It is often said that no other European nation was obsessed as much with the "Wild West" as the Germans.
Here I'd like to discuss one form of that obsession: the hobby Indian, "Indianism" or "Indianernistik" (German) movements of the former GDR, and its
strange position during Cold War politics.
Perhaps this is not surprising, since some German nobles sold their men as virtual slaves to the British to fight colonial wars in North America,
while in the 19th century German immigrants to the US once outnumbered the Irish, and in the age before constant global communication, many Germans
disappeared into a great "unknown" land, which was imagined in romantic terms.
The German author Karl May (1842-1912) is famous for popularizing the Wild West genre of fiction in Germany.
One of his most endearing heroes was the Native American character Winnetou.
Apparently Karl May only traveled to some of his exotic "fictional" locations later in life, when the realities made him change direction.
Nevertheless, his imaginary works in the epic Western genre were extremely popular, possibly because some snooty academics considered them "low brow"
Unfortunately Hitler also liked his novels, and spoke of how his grades dropped as a boy, because he spent so much time reading the adventure stories
of May (although there's no direct link to anything fascist in them).
Nevertheless, after World War II Karl May's fiction, and the clubs based on his work disappeared for a while.
In East Germany (the German Democratic Republic or GDR/DDR) an awareness grew that people were trapped, and they would never see the real American
One solution was to recreate that locality, and all its diverse meanings in the GDR.
The interest could not be suppressed, and the the US Western theme expressed a longing for freedom.
At the same time some ideologous were not opposed to this, and felt that the American Indian lifestyle represented communal values, and that history
proved the Native Americans to be victims of Imperialism.
This supported the growth of a huge hobby-Indian movement in the GDR, with the tacit approval of the socialist state.
However, tensions also existed, and the movement was eventually infiltrated by moles and informers.
The West began to produce pretty fake Western movies based on Karl May, with little accuracy or authenticity.
In response, the socialist countries produced "Indianerfilme" (American Indian films), with the famous Yugoslavian actor Goyko Mitik playing Indian
roles in 12 movies.
The films first got an unsure reaction from GDR officials, but one gave his approval, and the hobby-Indian movement grew, often leading to "Indian
Weeks" attended by thousands of East Germans, who arrived to tipi villages in trabants.
However, old timers make it clear that the movement was never forced or invented by the state, but came from a true yearning of the heart.
Hobby "Indianists" ("Indianernistikklubs") in the GDR attempted to be as authentic as possible, often using all their free time, weekends and holidays
to painstakingly re-create seemingly Native American costumes, societies and dances.
All the costumes and artifacts had to be make from scratch, which was not easy in an isolated and rationed country.
Local zoos provided feathers and materials.
Even red flags were used for material in the costumes.
Problems arose in the 1970s when real Native Americans were invited to attend events.
The state saw this exchange (from an enemy country) as a possible means of hatching escape plans.
More problems arose when "Indianists" became involved in environmentalism.
Later it emerged that the secret police kept files on "Indianists" (for example, 800 pages on a single person), and clubs were ordered to ban members
who were regarded as political or subversive.
Some still find it very painful to discover in hindsight that their friends in this close-knit community really spied on them.
The "Indianists" eventually became "exotics" in their own right, and were documented and paraded on both East and West German television.
After the Soviet collapse many did make their pilgrimage to the US
Some (but not all) were disappointed after searching for the "real" Indians.
Largely however, ties between "Indianists" and Native Americans seem to have been established or strengthened.
From a documentary, it appears the American Indians generally have three responses: a small group who feel their culture is being stolen, a group who
don't care either way, and a group who support the "Indianists" and think it's great.
Some "Indianists" say they have never claimed to be Native American, and nowadays it's about an obsession with arts, crafts and history.
Although the events probably range from kitsch to more "authentic" displays, Wild West and "Indianist" events remain hugely popular in Germany, and in
the former East it may ironically be considered GDR nostalgia.
Yugoslavian actor Goyko Mitik eventually showed some of his films to the real Native Americans, and he became a member of the Sioux tribe:
Especially remarkable are Red Westerns, in which American Indians often took the role of the displaced people in contrast to American Westerns, in
which they are often not mentioned or play the violators. Gojko Mitić is the most famous actor in this role; he often played the righteous,
kindhearted and charming Chief (Die Söhne der Großen Bärin directed by Josef Mach). He became an honorary chief of the Sioux nation, when he
visited the United States of America in the 1990s and the accompanying television crew showed the Sioux one of his movies.
Other long-term members support the environmental and political rights for Native Americans, as well as local environmental activism, and even keep a
herd of European bison.
edit on 25-11-2012 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)