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Lesestück 1
Introduction: Karl May und „Ein Greenhorn“

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Karl May (1842-1912)
Best-Selling German Author of All Time

His story is a model for the struggle against adversity. Born into a dirt-poor family in 1842, little Karl May (pronounced MYE) was blind until age five. As a young man in Saxony he lost his teaching job and spent over seven years in jail for theft. His works were edited, corrupted and misused by others against his wishes. Even long after his death May had to suffer the indignity of Hitler praising his works (but Albert Einstein and Hermann Hesse praised May also). Most serious German literary critics dismiss his work as second-rate. He never set foot in most of the places he so vividly described in his numerous adventure tales, including the American West, the home of his best-known fictional character, the Apache warrior Winnetou.

V Baerenf.
Villa Bärenfett on the grounds of the
Karl May Museum in Radebeul.
Foto: Hyde Flippo

Yet it is Karl May—not Goethe, not Thomas Mann—who has become the best-selling German author of all time! The Karl May Verlag (press) in Bamberg claims over 100 million copies sold worldwide, and there's hardly an adult German male alive today who didn't read Karl May's books as a youngster. Every summer there are popular Karl May festivals and outdoor pageants across Germany and Austria. For good or bad, the German image of the American Indian is largely based on the books of Karl May (and German films based on those books). May was a prolific writer who churned out over 80 novels and stories, most of them "travel adventures" (Reiseerzählungen) set in faraway locales such as the Wild West. But the German Louis L'Amour is virtually unknown in America and the rest of the English-speaking world.

May and his wife visited Niagara Falls
in 1908, after he wrote his westerns.
This is part of an exhibit in Villa
Shatterhand, May's former home
near Dresden, today a museum.

Foto: Hyde Flippo

That may be slowly changing. In April 2001 the Wall Street Journal reported on several Karl May symposia and exhibits in the United States. A May exhibit went on tour in Arizona, and Texas Tech professor Meredith McClain is working on a new book about the German writer. David Koblick's modern English translation of one of May's most famous novels, Winnetou I, was published by the Washington State University Press in 1999, and Michael Michalak's English translation of May's Arabian adventure Durch die Wüste appeared in 2001. (See our Karl May Links page for book and other Web links in German and English.)

The American actor Lex Barker made Tarzan and other films, but in Germany he is best known for his role as "Old Shatterhand" in several Italian-German "spaghetti westerns" of the 1960s (filmed in former Yugoslavia and only loosely based on Karl May's books). Barker's American English was dubbed into German, and the role of the Indian Winnetou was played by a Frenchman, actor Pierre Brice. Even 40 years later there are German Pierre Brice/Winnetou fan sites on the Web! (Brice only gave up playing Winnetou in open-air pageants in 1991.) Some of the old classic films starring Barker and Brice were recently released on DVD and VHS video.

May endured many hardships and setbacks during his later years. His criminal record came back to haunt him when he went to court in an attempt to keep his own publishing rights and prevent the unauthorized serialization and alteration of his novels. But he persevered. Only eight days before his death in 1912, May presented a lecture in Vienna about his life and work to an enthusiastic audience of 2000 fans.

May's birthplace home (Geburtshaus) in Hohenstein-Ernstthal was renovated in 1998 and is now a museum visited by devoted fans from all over Europe. His former residence in Radebeul, the "Villa Shatterhand" just outside of Dresden, is also a museum that attracts Karl May fans of all ages.

WEITER > Lesestück - „Ein Greenhorn“ aus Winnetou I (1892)

More Karl May > Links | Books in English

Contents > Karl May > „Ein Greenhorn“ > Part 2 > Fragen und Übungen

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