Karl May's Imaginary America

These people are in fact incredibly knowledgeable. One Lakota Sioux Medicine Man - Archie Lame Deer - once told me back on Pine Ridge Reservation that if you want to find authentic Indian dances, customs, artifacts, don't look to the reservations in South Dakota or Nebraska. Go spend a weekend at an Indian club in Belgium or Germany. Archie Lame Deer said if the Lakota wanted to rediscover their culture they'd probably have to come to Europe, where it was all being written down and preserved before it was too late.

It was a gorgeous May afternoon. On the rolling farmland, surrounded by thick pine forests, stood three hundred (maybe more) canvas teepees - the real thing, not pretend. From a distance it looked like the camp of some medieval army on the eve of the battle of Agincourt. Up above the epees a collection of smaller, more familiar shapes - canvas tents, chuckwagons will smoke curling from tall stove pipes. Down below, an equally familiar sight: a huge field of neatly parked BMWs, Mercedes, Audis, Volkswagens, the occasional Porsche.

Franz Schneider, a mechanic by trade, was waiting for me, sitting on an upturned milking stool in the Indian dance lodge. He'd just arrived from Frankfurt and was still in his blue jeans. I'd written in advance explaining my interest in Karl May and Winnetou.

"This has nothing to do with Karl May! Nothing! He got so many things wrong. His descriptions of Indian life are pure fantasy! Pure fantasy!" Boy oh Boy! Had I got it wrong! I'd hit a very raw nerve.

But surely there was a connection? Hadn't many of the oldest clubs been founded around the turn of the century? When May's Winnetou books were all the rage?

"Nothing to do with him!" snapped back Franz. "The real influence is Buffalo Bill. You know he came here many times with his Wild West Show. He's the man who brought the West to Europe. Not Karl May. That's just for kids!"

Karl May's Imaginary America

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The American West in the American Imagination

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