Karl May's Imaginary America
This points up another cause of May's enduring appeal. Winnetou is really only incidentally, superficially about America. From the beginning Germans understood the books were in fact commentaries about events in Germany itself. May said as much in his autobiography.
"Remember, we had no democracy, we had no nation, and so people...were looking for freedom, for a better world," says Claus Roxin, President of the Karl May Literary Society. After the failure of the 1848 Revolution thousands of young Germans emigrated to Texas and the Frontier. America was attractive because of Freedom. But when May wrote about America he was really bemoaning the lack of such freedom in his own country. "The absolute freedom of a world like America was a place Germans liked to live in their fantasy." Roxin adds.
German history's so littered with acts of intolerance that it's not hard to see why the basic message of the Winnetou books would continue to appeal. When I was at the Winnetou festival in Bad Segeberg several in the audience spontaneously made the connection between May's message of Brotherhood and the current struggle of West and East Germans to learn to live together as equals. The same remark could, of course, hold true for Turkish immigrants, Poles, gypsies, Vietnamese 'gastarbeiter.'