What I read: Winnetou - Karl May
The Karl May books about Winnetou were among the very first books I ever read. Shaping my desire to write.
Jump to: navigation, searchWinnetou is a fictional Native American hero of several novels written by Karl May (1842–1912, with about 200 million copies worldwide, one of the best selling German writers of all time) in German, including the sequels Winnetou I through Winnetou IV.
According to Karl May's story, first-person narrator Old Shatterhand encounters Winnetou and after initial dramatic events, a true friendship between Old Shatterhand and the Apache Winnetou arises; on many occasions they give proof of great fighting skill but also of compassion for other human beings. It portrays a belief in an innate "goodness" of mankind, albeit constantly threatened by ill-intentioned enemies.
Non-dogmatic Christian feelings and values play an important role, and May's heroes are often described as German Americans.
Winnetou became the chief of the tribe of the Mescalero Apaches (and of the Apaches in general, with the Navajo included) after his father Intschu-tschuna and his sister Nscho-tschi were slain by the white bandit Santer. He rode a horse called Iltschi ("Wind") and had a famous rifle called "Silberbüchse" ("The Silver Gun", a double-barrel rifle whose stock and butt were decorated with silver studs). Old Shatterhand became the blood brother of Winnetou and rode the brother of Iltschi, called Hatatitla ("Lightning").
Karl May's "Winnetou" novels symbolize, to some extent, a romantic desire for a simpler life in close contact with nature. In fact, the popularity of the series is due in large part to the ability of the stories to tantalize fantasies many Europeans had and have for this more untamed environment. The sequel has become the origin of festivals, and the first regular Karl-May-Spiele were staged 1938 till 1941 in Rathen, Saxony. East Germany restarted those open air theater plays in 1984. In West Germany, the "Karl-May-Festspiele" or Karl-May-Spiele in Bad Segeberg were started as early as 1950 and then expanded to further places like Lennestadt-Elspe in honor of Karl May or, rather, of his Apache hero, Winnetou. Now, they are never difficult to find in either Germany or Austria.
The stories, indeed, were so popular that Nazi Germany did not ban them despite the heroic treatment of "colored" races; instead, the argument was made that the stories demonstrated the fall of the American aboriginal peoples was caused by a lack of racial consciousness.
May's heroes drew on archetypes of Germanic culture and had little to do with actual Native American cultures. "Winnetou is noble because he combines the highest aspects of otherwise "decadent" Indian cultures with the natural adoption of the romantic and Christian traits of Karl May's own vision of German civilization. As he is dying, the Apache Winnetou asks some settlers to sing an Ave Maria for him, and his death is sanctified by his quiet conversion to Christianity." 
In the 1960s, French nobleman and actor Pierre Brice played Winnetou in several movies co-produced by German–Yugoslav producers. At first, Brice was not very excited about the role beside Lex Barker but his very reduced text and stage play brought Winnetou to real life in Germany. Brice not only became a star in Germany, but a significant contributor to German–French reconciliation as well.