Karl May's Imaginary America

"You see, Wagner and May, they both have a lot in common. They both come from Saxony, they were both inspired by the same scenery near Dresden and they are both myth-makers. Myth is the essence of the soul of a country, the secret of what makes it tick. Wagner articulated that on a higher plane. The genius of Karl May was to articulate that same myth, but for Everyman."

"Do you mean Karl May is the Richard Wagner of the masses?" I asked timidly.

The clouds parted! "Yes, I think that's it!" Sybeberg had finally managed to articulate what I'd only sensed, that the root of May's enduring appeal is as a myth-maker, basically retelling the age-old myths that are buried deep within the German psyche; the "Niebelungen", but in cowboy chaps and boots, set against a backcloth of Prairie and Rocky Mountain.

Now dissolve, as they say in the movies, in time and place to a grassy meadow in the little village of Hunsdorf, on the banks of the Rhine near Koblenz. The season: late Spring. The Time: the present. The Occasion: the annual meeting of the German Western Clubs. The Reason: my assumption that anybody who'd spend their free time dressing up as a Red Indian or a cowboy must also be deeply under the spell of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand.

Western clubs are something as uniquely German as Karl May, although you find them also in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. They're basically clubs where grown ups meet on weekends and vacation to live as Indians, Trappers, ordinary cowboys, cavalry officers or whatever. It's not play-acting, unlike the groups who reenact battles form the wars of the Roses on muddy English fields in armor and jerkins.


Karl May's Imaginary America

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The American West in the American Imagination

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