Some Links

• From Edward J. Watts on Yahoo News: “Rome Didn’t Fall When You Think it Did”:

In September of 476 AD, the barbarian commander Odoacer forced the teenaged Western Roman emperor Romulus Augustus to resign his office. The Constantinopolitan chronicler Marcellinus Comes would write in the 510s that when “Odoacer, king of the Goths, took control of Rome” the “Western Empire of the Roman people… perished.” But no one thought this at the time. The fall of Rome in 476 is a historical turning point that was invented nearly 50 years later as a pretext for a devastating war. The fact that it has since become recognized as the end of an epoch shows how history can be misused to justify otherwise unpalatable actions in the present—and how that misuse can also distort the lessons future generations take from the past.

More at the link

• From Jan Altaner on Goethe Institute: “On the Trail of Barbarossa”:

In April 1874, the Upper Bavarian church historian and politician Johann Nepomuk Sepp, along with a small group of German scholars and adventurers, embarked on an expedition to the Middle East. They were on a ‘mission for Germany’ to which the Imperial Chancellor Bismarck himself had given his blessing. Their destination was Tyre, which in those days was a sleepy town on the Levant coast. However, the expedition’s focus was not on researching the city’s rich Phoenician or Roman history, but on something much greater: the remains of Emperor Frederick I, known as Barbarossa.

The still-young German Empire had only just put particularism behind it, and thus the plan was to strengthen German national consciousness through shared national myths. One of the most popular of these myths was the legend of Barbarossa, who was said to be sleeping beneath the Kyffhäuser hills, but would one day return and elevate Germany to its old glory. Emperor Wilhelm I regarded himself as standing in the tradition of the Emperor of the Staufer dynasty, styling himself as ‘Barbablanca’, or ‘Whitebeard’. Emperor Barbarossa also happened to be an especially suitable national figurehead because his gravesite was located outside the German Empire. In 1190, during the Third Crusade, he drowned while bathing in a river in Lesser Armenia. The heat made it impossible to transport his body over long distances, so he was boiled and buried in nearby Antioch. His bones, on the other hand, were sewn into a sack, to be buried in Jerusalem, the destination of the Third Crusade. However, the crusaders never made it that far. Historical record is unclear with regard to his final resting place, but later reports claimed that his remains had been buried in the Cathedral of Tyre. This story was the impetus for Johann Nepomuk Sepp’s expedition.

More at the link.

• From Susanne Spröer on Deutsche Welle: “Winnetou: Why so many Germans fell in love with the unrealistic ‘Indian'”

It was Christmas Eve, and I was eight or nine years old. I’d just opened the small gifts under the tree when my father said there was a surprise in the basement. Finally! It must be Winnetou’s Silver Gun, at the top of my wish list. But I didn’t understand why I had to go down to the basement to get the toy weapon.

I had been a Winnetou fan ever since I first heard the audio version of the Wild West stories by Karl May. I would sit at the record player and listen to how the character Karl May, aka Old Shatterhand, came to the Wild West. In the story, he’s a German engineer who wanted to build a train line through Apache country. But then he got to know the Apache tribe and became “blood brothers” with Winnetou, fighting at his side for the rights of Native Americans.

When we played cowboys and Indians as children, I always took the part of Winnetou, who preferred to knock his enemies down rather than kill them, in line with the blood brothers’ code of honor.

My best friend and I would cut our hands at the base of our thumbs to become blood brothers. We loved the Winnetou stories, just like the generations before us.

“Christmas 1962 saw the premiere of ‘Treasure of the Silver Lake,'” recalled Michael Petzel, author of the “Karl May Lexicon” and director of the Karl May archive in Göttingen. “That went over so well with young people in a way that’s hard to imagine today. For three years, before The Beatles and James Bond, the films defined the youth scene in Germany. They were very modern for the time. For us viewers, it was a departure into an unknown world.”

The world of Karl Friedrich May (1842-1912), who dreamed up Winnetou’s Wild West, had little to do with reality. The first Winnetou story was published in 1875, although he’d only read about the United States in books.

Partly autobiographical and told in the first person, May as Old Shatterhand (known as Kara Ben Nemsi in the books set in Asia) dreams up an escape from his own dreary life. Accused of fraud and theft, he’d been fired from his job as a teacher and sent to jail.

Thanks to Winnetou, May, the son of a poor weaver (10 of his 13 siblings died shortly after birth) became Germany’s most successful youth author.

More at the link. My undergraduate advisor Walter Simons also wrote a blog post about Karl May’s influence in Germany. 

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