Society Bagpipers...I remember them from the Taiwanese parade Philippe and I went to, so I guess you can't do anything without these guys randomly showing up, even if they clash rather intensely with the whole theme

-Lots of choirs of various combination of German men, women, and Kinders. They're all folk-costumed out, and it's actually pretty cute.

-There is a Miss Niedersachsen float...I can't even start to list why that puzzles me. I chatted with her car afterward, and she doesn't even speak High German let alone the regional dialect...and I don't know if her crown is honored over in Niedersachsen itself, and if it were, is there an international governing body for "Miss __________" titles? So many questions.

-Ah, high school marching bands! What would a parade be without you guys and your awesome hats?

-There's a Miss Maifest! I think you guys might remember my Maifest entry as a bit violent and traumatic, involving lots of projectiles and fires in the streets. This girl does NOT represent that particular side of Maifest. She represents the site that no one who really celebrates Maifest gets to see, the one where everyone wears prom dresses and waves mechanically...and speaks English. I wish that's how it looked in Berlin!

-Speaking of Berlin! They have a presence in Chicago, the Berlin Bears, which I choose to see as an adorable tie-in with the Chicago Bears, and please don't tell me any different!

I think the Berlin group best got a folks costume that represented them as a state. See, everyone else just dressed like refugees from Munich, but these guys chose to reflect a town that was basically Petticoat Junction before they got in trouble for violating the Clean Water Act.

these are without a doubt, sophisticated "City Women" from a time when they would be seeing the "Crown Heads of Europe" and whatnot. Major points for creativity, Berlin!

-These guys represent a sort of punk-polka band called the PolkaHolics, not as great as Brave Combo, but they were all elecrtic guitars and battling nobley the "musik" coming from the float of the AM German "Musik" radio station. Hats off to the PolkaHolics!

-One of the two major German language schools in the area did this RAD float.

See, it looks deceptively like a standard school float of the cuter, maybe more involved kids, but then, on the back, right next to the name of the school, is a guy with a sign that says
and he's singing "Danke Schoen," to which I can only clap heartily and say, "No, sir, thank YOU!"

-This is a puzzling cultural display that I assume had something to do with Catholic Germany and the rite of Confirmation, but if anyone can explain why the girls are wearing ornamental head thingies and look mortified, I would LOVE to hear that Erklaerung!

This, like many of the floats, reflects nothing I've seen in all my time in Germany

-it seems like almost every West German state was represented, but there were definitely some gaps...I'm thinking...all of East Germany (Sorry Ossies) and Saarland of course (oops, forgot them!), but into this void in our hearts stepped two rather unlikely "heros" (I use the term loosely) EFFECT!

and, of course, whenever they're not invited...

oh, look, Austrians singing
yeah...that totally happened

-The south of Germany was really stepping up its game. I am not speaking of Bavaria (that's like saying Texas is part of The's just not, and I don't like to speak of Bavaria as a rule), but of BaWoot (BaWu, but said cooler). There was first the Swabian Club, which was just cute in a general sense.

You can't hate them; they're small in number at the parade and have awesome accents

and then there was this, which just made me so full of Tuebingen spirit!

These guys are on the Swabian Youth Soccer Team, which is cosponsored by IHOP, so all around! Lots of little kids who know generally what "Schwaben" is, and IHOP realizing that it's totally schweet!

-Obviously, there were a lot of bar floats, most of which took the form of a normal looking pickup with a sign draped over the sides and red-cheeked ladies in the back chucking candy at the kids while yelling "WOOOO! WE HAVE CHEAP SANGRIA!" which is I'm sure, one of General von Stuben's favorite drinks, so it only makes sense! There were also three inflatable beer bottles on trucks, which were pretty great too.

-Speaking of "places in Germany where I have spent more than a week," we now come to the Rheinland Mardi Gras (aka 11.11) group, which was covered in sequins (shiny!) and feathers (oooo!)

and something that was a little like Drum and Bugel Corps but with flag girls trailing them...sort of a meta-commentary on parading (like for Carnival) within a parade...whoa

when I first saw them I thought they were trying to do a
costume tie-in with the Revolutionary War which made
von Stuben famous. Maybe that's still true?

We totally have a coat of arms in Chicago! Check THAT out!

-The parade ended with the Water Commission's VERY shiny float, steered by someone who was clearly selected for her ability to get people hyped up for water.
a very interesting display from a rather random city organization, but then again, this was a very interesting (and large!) display from a rather random ethnic group in Chicago, it was rather fitting.

-The crowd reaction to the parade was pretty positive with a lot of people commenting on how much bigger it was than last years' or how the weather was better. They also managed to avoid a common mistake Germans make in large public celebrations (see: the 2006 World Cup) of being awkward rather than wacky and fun. These guys navigated some tough waters, but I gotta hand it to the Niedersachsen Club and the organizers of the parade, they did a great job, even though no one around me could tell me who General von Stuben was.

It's apparently a very old tradition that when these sort of giant flags go by,
you're supposed to throw money onto them, but I don't know if anyone,
including the people carrying it, got that memo.
It's just what an old German lady next to me said

maybe not entirely SHOCKING ADDENDUM!
The historical consensus on General von Stuben is that he was gay! Wikipedia says that evidence is inconclusive, but Human Rights Watch cites
Randy Shilts when he says that von Stuben was a Freund von Dorothy! I think I have heard of him before then...maybe...does anyone else remember that lesson in AP US History? I don't think the parade goers got the memo on that one

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