Saturday, January 8, 2022

Cowboys and Indians Take Over Germany [archived newspaper article]

 Janesville Daily Gazette

By Nino Lo Bello

February 9, 1968


WEST BERLIN, Germany – Was ist los, Geronimo? Wie geht’s Davy Crockett? Guten Morgen, Herr Sitting Bull!

Achtung, the Old West come to Germany. Call it “cowboy-ism” or whatever you want, but here when tall bowlegged stranger in a 10-gallon hat rolls a cigarette with one hand and twirls six-shooter in the other, you’re in wild and wooly Deutschland.

Yup, go into one of the Wild West hobby clubs that dot this country and don’t be surprised to find a couple of cowpokes mulling around a card table - on which a pot of knockwurst is boiling. You may have walked in on the meeting of the local Cowherren ind Injung Bund being presided over by Herr President Curt “Chief Red Cloud” Noebauer – with the minutes of the meeting being recorded by Herr Secretary Hans Meindl, who calls himself “Schnell Fuss” (in Western lingo that comes out, ‘Swift Mocassin’)

‘Corn on Cob’

This country has gone cowboy-loco. Germans today probably know more about the folklore, history, customs and ethnology of the early North American west than many Americans do. Mention the name Gen. George C. Custer to a German paleface today, and he’s likely to respond with a rousing “Him good man!” and then proceed to show his savy by telling you more about Custer’s Last Stand than Custer himself ever knew.

Much of this love-affair with the Old West is due to a German writer who penned 70 novels (probably with an eagle feather), most of them about cowboys and Indians, which have sold nearly 20 million copies and which are now being made into movies right here on location in Berlin. Although he went to the last roundup in 1912, Karl May these days is Germany’s best selling author. His books have never been translated into English.

Filled with inaccuracies and anachronisms (such as Abe Lincoln’s “problem” with the Apaches, or the wars between the Mohawk Indians of Upper New York and the Navahos of Arizona), the Karl May books are strictly corn-on-the-cob, but they have now had three generation of avid fans.

Tedrfoots like Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Richard Strauss, Albert Schweitzer, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler were known to have been Karl May readers. Hitler even had seven feet of book shelves in his library devoted to Karl May, and it is believed he read every single line of each book.

 Fantastic Episodes

Oddly enough maverick May wrote nearly all of his Wild West nearly all of his Wild West novels long before he had a chance to visit the United States. He made the first trip with money he had earned on his cowboy stories. That he did not incorporate more errors and fluffs into his westerns is indeed surprising. His fans forgive him anyway – even if frontiersmen like John C. Fremont (1813-1890) did have a spat with Pocahontas (1595-1617) in one of the books, or if Kit Carson (1809-18868) did reminisce about his boyhood in a description of Dodge City (founded in 1872).

Karl May’s mot popular book is a trilogy called “Winnetou,” which is about a redskin do-good Indian chief who roams the wide-open spaces on his hoss with a white man sidekick called “Old Shatterhand,” both of whom fight the bad guys with their quick wits and their quick Winchesters. The Winnetou yarns – which are now on celluloid with an American actor who used to play Tarzan (Lex Barker), as the white scout – are full of fantastic episodes and a mishmash of hairbreadth adventures during which they take turns saving each other.

This quotation from the first chapter (a description of what a “tinhorn” is) is typical of the Karl May prose style: “A tinhorn is an hombre who loads his rifle by putting in the shells upside down; who speaks very stilled English and who hates Yankee talk; who after being slapped by an Irishman runs to the sheriff instead of beating him to the draw…”

There’s one thing, however, neither Karl May nor the script writers for the Winnetou movies have not been able to figure out. And that is, how do you say in German. Podner, “They went that- a-way!”    


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