Summer came back yesterday, just in time for us who had planned to go to the little town of Bad Segeberg an hour north of Hamburg. Bad Segeberg only has 15.000 inhabitants, but lots of people go there in the summer – to feel transported back to the 1880s in the Wild West! How so? The town stages the Karl May Festival every summer (and I mean every summer, since like forever. More precisely since the 1950s.) which draws millions of people to the town. I’d say all Germans kind of know Karl May, even if not everyone has read his many, many books about Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, two blood brothers, one Native American and one white. And as I noticed yesterday, everyone, including me, knows the Winnetou movie tune – after the play started in the open air theater and the theme of the evening was established (two Native tribes going to war against each other), the melody played, immediately evoking a reaction in me, which I found really surprising. I never watched a movie or had any relation to Winnetou. But when that tune played and the hero rode in on a real horse (so many real animals in the play!), his fake Native hair in the wind, people enthusiatically clapped and I was amazed.
Another highlight, apart from the stunts and fire effects, was when, in the most romantic scene, the horses decided to take a dump on stage, distracting a lot of viewers’ attention from the declarations of love between German immigrant Martin Baumann and American actress Tiffany O’ Toole.
You have to really let go of all you know about political correctness when you attend this play. Blackfacing, cultural appropriation, incorrect narratives – it is all there. (I mean, Karl May never actually went to the U.S….) People are dressing in feathers and cowboy hats. This is a popular, folkloristic event, and the quality of the play is like the one of a simple, sentimental movie. (All Native Americans spoke of themselves only in third person, for example. Very unsure if that is accurate. “Winnetou senses danger”, was a line said more than once by the main protagonist.) If you go, you’ve decided to kind of play along with all that. Or, as A says, you watch everything with a sentiment of irony. In any case, I thought it was a fascinating experience!
Bad Segeberg is a really cute little town with a beautiful lake. Given the 32 degrees, we had planned to swim in the lake but the part where you were allowed to were closed, once we got there. We strolled through the inner city which reminded me a lot of the town where I grew up. They even have the exact same type of slow train stopping there. (My Hamburg ticket extends to the surroundings on the weekend and lets me bring another person, so we got to do the whole trip for free, which I thought was great.) Bad Segeberg had decorated its shop windows with Native American accesoires and on the market square, there was live music and lots of food options. When you don’t have to live there, it’s really charming!