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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 June, 2003, 20:33 GMT 21:33 UK
Germany's weekend cowboys
By Ray Furlong
BBC Berlin correspondent

The Sheriff
40,000 Germans spend their weekends dressed like this
For Big Eddy and Lucky, it is the end of the road. The two most wanted men in the East are about to meet justice.

But, as they are bundled into the jailhouse, they can at least expect to be let out again in time for work on Monday.

A short distance away, oblivious to all the action, the tanner is plying his trade, next to the barber, offering wild-west haircuts for five euros.

This is Little Tombstone, Saxony - home for the weekend to Germany's cowboy and Indian hobbyists.

And it is not just for boys.

Karola Jancker is with a party of settlers crossing the great plains.

Although in this case it is from a youth club in Dresden - and camping in Indian tepees.

"It's like getting back to our roots, cooking on a fire.

"It's interesting to live without energy, without any technical help, to do all things by your own hands and own power."

But they are really living the dream: making cotton thread on a spinning wheel, and starting a fire with flints.

Sylvia Krauser is also with the group.

"In our society the people are all going in their own way, straight on, and we want to give the children the feeling of community, that they can produce something with their hands, and so on, and that's why I'm doing this."

Saturday night's all right for fighting

Well there is certainly plenty of bonding going on at a nearby line-dancing lesson - maybe bringing in new recruits for a cult that goes back to a 19th century author called Karl May.

His novels about the Apache Indian Vinnetou, and his German blood-brother Old Shatterhand, are enormously popular right across central Europe.

But it was in communist East Germany that the hobby first really blossomed.

Boundless prairies

Rene Wagner, the head of the Karl May Museum, has an interesting take on why this pastime is so popular.

"The communists used it ideologically - the fight of the Indians against the American colonists was likened to the proletarian struggle against imperialism.

"But for us it's about the freedom of the great outdoors, the boundless prairies, and so on."

Under a blazing sun, the local Indians are putting on a dance display that Vinnetou might have appreciated.

Murray Small Legs is a Blackfoot Indian from Canada who has lived in Germany for six years.

He says the hobbyists pay amazing attention to detail.

"They're very accurate in what they do - how they make their clothes exactly how they were made.

Every detail of life in the wild west is recreated
"They track down the exact kind of beads that were used at that time when the beads were brought to North America, and they try and find the colours, because some of these beads don't exist any more so they have to search for them - and they do find them."

Back in Little Tombstone, the evening is getting started - and people are spending money.

The fall of communism has given this hobby a further boost, and about 40,000 spend their weekends dressing up.

It is now becoming big business, a success that Karl May, who actually never made it to America himself, could probably not have imagined.

Great Plains transcript 23/7/01
27 Jul 01  |  Newsnight
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