Sturm, Twang and the Imaginary Wild West in Europe
Friday, May 9, 2008
Radebeul Karl May Fest as Wild Western Space
The Karl May Fest in Radebeul is one of the most complex of the country music/western-style festivals I've been to. Spatially, too, it literally covers the most ground. Banners mark the main entrances to the park where it takes place, and then the park itself is divided into several separate but connected areas.
There's "Little Tombstone" (pronounced "Tumstun"), a wild west town in a large, enclosed area. Lining the perimeter are shops, stalls, booths where acting troups perform skits and wild west plays, almost tableaux. There are two stage areas - one a real stage where country artists perform; the other is another, fenced enclosure opposite where, this year, actors played scenes from the Karl May show that is being performed this spring and summer at the open air theater in Rathen, not far from Dresden on the Elbe.
At the Hoher Stein, an old quarry, there is an area where the Native American performances and activities take place. This year, as every year, the sheer wall of the quarry, a flat cliff, was painted with a huge mural highlighting Native American symbolism.
There there is the encampment of the local Civil War (Confederate) Reenactor club -- a sea of tents.
Other, smaller, enclosures set off a sort of trapper-tavern area, an "oriental" section devoted to Karl May's tales set in the middle east, a food and vendors area, an area rather distant, where horses and riders hang out. In addition, vendors line the main road through the park.
All of it is, to some extent, pulled together by the figure of Karl May and the many, even tangential themes, in his books.
For several years I've been exploring the imaginary wild west in contemporary Europe -- observing and experiencing the many ways that Europeans embrace the mythology of the American Frontier to enhance, imbue or create their own identities. (Or, indeed, just have fun.) On this blog I will post pictures, stories and links relating to this multi-faceted subculture, from European country music to rodeos, theme parks, round-ups and saloons....
I'm an American writer, photographer, and public speaker long based in Europe. I've chronicled Jewish cultural developments and other contemporary European Jewish issues for more than 20 years and currently coordinate the web site www.jewish-heritage-europe.eu. My latest books are "National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe," published in 2007, and "Letters from Europe (and Elsewhere)," published in 2008.
I also am working on "Sturm, Twang and Sauerkraut Cowboys: Imaginary Wild Wests in Contemporary Europe," an exploration of the American West in the European imagination for which I won a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEH summer stipend grant. In 2015 I was the Distinguished Visiting Chair in Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston, SC.