Notes on German Culture

Cowboys und Indianer

This vintage photo from post war Lübeck in northern Germany is not the best quality but it shows that even in those hard times, little German kids loved to dress up like Cowboys und Indianer. Looking at this now I have to laugh at my brother’s Indian outfit…that white holster just did not look right. Nevertheless, we were proud to show off our Christmas presents and looked exotic enough to attract a neighborhood boy who was inspired to join our little parade.

As kids in the 1950’s we were fascinated with the Wild West. But this interest in American Indians was nothing new. In fact, nearly 100 years earlier, the author Karl May wrote about the West and became one of the best-selling German writers of all time. He sold about 200 million books worldwide…and he greatly contributed to the positive image of Native Americans in German-speaking countries.

Karl May’s exciting tales centered on the good deeds of a German immigrant in the American Wild West, who at first was an enemy of the fierce Apache Indians, but later became a blood brother of Winnetou and helped the Indians correct wrongs perpetrated by evil men. Karl May’s stories were so vivid and real that It was a shock to me when I learned that Karl May was never actually in America …his books were the product of a vivid imagination, highly detailed research and great story telling talent. He is a big reason why German immigrants were fascinated with the American Wild West.

In the 19th century, among the many Germans who emigrated to the United States were artists who were inspired to capture the romance of the West. Painters such as Albert Bierstadt, known for his large landscapes of the American West…Emmanuel Leutze, famous for his painting of “George Washington crossing the Delaware”, Karl Wimar, who painted beautiful pictures of American Indians…and John Gast, who painted “Spirit of the Frontier”.

Albert Bierstadt, The Oregon Trail
Karl Wimar, The Lost Trail
John Gast, “Spirit of the Frontier”, 1872

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