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Wild West Adventure from Germany! - Karl May

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  • deadeye_dolly
    I suppose you know what a tenderfoot is. He is one who speaks good English, and wears gloves as if he were used to them. He also has a prejudice in favor of
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 9, 2004
      "I suppose you know what a tenderfoot is. He is one who speaks good
      English, and wears gloves as if he were used to them. He also has a
      prejudice in favor of nice handkerchiefs and well-kept finger-nails;
      he may know a good deal about history, but he is liable to mistake
      turkey-tracks for bear-prints, and, though he has learned astronomy,
      he could never find his way by the stars. The tenderfoot sticks his
      bowie-knife into his belt in such a manner that it runs into his
      thigh when he bends; and when he builds a fire on the prairie he
      makes it so big that it flames as high as a tree, yet feels
      surprised that the Indians notice it." (from Winnetou, the Apache


      German adventure author shared tales (some tall) of America

      By SARAH HANAN / The Dallas Morning News

      RADEBEUL, Germany – America's Wild West is kicking in eastern

      In this quiet town northwest of Dresden, lassos and a certified
      Texas flag hang in a German pub that calls itself a saloon. A man
      dressed as an American Indian smiles down from billboards pitching
      Freiberger beer. "Bad guys" on horseback have been known to attack
      the historic steam engine that puffs through this rolling Saxon wine
      country, only to be driven off by the cavalry.

      And behind a centuries-old church, totem poles and wolves of stone
      point the way to the Karl May Museum, a tribute to the local legend
      who wrote wildly popular adventure stories about the American
      frontier without ever actually having seen it. Only a few of his top
      sellers have been translated into English, including Winnetou and
      The Oil Prince , but his more than 80 works are estimated to have
      sold almost 100 million copies, mainly in central Europe.

      His fans included Albert Einstein and Adolf Hitler, and his writings
      have been made into plays and movies whose characters still pop up
      in TV commercials.

      "Almost everybody used to read Karl May," says museum curator Hans
      Grunert. "He captures this great feeling of adventure and freedom.
      It used to be that people couldn't afford to travel around the
      world, so they loved to read his books about foreign places and

      "Kids these days, they don't read much anymore, but they know his
      characters from TV."

      Karl May (pronounced "my") bought a villa in Radebeul in 1895 on
      Church Street, now Karl May Street, at the height of his literary
      career and worked there until his death in 1912 at age 70. He called
      his home Villa Shatterhand in honor of one of his first-person
      heroes, a German cowboy with a mighty fist named Karl who earned his
      nickname fighting evil on the frontier with his Indian friend
      Winnetou. Inside Villa Shatterhand, fact blurs even more with
      fiction – as it did in Mr. May's life, which is recounted in a
      timeline on the second floor.

      In 1862, Mr. May was a financially struggling schoolteacher who lost
      his license after being jailed for the theft of a roommate's pocket
      watch. He spent more than seven of the next 13 years in jail,
      charged with impersonating a police detective and a medical doctor,
      among others. Biographers say he probably developed his literary
      talent behind bars, reading travel stories and the novels of James
      Fenimore Cooper.

      By the time Mr. May bought his villa, his Western tales and others
      set in Arabia, which star Kara (Karl) Ben Nemsi, had made him a 19th-
      century celebrity. His reception rooms and upstairs study and
      library, all historically restored in 1985, are packed with travel
      books, maps, animal skins, ornate furniture and other alleged
      souvenirs of his adventures as these characters. Mr. May didn't
      visit the Middle East, however, until 1899 or the United States
      until 1908, and then just the Northeast.

      Here, too, are the portraits Mr. May had commissioned of himself
      dressed as Old Shatterhand and Kara Ben Nemsi. Displayed in a glass
      case before them are the Old West's "most famous weapons": the
      Silver Nails Rifle, Bear Killer and the Henry Short Rifle, which Mr.
      May had made in Dresden. None can be safely fired, and, as careful
      fans wondered, wasn't old Silver Nails buried with Winnetou in
      America at the end of the third volume? Mr. May's tricks were
      exposed before his death, but that didn't seem to hurt his

      On this visit, most tourists are graying German men trying to
      explain their favorite childhood books and movies to their somewhat
      reluctant kids in tow.

      The Western movies, filmed in the 1960s in Croatia, starred Pierre
      Brice as Winnetou and Lex Barker (better known to Americans as
      Tarzan) as Old Shatterhand.

      Mr. May's books, with their many long descriptive phases, aren't an
      easy read – even in English. They contain stereotypes and historical
      inaccuracies; in Winnetou, for example, the Apaches live in pueblos.
      But what's strange, really, is how much he imagined correctly.

      "When you read May's books as a youngster, you don't know what's
      right from what's wrong," says Mr. Grunert. "You just get a sense of
      excitement, of true friendships and understanding of other people.
      When you grow up and travel to these places, then you notice the

      Behind Villa Shatterhand, the kids visiting with their folks seem to
      be having more fun playing hide-and-seek in a tepee and climbing on
      an Indian statue in front of a large log cabin. This is Villa
      Bärenfett (Bearfat), which the museum guides describe as the largest
      collection devoted to North American Indians in Europe. Mr. May's
      wife, Klara, bought the artifacts from an Austrian adventurer and
      May fan and opened the cabin in 1928.

      "Europe developed a romantic ideal of America's Indians in the 18th
      and 19th centuries," says Mr. Grunert, "a lot of which was later due
      to Karl May. He showed them as an oppressed people facing
      extinction, and his readers are sympathetic."

      Inside Villa Bärenfett are numerous animal heads, a stuffed brown
      bear named Mischka from a German zoo and an impressive display of
      Indian tools, clothing, canoes and weapons organized by tribe and

      The exhibit concludes with a moving tribute to the sufferings of the
      Lakota and Cheyenne after the Battle of Little Big Horn. A video
      plays in English, which the guides will kindly turn up over the din
      of the steady stream of tourists.

      More than 90,000 people, most of them Germans, visit the museum

      The materials accompanying the exhibits are otherwise all written in
      German, though the displays can be enjoyed as visuals alone. For
      those interested in an in-depth English tour, museum guide Andre
      Kohler can lead groups of up to 25 for about $60.

      Before heading a few blocks away to Mr. May's gravesite in the city
      cemetery, good May fans stroll across the street through Karl May
      Park, which has seen better days, and then fuel up around the corner
      at Karl May Saloon. Wild Turkey and Jack Daniel's are on the menu
      here next to local wines, and Western music blares over speakers. A
      waitress in a cowboy hat serves chicken wings, spare ribs and chili,
      which owner Doris Herenz learned to make from the wife of an
      American based in Radebeul on business.

      Residents and tourists alike love the food, the scene and the line-
      dancing lessons upstairs, says Mrs. Herenz. "It's a dream for us
      all," she says. "A dream of the Wild West, of freedom, to live there
      in big spaces and wander."


      The Strange Life and Legacy of Karl May:

      As Herman Hesse once noted of May, "He is the most brilliant
      representative of a truly original type of fiction -- fiction as
      wish fulfillment."

      Karl May (1842-1912)

      There are many Web sites devoted to various aspects of Karl May and
      his works – in German and English. Our listing below is divided into
      several categories. In addition to the many Web links below, don't
      forget to look at these Karl May pages from your Guide:

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