The novels of German author Karl May served as trail guides to the mystique of the American West and even today are celebrated in European festivals and theme parks. His books have outsold those of Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey combined and were beloved by the likes of Albert Einstein, Herman Hesse, Fritz Lang, and Franz Kafka.
But there’s a hitch: May never visited the West. Nevertheless, his faith in the land of cowboys and Indians nurtured an entire continent’s love for it. From Nov. 18, 2012, to Feb. 9, 2014, the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors celebrates May’s life, legacy and lasting impact in an original exhibition, Tall Tales of the Wild West: The Stories of Karl May.
Curated by Tomas Jaehn, librarian for the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library at the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, this small, original exhibition in the Mezzanine Gallery includes first-edition and foreign-language versions of May’s books, along with photographs illustrating his life. On loan from the Karl May Museum is Silberbüchse, Winnetou’s name for his rifle. May (whose name rhymes, perhaps fittingly, with “lie”) said he took the weapon from the Indian’s grave in Wyoming for safekeeping. In fact, the rifle was manufactured in Radebeul as a nonworking prop. Its visit to the exhibition will mark the first time it has been seen in the land where it was purportedly made.
Opening event and lecture series
At 2 pm on Sunday, Nov. 18, an opening reception for Tale Tales of the Wild West: The Stories of Karl May will feature a lecture by Hans Grunert, curator of the Karl May Museum in Radebeul, Germany, in the History Museum Auditorium. The Women’s Board of the Museum of New Mexico will serve light refreshments at 3 pm in the lobby. Invited guests include Klaus-Jochen Guehlcke, Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Houston, Texas, and Stephan Helgesen, Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
All of the exhibition’s lectures are free with admission (Sundays free to NM residents and Friday evenings free to everyone). Each lecture is in the History Museum Auditorium:
Sunday Nov. 18, 2 pm: “Karl May’s Wild West,” by Hans Grunert, curator, Karl May Museum, Radebeul, Germany. Refreshments following.
Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, 6 pm: “Karl May and Beyond: Indian Hobbyists in 20th-Century Germany,” by Birgit Hans, professor of Indian studies, University of North Dakota.
Friday, April 12, 2013, 6 pm: “Karl May in America—Enthusiasm or Disappointment?” by Peter Karl Pabisch, professor emeritus of German studies, University of New Mexico.
Friday, June 14, 2013, 6 pm: “Karl May’s Winnetou: Imagining the Noble Savage in 19th- and 20th-Century Germany,” by Michael Wala, professor of North American history, University of Bochum, Germany.