Sturm, Twang and the Imaginary Wild West in Europe
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Germany -- Karl May Festival anniversaries
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
This year, two of the biggest Karl May festivals in Germany are celebrating milestone anniversaries.
The Karl May Festtage in Radebeul -- the town outside of Dresden where May lived, and where there has been a Karl May Museum since the 1920s -- marks its 20th anniversary with this year's edition, June 3-5.
Special feature will be the participation of Pierre Brice -- the French actor who won fame (and stole the hearts of girls all over Europe) by playing Winnetou in the German-made movies in the 1960s. I myself was one of these girls -- I saw my first Winnetou movie ("Old Shatterhand") in Prague in 1966, and I still have the pictures of Brice I bought or cut out of Czech magazines at the time.
In addition, the Karl May Spiele in Bad Segeberg, north of Hamburg -- the biggest and oldest Karl May Festival -- is celebrating its 60th anniversary this season! The festival runs from June 25-Sept. 4 and will feature a performance of "The Oil Prince" -- based on Karl May's classic book -- on its outdoor stage. Erol Sander stars as Winnetou, and Joshy Peters as Old Shatterhand (I saw Peters in this role in 2003).
Next year -- 2012 -- marks the 100th anniversary of Karl May's death, and many events are being planned.
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.