In the 1890s, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West successfully toured Germany and discovered that Germans held a long-standing fascination with the American West. On July 19 at 7 p.m. in its Coe Auditorium, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the Wyoming Humanities Council co-sponsor an evening lecture titled “The German Wild West: William F. Cody and Karl May.” The program examines the popularity of the American West in Germany. Scholars André Koehler and Julia Stetler present this intriguing transnational topic linking Germany and the United States through a shared fascination with the American West.
Indicative of that interest is a recollection by German artist Carl Henckel. He wrote in his book A Summer Journey with Buffalo Bill, “When Black Heart [a Lakota traveling with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Berlin] recognized objects from his tribe among the embroidered works and drawings in the Indian department of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, his pride was great.”
Black Heart’s experience of seeing these artifacts reflected the extended German bond to the American West, which began in the early 1800s with German explorers in America such as Prince Maximilian of Wied. Along with the enormous success of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Germany, German writer Karl May further sealed the bond with the West in his spectacularly popular novels about a fictional Apache warrior Winnetou and his German immigrant blood-brother “Old Shatterhand.” Today Karl May’s work has sold more than 72 million copies in 22 different languages.
This fascination of the American West continues in Germany today, reflected in open-air re-enactments with gunfire, horseback riding, stunts, and pyrotechnics—very similar to performances witnessed by German audiences attending Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. The most spectacular re-enactment today is the Karl May Spiele in Bad Segeberg, near Hamburg where more than 300,000 German families with their children are thrilled to witness the live adventures of Winnetou and “Old Shatterhand.”
Koehler is from the Karl May Museum in Dresden-Radebeul, Germany, and is a key scholar of the German impact of Karl May’s writings. Julia Stetler is an Associate Editor of the Papers of William F. Cody and recent PhD graduate from the University of Las Vegas. Stetler’s doctoral dissertation examined the impact of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Germany.
“We are very fortunate to have both Julia and André speak at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West,” notes Jeremy Johnston the Managing Editor of the Papers of William F. Cody. “Contemporaries Karl May and William F. Cody reflect a very interesting cross-cultural phenomenon centered on the American West—one that closely connects Wyoming with Germany.”
Since 1917, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has been committed to the greatness and growth of the American West, keeping western experiences alive. The Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, weaves the varied threads of the western experience—history and myth, art and Native culture, firearms, and the nature and science of Yellowstone—into the rich panorama that is the American West.