Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's Karl May Festival Season on European Summer Stages

Karl May Festival, Elspe, Germany, 2007. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Just a reminder that it's Karl May Festival season on a dozen open-air stages around central Europe....Here, in a sort of summer ritual similar to the pantomine shows at Christmas in England, stage presentations take place based on the adventure tales -- most of them set in the Wild West -- by Karl May, the German popular author who died in 1912.

May created the iconic Wild West heroes Winnetou and Old Shatterhand (I've posted a number of items on the blog about them.)

I've sampled a number of these festivals -- and I have to say they are fun. Recorded theme music from the popular Winnetou movies of the 1960s plays each time Winnetou or Old Shatterhand makes an appearance, and parents (who attended these festivals as children) teach their own kids how to boo at the villains. Some of the festivals also include little Wild West towns as part of the complex. The festival in Elspe, Germany (which I attended 2 years ago) even has its own special festival grounds. Last year in Berlin, the anthropologist/folklorist Dana Weber -- who is doing her PhD on Karl May Festivals -- introduced me to Prof. Markus Kreis, who has studied the phenomenon, and who showed us his photos of the Elspe Festival from the 1980s. They looked remarkably like my photos from 20 years later!

Stuff on sale at Elspe. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

As I wrote in an article a few years ago, the biggest and oldest of the festivals is the Karl May Spiele at Bad Segeberg, in northern Germany north of Hamburg and provides a model for the others.

Founded in 1952, the Bad Segeberg festival attracts more than 250,000 people a year to elaborate, highly professional productions presented on a striking open-air stage that incorporates a steep wooded crag as a backdrop.

The Bad Segeberg productions often feature popular German performers or actors famed for their roles in the Karl May movies of the 1960s or other European-made Western films. Its adjoining "Western city" features a Native American museum and a bookshop stocked with material on the Far West.

Read Full Article

This year its show is Der Schatz im Silbersee, an all-time favorite that also featured in 1962 as the first Winnetou Movie, starring the French actor Pierre Brice as Winnetou and the American ex-Tarzan Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand.

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