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Discovering Croatia's Wild West: A journey to the origins of Karl May's "Winnetou"

by Svenja Rödig • 2018-03-22 • Report • Croatia
  • Indianer bei Sonnenuntergang in der Prärielandschaft
    Indianer bei Sonnenuntergang in der Prärielandschaft
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In German-speaking countries, Winnetou is an absolute classic among adventure stories – no matter whether novel or film. The mentioning of the name immediately reminds one of the famous Apache chief riding through the vast prairie on his stallion Iltschi, carrying his famous rifle and of course accompanied by his blood brother Old Shatterhand. Cowboys and villains, saloons and remote farms complete the cliché of the American Wild West. There is only one slight problem: Winnetou’s Wild West is neither in the West nor American! In fact, a majority of the film sets are located in present-day Croatia.



From Karl May to Pierre Brice

Winnetou, drawing dated 1879

It was the year 1875, when German novelist Karl May put the first stories about his most popular hero on paper. In the beginning Winnetou only played a minor part. This however changed with the publication of the first novel of the trilogy named after him.

Since then the chief of the Mescalero Apaches influenced the imagination of many generations. Thanks to the huge success of the novels, Winnetou and Old Shatterhand managed to come out of the book and onto the cinema screens. In the 1960s, actors Pierre Brice and Lex Barker played the leading roles in 11 film adaptions.

The novel's storyline is not too similar to that of the movies. One thing, however, can be stated: Winnetou does not only embody the Noble Savage, but also important values such as courage, honor, friendship and the desire for freedom.

Filming location Croatia

Karl May only travelled to the United States in his later years – a long time after writing the Winnetou novels. Based on that, it is quite appropriate that the actors never set a foot into the New World while filming. Former Yugoslavia provided the ideal film location. Among sparse plateaus, deep canyons and the marvellous lakelands of Plitvice, the filmmakers created a perfect imitation of the Wild West in central Europe.

The wild beauty of the Native American Territory casts a spell on everyone. Whoever dreams of the vast prairie landscapes, should really consider to go there. Apart from visiting the famous filming locations, Croatia is a paradise for hikers – for example inside Plitvice National Park, where some of you might recognize Lake Kaluderovac – the well-known "Silbersee". Or you travel to the Mali Alan pass and search for the tombs of Nscho-tschi, Intschu tschuna and Winnetou right under the Tulove Grede peak.

Remembering Winnetou

Museum · Croatia

Karl May & Winnetou Museum

Museum Pierre Brice als Winnetou
Croatia
Während der Dreharbeiten der Winnetou-Filme (1962 bis 1968) wohnte die gesamte Filmcrew im ...
by Svenja Rödig,  Outdooractive Editors
Film and Cinema · Croatia

Annual Winnetou fan-meeting

Film and Cinema Offizieller Flyer Veranstaltung
Starigrad-Paklenica
5/21 – 5/25
Pre-registration required
Event Organiser: Tourismusverband der Gemeinde Starigrad | Source: Outdooractive Editors

Following the tracks of Winnetou, you should also visit the Winnetou museum in Starigrad Paklenica. During the movie production, the whole crew lived inside this former motel. There are still a lot of accessories, props and costumes to look at – as well as old posters and photos.

 

In Biograd, about 60 km south of Starigrad Paklenica, fans from all over the world come together every year to celebrate the "Golden Jubilee of Winnetou movies". They visit the locations together and watch unpublished video material. They even have the opportunity to meet the actors of the 1960s movies from time to time.

By the way: In 2016 the German-based TV station RTL shot another Winnetou trilogy – and picked the exact same location as the productions of the 1960s. Critics do not agree on the quality of the new movies, but one thing is for sure: The Croatian landscape has not lost anything of its breathtaking beauty. And that is a good enough reason to visit it one day!


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Svenja Rödig
Updated: 2018-03-22

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