Posts Tagged ‘Kaiser Wilhelm II’

Germany’s Fascination With the American Wild West

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

My early fascination with the American Wild West was probably due to books by Karl May. This prolific German writer had published many adventure novels in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the mid-1900s, his books were still extremely popular. Even Albert Einstein, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Franz Kafka, filmmaker Fritz Lang, and Hermann Hesse loved Karl May stories. http://www.goethe.de/ins/gb/lp/prj/mtg/typ/win/en4769564.htm

This writer influenced my image of Native Americans so much that growing up in Germany, I dressed up as an American Indian at many of our annual Fasching (carnival) parties.

Karl Friedrich May (1842-1912)

Karl May published over 70 novels. The plots were set in the Orient, Middle East or the American Wild West. To date, more than 200 million copies of his books have been printed. Such a large number is “otherwise associated with dictators or the founders of religions — or J. K. Rowling with her Harry Potter series.” http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/marking-the-100th-anniversary-of-german-cult-author-karl-may-s-death-a-824566.html.

Karl Friedrich May (1842-1912) authored books about the American Wild West

Karl Friedrich May (1842-1912) authored books about the American Wild West

Winnetou and Old Shatterhand

Karl May is best known for creating the characters of the noble Apache chief, Winnetou, and his honorable German blood brother, Old Shatterhand. The plot takes the reader to the American Wild West, where the life of the Native Americans is threatened due to the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Old Shatterhand (a German immigrant whose birthday name is Karl) works as a surveyor for paleface bosses. His job is to plot the rail line through Arizona. His superiors never consulted the Apaches before grabbing their land. Winnetou captures Old Shatterhand and threatens to execute him unless he can beat an Apache warrior in hand-to-hand combat. Old Shatterhand takes on Winnetou’s father, wins the fight, but spares the man’s life. From then on, Winnetou and Old Shatterhand are fast friends and team up to fight white man’s exploitation.

Winnetou is portrayed as brave, loyal, humble and generous while Native Americans are depicted as innocent victims of white law-breakers. Old Shatterhand gives the impression of a German super-cowboy. This image ran so deep in Germany in the 1960s that we played “Robbers and Indians,” not “Cowboys and Indians.”

Did Karl May write from experience?

An interesting aside to Karl May’s adventure novels about the American Wild West is that he never actually visited the Southwest. Years after having written his popular books, he finally travelled to America. But on that brief trip he visited only typical tourist attractions and carried only standard guidebooks. Karl May must have possessed lots and lots of imagination because he created a world that fascinated scores of young and mature adults for many years, using nothing more than maps, travel accounts and guidebooks, anthropological and linguistic studies to do it.

 

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“No tango,” said Kaiser Wilhelm II

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

“No tango,” said Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German emperor, one hundred years ago today. On November 20, 2013, he issued a degree that forbade his uniformed officers to participate in the new and sensuous dance. Here is why:

Tango’s History

In Latin, tango means “I touch.” The dance originated toward the end of the 19th century. It suddenly sprung up in the working-class port neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in Argentina. The tango’s distinctive voice is attributable to a small musical instrument, the Bandoneon. Heinrich Band, a German immigrant, had brought it to Argentina. The tango quickly moved from the modest port tenements and seedy bordellos into the palaces of the wealthy. Its movements required close body contact. Phonographs, a new invention at the time, transported the dance to the Old World where London, Paris, and Berlin enthusiastically embraced it.

Tango, the gutter child

Because poor immigrants from many different countries were thrown together in Buenos Aires, the tango expressed their longing for the land they had left behind. Unable to identify with these immigrants’ plights, Kaiser Wilhelm II called the dance “a gutter child.” He preferred different rhythms. His keenly religious wife, Auguste Victoria, hated to dance altogether. But the tango became popular despite the emperor’s preferences. Even within his own circle, the Countess of Schwerin-Loewitz, wife of the president of the Prussian Parliament, could not be dissuaded from hosting a tango party. At the soiree, diplomats and high ranking officers tangoed tightly knotted with their partners. To stop the craze, Kaiser Wilhelm II forbade all uniformed Prussian Army officers to tango. For additional information, please visit www.kalenderblatt.de

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Last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. He forbade the tango (taken in 1905 - archival photo)

Last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. He forbade the tango
(taken in 1905 – archival photo)

Originally a low-class dance form, the tango became wildly popular with upper and middle classes around the world. In 1916, Roberto Firpo, bandleader of the period, introduced the standard tango sextet: two bandoneons, two violins, piano and double bass.

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.