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Welcome to Cody – My oh May

By Bennett Owen

Credit: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming

Credit: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming (Photo by Jaime Peuel)

Not every traveler gets a welcome by Buffalo Bill himself when they arrive at Cody “International” Airport in the wilds of Wyoming.  But 26-year old Vanessa Schwartz and her friend, Janina Datow are no ordinary tourists. 

The Koberg, Germany native won an all-expense paid 10-day trip for two to Cody as the 200,000th visitor at last summer’s Karl May Western Festival in Bad Segeburg, Germany.  They’re honored guests of the world-renowned Buffalo Bill Cody Museum. 

Credit: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming (Met at the airport by ‘Buffalo Phil’)

The bust of Nefertiti might have seemed a bit odd at a venue like this… it’s a mockup of the original ancient Egyptian artifact, on display in Berlin. 

Credit: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming

Credit: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming

But their itinerary also includes a Rodeo, a Plains Indian Powwow and Yellowstone among many other highlights. 

The late Karl May – 1842 – 1912 -  (pronounced “My, as in My West” Not “Mae as in Mae West”) is Germany’s most popular author ever, with hundreds of millions of books sold, many of them set in the pioneer west and featuring the Pioneer Old Shatterhand and his faithful companion Chief Winnetou.


Though he never actually visited the west, he had an uncanny ability to describe the landscape and the people ... information he gleaned from biographies as he served time behind bars as a petty criminal. 

But he also made use of an amazing natural outcropping east of Dresden known as ‘Saxon Switzerland.’

Credit: Martojo

It’s not very big but with a little imagination (and Karl May had plenty of that) you could almost transport yourself to Monument Valley. 

Credit: bOOnj

The Karl May Festival in Bad Segeberg is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year with its premier in just 10 days time.  It’s a monumental Wild West Show that would have made Buffalo Bill proud and it’s wildly popular, attracting nearly 300-thousand spectators last summer.  Here’s a taste of what keeps them coming back year after year…you’ll get the gist of it even if you don’t speak German:

Germany’s fascination with the old west is truly a cultural phenomenon.  Western theme towns dot the landscape, there are literally hundreds of western clubs and I’d wager a guess that Germany is the biggest market for country music outside the US.

The entry gate of the Karl May Museum in Radebeul. Foto: Copyright © Hyde Flippo

I make that claim based on the ratio of CDs at the average Autobahn truck stop.  And nearly a century after his death, Karl May’s books help keep the western mystique alive.  Though he never gained an English-speaking audience, translations of his novels are available.

Credit: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming

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