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The hobby American Indian movement in East Germany (GDR) - A fascinating history.

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posted on Nov, 25 2012 @ 03:39 PM
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" fiction.

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 West.
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)

posted on Nov, 25 2012 @ 03:48 PM
Wow man! High five to you!

I love reading, reading about ww2 and post war Europe in particular...

Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I shall read up a bit more on the subject and come back with more elaborate comments in the future,

I hope

edit on 033030p://pm3034 by Spike Spiegle because: S&F

posted on Nov, 25 2012 @ 04:10 PM
History and visuals in English have proved very difficult to find.

Here is a short German documentary titled Das Rote Reservat (The Red Reservation).

The narrative basically outlines what I've included in my OP.

I thought it might be interesting for the visuals.

edit on 25-11-2012 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 25 2012 @ 04:14 PM
reply to post by halfoldman

Thanks I'll check it out, it will probably lead me to more videos after, youtube does that....

edit on 043030p://pm3023 by Spike Spiegle because: tube

posted on Nov, 25 2012 @ 04:46 PM
reply to post by Spike Spiegle

Thanks for the fantastic support!

Apologies for the somewhat late reply, but I'm frantically checking and adding things before my edit time is up.

I'm going to watch the clips again, and may add some commentary if necessary, or if people would like a certain bit more clarified and translated into English I'd be happy to oblige.

posted on Nov, 27 2012 @ 01:47 PM
Some modern events in Germany.

The first is from "Indian Week" in 2009, and appears to be a deliberate re-enactment of the 19th century.

Most of the commentary from (I assume) Native Americans on YouTube to such visuals today is negative, especially without the common poverty and political repression of the former GDR.

The poster of the clip makes it clear however that they are hobbyists, and they do not imagine themselves as true Native Americans.

One critic says they should be dropped off on a real US reservation without any money, and then they should decide after a week if they still want to be "Indians".
OK, all opinions are welcome, but I could say the same for some impoverished areas of Germany and Europe.
Perhaps there's also a fantasy (especially in Africa) that all Europeans are privileged and wealthy, which is certainly not true.

Then, some ask how Germans would feel if Native Americans dressed in Lederhosen and performed German folk-dances.
Well, some right-wing purists might be unhappy, but I think these Germans would be thrilled, especially if it was done with sincerity and effort.

Of course nowadays travel is unrestricted, and after watching several clips, it is clear that at the bigger events there is Native American representation (and the former West Germany also still has US army bases).

Indian Week:

A pow-wow Grand Entry from the Schwartzwald region of Germany (2009).

Here critics were especially vocal about the smudging, and persons leading the dance.
Some said the smudging could lead to spiritual harm if not performed by a qualified person, while another critic wished he was there to punch them.
However, I assume these dancers were in fact bona fide Native Americans.
I'd also assume that this type of contemporary pow-wow is different from the previous re-enactment.

edit on 27-11-2012 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 27 2012 @ 03:10 PM
An encounter with Goyko Mitik from 1973.

A more egalitarian celebrity culture from what was the other side of the "iron curtain".

Strange that his films are still largely unfamiliar to many people.

posted on Nov, 29 2012 @ 02:54 PM
A hobby American Indian family on a German television show.

This seems to be from the post-GDR era, and demonstrates that the subculture is now already established over generations.

The family live in a modern house, but have a tipi homestead to practice their hobby within a short distance.
They enjoy riding horses and the family activities, and all the kids participate.

The eldest daughter is a nurse, and they sustain their hobby with regular jobs and lives.

This family discovered the hobby lifestyle through the mother.
Twenty-five years ago they adopted a child with severe behavioral problems.
Their family and friends no longer wanted to see them because of this disturbed child.

The mother then discovered that (at least traditionally) the Native American view was one of acceptance and tolerance of difference.
The Western categories and judgements of "normal" and "abnormal" were not very relevant in the Indianist paradigm.
They then became interested in the hobby Indian life.

It seems to have worked for them too, because the mother says the once "disturbed child" (who was once in class for children with mental disabilities) is now a teacher at a regular school!

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