Cowboys and Indians - Made in Germany | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 18.03.2003
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Cowboys and Indians - Made in Germany

When is a Western not a Western? When it's an Eastern Western, of course. A new exhibition looks at movie portrayals of cowboys and Indians in East and West Germany.


Sprechen Sie Deutsch, Cowboy?

It was one of the most successful movie genres in post-war Germany: the Euro-Western. On both sides of the wall, Germans flocked to cowboy flicks. But, due to the ideological split in the country, they didn't go to the same ones.

Now a new exhibition at the German Film Museum in Frankfurt takes a look at Germany’s home-grown westerns -- on both sides of the wall.

"Winnetou and his Red Brother - Westerns in the FRG and GDR " is a retrospective look at a film genre which unified the divided Germany, without the citizens on either side of the wall even knowing it. And, according to the exhibition's curator, Henning Engelke, it reveals just how similar the 'western Western' and the 'eastern Western' really were.

"The films reflect the different social ordering in the two German states, but the exotic images of the Wild West offer a very similar fantasy of another world," the exhibition's curator, Engelke told DW-WORLD.

While West Germans flocked to films like "The Treasure of the Silver Lake" and "Winnetou and Shatterhand in the Valley of Death" in the 60s and 70s, East German cinemas featured 1965’s "The Son of the She Bear" or "Atkins," made in 1985.

If the scripts differed, the sets were often the same. Since traveling to film in the real American Wild West was prohibitively expensive to a West Germany still rebuilding after World War II, the mountainous, desert-like scenery in former Yugoslavia gave viewers the illusion of the western prairie.

The East German state-run film studio, DEFA, also turned to Yugoslavia’s landscapes for inspiration. It also filmed much outdoor footage in the deserts of Soviet Uzbekistan and the Caucasus Mountains.

Two States, Two Chieftains

But with two states and two types of Westerns, you had to have two movie stars.

Winnetou was the hero in West Germany, personified by tbhe French actor Pierre Brice. Over in the communist East, the Indian protagonist was almost always played by a Serb, Gojko Mitic. However, with reunification, Mitic (62) -- the younger of the two -- inherited Brice's (74) roles and quickly became as well loved in West Germany as he was in the East.

Visitors to the museum will be able to watch the two in action: original versions of their films form part of the retrospective. The exhibition also features exhibits on production standards in the East and West, the history of Westerns in Germany as well as the impact the films had.

Indians are the theme of several shows in Germany right now. Frankfurt’s Museum of World Culture is currently running "Indian Times," a look at America before Indians were forced off their traditional lands by European settlers. The German Leather Museum in Offenbach is showing an exhibition looking at "Moccasins and boots between Alaska and the Rio Grande."

“Winnetou and his Red Brother - Western Films in West and East Germany” runs until August 31 at the German Film Museum in Frankfurt.

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