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My Royal Year as Miss German-America
Denise Manukian describes her tribute to German-American Culture
by Denise Manukian
As a first-generation German-American, it has been such an honor to have been Miss German America. I grew up in Queens, New York and my parents raised me in a traditional Germanhome where I experienced all the wonderful things my culture has to offer - der Weihnachtsbaum, opening presents on Heilig Abend (but not before we sang some German Weihnachtslieder!), yummy homemade Weihnachtsplätzchen, Karneval, the daily homemade German meals and cakes, and of course the German language itself. Each week, I would go to the German-American School in Ridgewood after my regular schooling was complete and study my German language skills where I not only learned to speak fluently in German, but also to read and write it as well. At school, I also gained a huge appreciation for German songs and poems that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. During my off time, I worked in a German bakery in Middle Village, started a German Club at my high school and attended festivals and of course the Steuben parade with family and friends.
Over the past 24 years, I've traveled to Germany numerous times to visit my family in Cologne both with my parents and on my own. Not only was I able to put my language skills to good use but I also fell in love with the land, the people and the heritage of my second home. Next to my American citizenship, I proudly hold my second in Germany and I have been profoundly impacted by experiencing the culture first hand.
I truly believe in keeping the German culture alive in America and when it came time to apply as Miss German America, I knew I would be the best representation for the cause. On a beautiful day in May, I arrived at the World Yacht Club on the Hudson along with seven other girls who were vying for the position. After a round of interviews and questions posed to me in front of over a thousand people, a hundred butterflies in my stomach, and a lovely boat ride on the Hudson, the seven young women and I were presented once more at the bow of the ship as the crowd looked on. Slowly, each member of the court was chosen until at last, three girls remained. As the two other girls were chosen to be princesses, I had a very surreal moment. I can remember looking down at my parents, both smiling and my father crying, and realizing that I was the last woman standing, I had just been elected Miss German-America and was the official Queen of the Steuben Parade!
As Miss German America, I had the opportunity to attend many wonderful German festivals and events throughout the summer. Each weekend, the court and I would make our rounds and sell the traditional blue cornflowers to help fundraise for our parade. We would listen to the German music (even dance every now and then), eat the delicious German fare such as Bratwurst, Leberkäse, Kartoffelsalat, and naturally the beer, and delight in the traditional tracht that everyone wore so proudly. Everyone was always in guter Laune and you could feel the typical Deutsche Gemütlichkeit.
Not only was I able to meet some famous individuals such as Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Jimmy Sturr (and of course our fantastic Grand Marshalls Samantha Brown, Erik Bettermann, Ilse Aigner, and Peter Ammon), but I was also able to get to know some truly amazing, every-day, proud German-Americans. I was really humbled by these people who come out every year and attend these events so that they can showcase their German pride. In this day and age, where technology rules the world and generational gaps continue to grow, it is so important to keep our traditions alive and carry them forward so that the future can also reap the rewards of our immensely influential Kultur. Watching the many groups perform, such as the "Blaue Jungs & Hanseaten Deerns" choir, "Spitze," "Die Schlauberger," the Alex Meixner Band or the "Gemütliche Enzianer Tanzgruppe" (just to mention a few!) was truly fascinating and I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing them perform with such energy and zeal.
The 54th Annual Steuben Parade was a wonder to behold in the stands and also, for the first time ever, on TV - bringing one of the oldest heritage parades to your living room. After attending a parade meeting, I saw how much work and effort went into organizing such a massive undertaking. There are so many dedicated individuals who worked on different facets of the parade and without them, there would not be the wonderful display of our German-American heritage that we have every single year. Marching down 5th Avenue was the height of my reign as Queen and I did this with over 20 groups from Germany as well as all the clubs and organizations from the States. The Oktoberfest party in Central Park afterwards was a blast and I was able to show off my lack of skills in the Masskrugstammen competition. Some of the other great opportunities I was able to take part in were the TV appearances to promote the Parade as well as my trip to Germany itself for Karneval in Cologne.
It's been such a whirlwind of activities and I couldn't have done it without my love for my culture and the support of my family and friends. I'm so proud that I was able to represent the German-American culture in such a unique way. Even though I'll be giving up my crown this May to a new Queen, who will, I'm sure, represent the Parade just as proudly, I hope to continue in this endeavor. I look forward to many more parades to come and more opportunities to showcase my pride!