Karl May's Imaginary America
But they've been translated into just about every other language, and at last count they had sold no less than one hundred million copies, second only to the Bible in German language sales!
But they're not just a pulp fiction publishing phenomenon. Karl May's books are one of the keys to opening a door into the German mind.
"If anybody is interested to study the German soul he must touch Karl May, Karl May's books and ideas," says Joachim Schmidt, owner of the Karl-May Publishing Company in the Bavarian city of Bamberg, probably the only successful example of a company that has prospered by publishing the works of just one author.
"This is like a fairy tale in the German mind...Karl May for them opened the world!"
As late as the 1960s, new arrivals at US military bases in Germany were given May's novels to read as part of their basic introduction to Germany. I personally find May's books an indispensable key to understanding what makes Germans tick, to getting a handle on that elusive element of the German soul called Romanticism. But that's only one side of the coin. For Germans, even today, Karl May's Frontier novels remain perhaps the single most important source of images about America. When Germans think about America they don't think of Lincoln or skyscrapers or supermarkets or the Dallas Cowboys. They think of the Far West. When they first travel to the US as tourists, where do they invariably head? Not to New York or Disney World. They rent a Winnebago in Utah or Oakland and head for the Rockies because that's the image of America they've grown up with.