Winnetou is a fictional Native American hero of several novels written in German by Karl May (1842–1912), one of the best-selling German writers of all time with about 200 million copies worldwide, including the Winnetou-trilogy. The character made its debut in the novel Old Firehand (1875).

Cover of 1893 edition
Created byKarl May
Portrayed byPierre Brice
OccupationIndian chief


According to Karl May's story, first-person narrator Old Shatterhand encounters the Apache Winnetou, and after initial dramatic events, a true friendship arises between them; on many occasions, they give proof of great fighting skill, but also of compassion for other human beings. It portrays a belief in an innate "goodness" of mankind, albeit constantly threatened by ill-intentioned enemies.

Nondogmatic Christian feelings and values play an important role, and May's heroes are often described as German Americans.

Winnetou became the chief of the tribe of the Mescalero Apaches (and of the Apaches in general, with the Navajo included) after his father Intschu-tschuna and his sister Nscho-tschi were slain by the white bandit Santer. He rode a horse called Iltschi ("Wind") and had a famous rifle called Silberbüchse (The Silver Gun, a double-barrelled rifle whose stock and butt were decorated with silver studs). Old Shatterhand became the blood brother of Winnetou and rode the brother of Iltschi, called Hatatitla (Lightning).


Karl May's Winnetou novels symbolize, to some extent, a romantic desire for a simpler life in close contact with nature. In fact, the popularity of the series is due in large part to the ability of the stories to tantalize fantasies many Europeans had and have for this more untamed environment. The sequel has become the origin of festivals, and the first regular Karl-May-Spiele were staged 1938 till 1941 in Rathen, Saxony. East Germany restarted those open-air theater plays in 1984. In West Germany, the Karl-May-Festspiele in Bad Segeberg were started as early as 1950 and then expanded to further places like Lennestadt-Elspe in honor of Karl May or, rather, of his Apache hero, Winnetou. Now, they are never difficult to find in either Germany or Austria.

The stories, indeed, were so popular that Nazi Germany did not ban them despite the heroic treatment of people of color; instead, the argument was made that the stories demonstrated the fall of the American aboriginal peoples was caused by a lack of racial consciousness.[1]

May's heroes drew on archetypes of Germanic culture and had little to do with actual Native American cultures. "Winnetou is noble because he combines the highest aspects of otherwise 'decadent' Indian cultures with the natural adoption of the romantic and Christian traits of Karl May's own vision of German civilization. As he is dying, the Apache Winnetou asks some settlers to sing an Ave Maria for him, and his death is sanctified by his quiet conversion to Christianity."[2]

In the 1960s, French nobleman and actor Pierre Brice played Winnetou in several movies coproduced by German–Yugoslav producers. At first, Brice was not very excited about the role beside Lex Barker, but his very reduced text and stage play brought Winnetou to real life in Germany. Brice not only became a star in Germany, but a significant contributor to German–French reconciliation, as well.

Original German Winnetou stories

Travel stories

  • Old Firehand (1875)
  • Winnetou (1878, titular character Inn-nu-wo, der Indianerhäuptling (1875) is changed)
  • Im fernen Westen (1879, revision of Old Firehand, later revised for Winnetou II)
  • Deadly Dust (1880, later revised for Winnetou III')
  • Die Both Shatters (1882)
  • Ein Oelbrand (1882/83)
  • Im "wilden Westen" Nordamerika's (1882/83, later revised for Winnetou III)
  • Der Scout (1888/89, later revised for Winnetou II)
  • Winnetou I (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman I)
  • Winnetou II (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman II)
  • Winnetou III (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman III)
  • Old Surehand I (1894)
  • Old Surehand II (1895)
  • Old Surehand III (1896)
  • Satan und Ischariot I (1896)
  • Satan und Ischariot II (1897)
  • Satan und Ischariot III (1897)
  • Gott läßt sich nicht spotten (within Auf fremden Pfaden, 1897)
  • Ein Blizzard (within Auf fremden Pfaden, 1897)
  • Mutterliebe (1897/98)
  • Weihnacht! (1897)
  • Winnetou IV (1910)

Juvenile fiction

  • Im fernen Westen (1879, revision of Old Firehand)
  • Unter der Windhose (1886, later also within Old Surehand II)
  • Der Sohn des Bärenjägers (1887, within Die Helden des Westens since 1890)
  • Der Geist des Llano estakado (1888, within Die Helden des Westens since 1890)
  • Der Schatz im Silbersee (1890/91)
  • Der Oelprinz (1893/94)
  • Der schwarze Mustang (1896/97)

Other works

  • Auf der See gefangen (1878/1879, also entitled as Auf hoher See gefangen)

Comic strip adaptations

In the 1950s Croatian comic book artist Walter Neugebauer finished his 1930s comic book adaptation of Karl May's stories.[3] Serbian artist Aleksandar Hecl also drew one.[4] Belgian comics artist Willy Vandersteen created a whole series of comics based on May's stories, simply titled Karl May (1962-1977). [5]

Karl May movies with the Winnetou character

In all these movies, Winnetou was played by French actor Pierre Brice, who was usually teamed with Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand. The music for all Winnetou movies (with its famous title melody played on the harmonica by Johnny Müller) was composed by German composer Martin Böttcher, except Old Shatterhand, composed by Italian composer Riz Ortolani, and Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand, composed by German composer Peter Thomas. The films were so successful in Germany, their budgets could be increased almost every time. Principal shooting usually took place in Paklenica karst river canyon national park, Croatia. The early films preceded the spaghetti western.

  1. Der Schatz im Silbersee (1962) Treasure of Silver Lake (1965) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  2. Winnetou 1. Teil (1963) Apache Gold (1965) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  3. Old Shatterhand (1964) Apaches' Last Battle (1964) (UK) (Yugoslavia)
  4. Winnetou – 2. Teil (1964) Last of the Renegades (1966) (UK) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  5. Unter Geiern (1964) Frontier Hellcat (1966) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  6. Der Ölprinz (1965) Rampage at Apache Wells (1965) (Yugoslavia)
  7. Winnetou – 3. Teil (1965) — Winnetou: The Desperado Trail (1965) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  8. Old Surehand 1. Teil (1965) Flaming Frontier (1969) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  9. Winnetou und das Halbblut Apanatschi (1966) Winnetou and the Crossbreed (1973) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  10. Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand (1966) Winnetou and Old Firehand a.k.a. Thunder at the Border (1966) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  11. Winnetou und Shatterhand im Tal der Toten (1968) The Valley of Death (1968) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)

All of the Winnetou movies are available on VHS tape in PAL format – some also dubbed in English under the above-mentioned English titles. Winnetou I–III, Der Schatz im Silbersee, Old Shatterhand, and Winnetou und Shatterhand im Tal der Toten are also available on DVD (region-code 2), but all in German only. In 2004–2005, the missing movies were also to reappear on DVD.

In April 2009, DVDs of the cleared remastered movies were issued in the Czech Republic, selling as an add-on to the Metro newspaper for 50 Czech crowns. All movies are dubbed into Czech and German, with subtitles in Czech and Slovak.

Television miniseries

Also in these television series, Winnetou was played by Brice.

Further reading


  1. Lynn H. Nicholas, Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web p. 79 ISBN 0-679-77663-X
  2. "Foreign Views (7 of 9)".
  3. "Walter Neugebauer". Retrieved 2017-11-14.
  4. "[Projekat Rastko] Zdravko Zupan: Strip u Srbiji 1955-1972". Retrieved 2016-07-19.
  5. "Willy Vandersteen". Retrieved 2019-11-19.
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