Let me take a wild guess, you just read the headline and you have no idea who Winnetou is. My childhood hero, the Mescalero-Apache chief I fell in love with when I was young, is hardly known here in the US.
So, I believe it is time that you all meet meet Winnetou and his best friend Old Shatterhand, because they made me fall in love with the wild west and native Americans and their culture, when I was just a little girl.
Winnetou, Old Shatterhand and their friends are fictional characters in books and I am not just talking about any book, no, I am talking about the Karl May series. Books that have been written between 1890 and 1893 by the German author Karl May, books that have been translated in 33 languages and have sold over 200 Million copies.
All these beautiful books are almost unknown here in the USA. What is really stunning, because the stories take place here in America, at a time when Indians were fighting against the white folks.
I got my first book from a neighbor, when I was only 5 years old and had just started to understand the whole reading thing. My reading was rather shaky then, but I was determined. I wanted to read all the books (around 30) and I did. I made it through the first one with help of my Grandmother, read the second one almost alone and was able to read all by myself, hidden in my apple tree, when I started book # 3. I had 6 books that I could call my own and they were my pride possession, the rest I had to get from the library or borrow from friends. I read them all and so did all the other kids.
The books are fiction, the stories are as right and wrong as many wild west books and movies are. Later on these famous book were made into movies and I remember it like it was yesterday, we sat there in front of our black-and-white TV and enjoyed the stories of the wild, wild west. Afterward we went outside and played Cowboy and Indians, as we always did, high up in the Alps between Italy and Austria. The only difference is, none of us wanted to be the cowboys when we played our games, we all longed to be an Apache.
I was “just” a girl so I was never Winnetou, but I could pretend to be his sister Nscho-tschi often. We don’t celebrate Halloween, but have a similar ceremony at the end of winter, when we scare the ghosts of winter away with scary masks and costumes. I begged and bribed my Grandmother, until she sewed a native American costume for me, we even made a headpiece out of chicken and goose feathers….oh I was so proud.
Winnetou, and his counterpart Old Shatterhand (played by “Tarzan” Lex Barker) let us travel into the wild west and we wanted to know more about it. Karl May, the author had never been to America, yet he captured something very special in his books, he made us travel across the ocean and involved us in the fight between the red man and the white man. Winnetou, the chief of the Mascalero Apache Nation and the chief of all Indians tribes, rises up against railroad builders that are invading their lands. He raises up against hate and Old Shatterhand and Winnetou, who fight each other first, become best friends and fight for what is right…side by side.
There is so much more to say about the books and the films and I might “have to write” a few posts about it, because I really believe it’s time for America to meet them all.
I wrote this today, because Piere Brice, the French actor who fascinated European fans of western films in his role as Apache chief “Winnetou” has died today at the age of 86. He was the hero of 11 films based on German author Karl May’s tales of America’s colonization and most importantly, he was my friend -even though he didn’t know me.
I found this little movie on youtube, with scenes out of Winnetou III when my hero died on screen. Compared with the unforgotten film melodie I want to say
“Good-bye my childhood friend! Good-bye Winnetou”