Karl May – Conman and inventor of Wild West hero Winnetou

100 years ago a man died that had written more than 70 books – many of them about the Wild West of the United States. Stories of good and bad – always with happy endings. German author and writer Karl May.

Karl May is one of the most popular German writers. He sold more than 200 million copies of his books worldwide, with most of them telling stories of adventures and journeys through America and Mexico. His most famous character was a sachem called Winnetou. May invented him and the other stories without ever being to the Wild West for more than one time.

He was “a highly imaginative and fanciful writer, May never visited the exotic places featured in his stories until late in life, when the clash between fiction and reality led to a complete change in his work.” [source]

May wanted to become a teacher, but struggled to find jobs and even was accused of deception and burglary. After being in prison he worked as an editor and later as a free writer.

If you wanna find out if you like the work of Karl May check out the website of the official Karl May Gesellschaft (Karl May Society). There you’ll find electronic books like “Winnetou – The Apache” and poems like “In Old Age“:


I am so tired, so exhausted in my old age
Best of all I would like to leave decomposing
But, of maturity I do need more
So please, Lord, let me remain standing

[Translation by Heather J. Kaltinger]

Every summer the small town of Bad Segeberg (in the very north of Germany) hosts a six weeks run of an open air theatre – telling the story of sachem Winnetou. The Karl May Festival.

Here’s an quarter of an hour of one of the Winnetou movies from the 1960. Back in those day they were actually filmed in Croatia and not in America.

(Video uploaded by hiradio)

For those of you who like to check out some more of those movie, here’s the full length film “Winnetou” from 1963. It includes some great footage and has a very cool vintage style as you can see below.

(Photo: Screenshot of the movie “Winnetou” copyrighted by Rialto Film)

Karl May died March 30, 1912 in Radebeul in eastern Germany – at the age of 70 years.




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