The volume “Blood Brothers – The Myth of Karl May in Dioramas” edited by Andreas Brin documents the exhibition of the same name
By Thomas Merkelinger
Book review / references
Karl May’s fantasy of alien alternate worlds not only found a large audience for a long time and made him one of Germany’s most widely read writers, but also constituted an independent world of popular cultural adventure presented in various media forms of Empire. Era to this day. While the books also form the starting point for delving into the fictional worlds of the “Wild West” with the famous central character of “Apache Chief” Winito, there are also graphic representations, films, festivals, and merchandise items illustrating the mythical space that Karl May began to capture and continue.
The exhibition provided a glimpse into this imaginary world Blood Brothers – Legend of Karl May in Diorama, which took place from January 26 to June 2, 2019 at the Museum of Cultural History in Museumsquartier Osnabrück. The focus has been on the various historical dioramas that display scenes from Winito’s novels and may be considered early forms of historical mental examination of “Karl May’s Cosmos”. Other exhibits showed other objects and arrangements that reflected the various forms of the myth. There was also an opportunity for photographic fusion in the fictional world in disguise. These and other performative approaches, in turn, offered a “diorama-like structure,” understood as a “joyful acquisition of simulated alien worlds,” writes Andreas Brin, who published the documentary volume of the same name and was also involved in the exhibition.
The first part of the book goes through the exhibition photographed by Birgit Kersting, and its accompanying small text exhibits by Torsten Heiss, Andreas Brin, Willie Struband, and Wolfgang Wellmann. At first, literary works found themselves: in addition to the volumes of the Karl May publishing house, historical editions of the 19th and 20th centuries were presented. It was not only the book’s changing design that made the different contexts of the work apparent. In addition to the more youth-oriented illustrations, there were emblematic covers of Sasha Schneider (which, in turn, was addressed in a separate section of the exhibition) and a copy of Treasure in the Silver Lake In the soldiers’ library published by the High Command of the Wehrmacht.
Mae’s stories offer an “encounter with the stranger” and are thus a “quasi-third”, according to Andreas Brin and curator Thorsten Hayes in their conceptual description of the exhibition, providing on the one hand an escape, but also an “liberation” of the alternate world, On the other hand, it led to a change and a stereotype of historical facts. For decades, Karl May’s inventions in various forms of media have stimulated the imaginations of many recipients and taken them to fantastic worlds. This is evidenced by various exhibitions, especially young people Fulfillment of Desires: This ranges from play figures, school supplies and carnival accessories to life-size star pieces of Pierre-Brice like Winito from Bravo.
At the same time, Carl May’s novels, set in North America, portray an idealized and detached image of Native Americans, thus creating stereotypical notions of “Native Americans.” May’s work has certainly succeeded, especially in Germany, in generating a strong interest in the world first nations to wake up. However, at the same time, one has to mention that generally circulating images of Native Americans are colored by the fictional world. Already in the so-called “ethnic performances”, one wanted to confirm a preconceived notion of “Indians”, in which the diversity of indigenous groups was reduced to certain prairie tribes, who were also supposed to behave as in the novels. Non-historical phenomena such as totem poles and torture among the Apaches or Brothers of Blood also appears in 1960s films and anchors the occasional comic Indian folklore. The most recent example of this was provided by the movie cinema Young leader Winito.
The legendary world of Karl May is marked by obvious contrasts, and this should not be hidden by a one-sided setting in the show either. Adventurous zeal likes to ignore May’s patriarchal Christian arrival in the contemporary North American world, which he read himself. However, May tells of humanistic ideals and a restorative utopia at the same time. However, the romance in the novels also contrasts with racist and colonial reality, as seen in individual exhibits, such as photographs. The fact that immigration movements from Germany during Karl May’s life also played a role in this is evidenced by the original exhibits brought back from America by the Osnabrück merchant Arnold Wilhelm Fluhr in the 19th century. The blend of these very different fields that make up the Karl May legend straddles the ‘original and the imaginative’. For example, costumes and weapons from Winnetou’s films – in the documentary volume under the title “Authenticity” – can be found along with aboriginal clothing, reproductions of historical photographs and taxidermy of bison and grizzly bears. One can certainly also recognize a conscious irritation in this, in order to motivate individual compensation for the heterogeneity found in the myth.
Pictures of historical dioramas, also in detailed view, complete the documentation portion. Related text by Wolfgang Willmann provides information about dioramas in general and shows the different genres that have been shown.
The second part of the volume reproduces the lectures given as part of the exhibition which further deepen and develop the topic at hand. Helmut Schmidt, for example, raises the question of the friendship between Winito and Old Chatterand by showing that the encounter does not take place on an equal footing, but rather that the first-person narrator receives the educational mandate from the old Winito tutor Kleki Petra – also a German – to continue his mission. But in the end, Winito wins, because his legend has now surpassed that of his blood brother and that of his author.
Volker Neuhaus deals with the genesis of “lowland myths of trivial literature” and compares the characters of Carl May to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Other lectures deal with “universal Western Romanticism” in the German Democratic Republic as an expression of the yearning for freedom that is also politically understandable (Frank Wolf), and the first fictional version of Carl Friedrich Schibler’s Pocahontas from 1781 and Sabine N. Meyer aboriginal portrait painted in North America. The lecture series concludes with two illustrated texts: Ulf Abraham analyzes the narrative terrain of Karl May’s novels and their implementation in film, while Dietrich Grunwald deals with their comic composition, especially Helmut Nickel.
The volume concludes with personal reports from students at the University of Osnabrück. Not to miss the personal exhibition too: Visitors* were invited to submit special photos of children in Karl May’s masquerade and were able to photograph themselves in masquerades that were made as part of an art educational seminar in a booth. Diorama in front of a tightly held green screen.
In fact, dealing with the influential legacy of Karl May is no easy feat. It opens up an exotic world and allows for a change to be experienced, but at the same time it obscures the authentic viewpoint and creates permanent stereotypes. But it probably isn’t the right way to be embarrassingly quiet about this problematic universe. After all, on the other hand, there are millions of enthusiastic readers who have allowed themselves to travel to distant places of longing and associate positive memories with Karl May. This contradiction is evident in both the exhibition and the documentary volume. Ultimately, Karl May’s works are fiction and tell us little about the historical world with which they are inextricably linked. They tell more about ourselves, our longings, and our ideals that have found expression at different times and in changing political contexts through worlds designed by Karl May. The title chosen for the exhibition also corresponds to this, because the “bloody brotherhood” that has become thematic Unknown to the indigenous culture of North America and was rather – as Dietrich Grunwald points out – a Germanic rite.
What distinguishes the myth is that it opens up a collective space in which one can participate, which evolves and changes over time. In this sense, the exhibition can also be thought of as a diorama that reflects the paradox of May’s imagination and its aftermath. The fact that in the end only our own pop-culture fantasies are encountered in these realms of the Wild West may raise the kind of surprise that museum director Nils-Arn Cassins hopes in his welcome address. This is the possibility of “turning us off” [zu] Let’s – by all means from ourselves,” is also given with the volume of documentation.