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September 2008

The importance of where you are from - "Making Their Mark - From German Immigrants to New York City Icons"

by Annette Baran

"Today cultural differences have become a source of pride for all ethnic groups in America". Those are the closing words of the documentary "Making Their Mark - From German Immigrants to New York City Icons". On Wednesday night, on the occasion of the German-American friendship month, a full Auditorium at the German House proved how much interest people actually have in finding their roots and learning about their cultural heritage.

The film, a project sponsored by the Consulate General and produced by Todd Weinstein, Steve Zehentner and Peter Norman (Prospekt), tells three unbelievably successful stories. The designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, Johann August Roebling, the founders of the department store Macy's, Isidor, Nathan and Oscar Straus and the most important family of pianomakers, the Steinways, are portrayed in "Making Their Mark". The descendants of those families, Kriss Roebling, great-great-great grandson of Johann August Roebling, Paul Kurzman, great grandson of Isidor Straus and Henry Ziegler-Steinway, the great grandson of Heinrich Steinway talk about how the success of their families shaped New York City and also their own lives.

Dr. Heinrich Neumann, press-officer of the Consulate General, welcomed the audience remembering the fact that the protagonists of the film are historical figures but that their legacy lives on in their descendants who are the narrators of "Making Their Mark". Director and producer Todd Weinstein, introduced the film to the guests and thanked Dr. Neumann for his "total belief in our film project".

Following the screening a panel discussion took place, moderated by Lars Halter, Chairman of the Steuben Parade Committee. All panelists shared the common belief that German immigrants assimilated very quickly to the American society. "In the 20th century, for Germans living in the heartland, it wasn't emphasized to be German", asserted Steve Zehentner who moved to New York from Iowa and whose family has German roots. Paul Kurzman added: "There is this saying: The second generation wants to forget what the third generation is eager to remember." He built the bridge to the question of how to deal with German roots today. "Why not accepting the spiritual and cultural background and take it along with you?", Kriss Roebling asked and Miles Chapin, nephew of Henry Ziegler-Steinway, nodded in agreement: "The older you get the more you remember where you come from. It is reflected in your sense of humor, in the bedtime stories you read to your kids and the holiday celebrations you have."

But America, the cradle of the families' successes, should not be forgotten either, according to Paul Kurzman who said: "I am much more conscious of my heritage now that I am involved in the Straus Historical Society. German immigrants have one of the richest heritages of the world coming from the nation of Goethe and Beethoven. But I also feel more American than anything else. To be assimilated as quickly as possible can also be seen as a thank you to America, which is still the most special country in the world."

As a thank you for their participation in the panel discussion, Lars Halter, rewarded each of the panelists with the 2008 Silver Steubenparade coin, each individually engraved with their names. This individual gift reflected the "distinctiveness that is so precious and everybody is craving for", Miles Chapin concluded and added: "To know where you come from is the foundation of you life. And you can only build a house on a strong foundation".

If you are interested in finding your German roots, visit For more upcoming events during the German-American-Friendship-Month visit


German-American Steuben Parade Committee • P.O. Box 3386 • Church Street Station • New York, NY 10008 • Tel. 347-454-2269 • Email: