I’m pretty sure most people are familiar with the general stereotypes about Germans: they’re punctual, they don’t like small talk, they stare, etc. After living in Germany for a few years now, and being married to my German husband, I’ve learned a little bit about which stereotypes hold true and which are just totally wrong. But no stereotype ever prepared me for the most random thing I’ve learned about Germans.
They freaking love cowboys and Indians.
How in the world more people don’t know about this is totally beyond me.
It All Started With a Fasching Parade
So, the first time I noticed this was a few years back. My husband and I were still dating long-distance, and we were always sending each other pictures back and forth of what was going on in our daily lives. Well, one such time happened to be in February, and my husband had gone to the Fasching (Fastnacht / Karneval) parade in his village. He sent me a bunch from the parade, but this picture in particular caught my attention –
My immediate response was, “Why are Germans dressing up as Indians?! That’s a uniquely American thing. And why did they kill the cowboys?!” Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not making some cultural appropriation remark – quite the opposite. I didn’t understand why Germans would even be interested in cowboys and Indians. It was just so surprising and seemingly random to me. It made no sense.
Of course, being from Texas, I was maybe overly sensitive to western depictions because I love Texas and everything southern, so I was fascinated by the sight of something so uniquely American in a German parade.
At the time, I think my husband only commented that Germans like cowboys and Indians – I don’t think we had a discussion about how big that fascination is (and believe me, IT IS HUGE). We just kind of moved on from it. Later, after moving to Germany, I continued to point out and giggle about all of the Germans dressed up as Indians at the Fasching events. If you haven’t ever noticed it before, you will now.
Look up pictures of Fasching parades from anywhere in Germany – Indians. Go to a costume store where they sell Fasching accessories – Indians.
I don’t remember exactly how it started, but at some point, I got really curious about how far this interest went, and I discovered that the Fasching costumes were just the tip of the iceberg.
What Started this Fascination?
So, before we go into all of the crazy places we see this obsession popping up in Geman culture, let’s look at where it started.
Back in the 1800s, there was a German author named Karl May (pronounced like the English word “my”). He wrote a number of books and short stories, but one set of books would go on to be his most famous. They were about an Indian named Winnetou (pronounced “vinny-two”) and his friend and blood brother Old Shatterhand. They first appeared in a book that May published in 1875.
Winnetou was a hero, and his friendship with Old Shatterhand was remarkable because he was a white man.
Now, Karl May wrote many of the Winnetou stories without ever having set foot in the US (though he did later spend a short amount of time in New England), so things were definitely “Germanized.” But these books were so popular that they made Karl May one of the best-selling German writers of all time.
And they are still popular today – which is one of the reasons (if not the main reason) why Germans are still so fascinated with the Old West.
Cowboys and Indians in the Movies
The first time I watched a German movie with cowboys and Indians speaking German, I was completely mesmerized. The Winnetou books were made into movies around the 1960s, and these are cult classics for Germany.
The most interesting part about the Winnetou movies, though, for me anyway, is the fact that the actor who plays Winnetou was French, and the actor who played Old Shatterhand was American. (However, most Americans know him as the original Tarzan.) And even though the movies were released in German, the actors didn’t film the movies speaking German. I don’t know if Winnetou filmed his lines in French and Old Shatterhand in English, but they were both dubbed for the release of the film into German.
But the movies didn’t stop in the ’60s. Some have been remade, and some have been turned into TV specials just as recently as 2016. There have even been parodies. This was actually my first real introduction to German “western” movies. Every German knows who Winnetou is, and now most every German also knows Winnetouch (pronounced “vinny-touch”). He is the brother of Winnetou who appears in a movie called Der Schuh des Manitu (The Manitu’s Shoe). He is super gay, super flamboyant, and super politically incorrect. HE. IS. FABULOUS.
In this scene, you see Winnetou and Old Shatterhand trying to give him a proper “warrior” education.
Cowboys and Indians in Music
So, beyond the movies, you also have western inspired German music. Yes, you read that right. Not only do they dress up as cowboys and Indians in the music videos, but they sing about Texas, pickup trucks, guitars – basically most of the stereotypical country music kind of things. But some of them also bring in Indian inspired music, too.
It’s pretty wild.
These guys (Boss Hoss) are my favorite. I can’t take them seriously, especially because they filmed some of their videos in Texas, but they are such an odd “interpretation” of a cowboy. But, I still love them, and they are super popular in Germany. Oh, and they sing in English – but they try to put on a southern accent.
Seriously, if you watch nothing else that I link in this blog post, watch this.
It’s like country meets rap with a Mariachi band and 1950s Americana. It is the most random thing you will see all day, I promise.
Then there’s also this very well-known song called I Bin a Bayrisches Cowgirl (I’m a Bavarian Cowgirl). Not only does she sing from the bed of a pickup truck, but she wears cowboy boots and even attempts what looks like a pseudo two-step. The sound of the song is like 1970s country, replete with a steel guitar and all.
And then, of course, you have the Indian inspired music. I’m telling you – y’all are only just beginning to see how far this obsession with cowboys and Indians goes.
Don’t Forget the Themed Experiences
In addition to all of the standard forms of entertainment, there are also all kinds of other places where this cowboy and Indian fascination pops up.
One place is restaurants. There are actually quite a few western themed restaurants in Germany. My husband and I have been to one in Koblenz a few times called Cowboys Burger Saloon.
But not only is the restaurant themed, their burgers are named after different legendary figures. Some of the funnier ones are Chuck Norris and Clint Eastwood, but there are also a few names that most Americans won’t recognize – specifically Bud Spencer and Lucky Luke. The first time my husband and I looked over the menu, I asked him, “Who are these guys?” And he was absolutely dumbfounded that I didn’t know who they were. He thought that being American I would know all cowboy figures, but these two figures are definitely a European thing. Bud Spencer was an Italian actor who made a number of cowboy movies in the 1960s/1970s, and Lucky Luke was Belgian cartoon series that was huge in Europe but didn’t really catch on in the States.
And if a themed restaurant isn’t enough, there are also living western cities where they have live shows, live music, line dancing, and a number of other events.
Guys, that is a Texas flag flying in Germany!
And for the superfans, there are a huge number of social clubs dedicated to all things cowboy, Indian, and Old West, as well as what is probably the craziest thing of all – Indian camps. Some of them are more like summer camps, and some of them are more like campgrounds, but they each offer visitors the opportunity to live like an Indian.
I mean, of all the stereotypes of Germans that exist, how is this not one of them?! It’s definitely the quirkiest and most unexpected thing I’ve learned about Germans yet!
Have you also learned something random or surprising about Germans? Tell me about it below!