been made to create German country music.
the original: German songs from America in ancient times,
when banjo and fiddle were still being played to the rhythm of steam
boats and trains. We investigate the earlier cultural passages between
the Old and the New World. We scout out the legendary New World in
facts and fantasy, showing how America was germanized, long before they
spirituals, farmers' and children songs, with
lyrics both earthy and cunning.
to sing in Pennsylvania Dutch and introduce you to the less
known details of the works & life of the popular German 19th
century adventure novelist and romantic composer Karl May.
A colourful performance for small stages, full of contrasts and
Around 1790, if
being asked for his
origin, one out of ten North Americans would have answered "German".
Between 1848 and World War I, another six million Germans crossed the
for the New World. Like any other ethnic group, they spoke their
language over generations. And the song collector believes that, at
those who spoke German also sang German.
what did they sing? It seems very improbable that it was only the old
ballads of their forefathers. Those Germans in the former century's New
must have had their very peculiar songs! Were there poets who wrote
Singers who brought them into public? Did songs just arise by
work or in sociable occasions? Were they borrowed from the musical
I was given first answers at the Deutsches Volksliedarchiv in Freiburg (Black
Forest). I was welcome to study song books and leaflet copies from
America for a
couple of days. It was a most fruitful research, discovering >>
tunes and poetry by the Pennsylvania Dutch, such as Spirituals,
One of our favorites. Unlike many other traditional English
tunes, this one was not translated by German immigrants.
know, actually meant deutsch, the word is older
the historical split of the Netherlands from the Holy Roman Empire of
Nation in the 15th century. The dialect has certainly nothing in common
Netherlands' Dutch, but is a mixture of southern German dialects, such
as Pfälzisch (Palatine), Schwäbisch (Swabian) and Fränkisch-Bayerisch
(Franko-Bavarian) – plus lots of English
Pennsylvania is regarded as the cradle of modern democracy: In 1787,
democratic constitution of modern history was passed here (using the
Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a model).
According to the visions of the English quaker William Penn (1644-1718)
named the former colony after his father, an admiral, Pennsylvania was
to become a refuge for the victims of persecution from all over the
model state, stamped by ideological pluralism and tolerance. Slave
trade, as practised in the
taboo here, though, in fact, it was not banned before 1865, when the
southern states were subjected
in the civil war.
was Germans who, in 1688, first protested publicly against slave trade.
Germantown, Pennsylvania, the earliest "Dutch" settlement in North
America, founded in 1683 by Mennonites from Krefeld (incorporated by
Philadelphia in 1854).
Although the Wild West certainly was some distant place, Pennsylvania may
appear as the most suitable destination for nostalgians: In
Lancaster County, members of the Amish Church (who split from the
the 16th century) in strict Christian conviction still refuse the
technical progress of modern times. People still travel by coach, while
electricity will only be accepted in emergency. Church services are
held in "Hochdeutsch", children will not learn English before
school. Thus, Mennonites, Amish or (in Canada) Hutterer kept some
German dialects of
historical stamp. According to experts, however, those must not be
mixed up with
I have to rely on experts, since, alas, I
haven't been to America myself. This could be considered a shame, if I
hadn't grown up with the novels by Karl May (1842-1912), the famous and still popular (!) German author who wrote dozens
of (mostly serialized) reports about his adventures in the Wild West,
where he was known as Old Shatterhand, a brave and righteous
man who becomes best friend (and blood-brother) with Winnetou, the
Apachee chief. Tragically, shortly after being converted by his white
brother, the Apachee dies in a gun fight and, with his last breath,
makes his confession as a
new-born christian. A German male choir fulfills his last wish,
singing a hymn which was actually composed by Karl May –
and is certainly featured in our show!
Yet, in true life, May had never really been to the Wild West! In fact,
went to see the Niagara Falls with his wife when he was 66 –
incapable to write any more adventure novels after his return to his Villa
His confession that all his travel reports were fiction, plus the
journalistic revelation of some details about his tempestuous
youth provoked a public scandal. Appreciating his
merits to save generations of kids from fatal boredom, we dedicate him
a song, using
the tune of a well-known minor song.
Audio samples from "How the West was Dutched" – and from the CD
"Lieder, so deutsch wie der Wilde Westen"
Karl May, posing as Old Shatterhand (1896)
Beyond "16 Tons",
there may be other moments in our show, revealing that, in spite of all the love we feel for the old
Dutch Folk Songs, we neither can nor will deny our musical and cineatic
influences of the 20th century. But, since anybody can put on a Johnny
Cash record or watch "High Noon" for the 17th time, Vivien and
me decided to do something particular: Instead of buying a plane or
ship ticket and a visa for a journey abroad, we travelled as blind
passengers on an emigrant ship, hidden behind two or three centuries,
and listened to the "Dutch'" songs in a strange land.
On stage, we first presented our travel report to the Old World in June
2005. The musical essence was issued as a (studio) album in October
Maybe one bright day we
will see America and bring our instruments, too. I wonder if the real
America will be as inspiring as its music, since it seems that the
tunes from this big, both alien
and familiar country that drew so many people across the Atlantic,
melancholy thoughts and feelings about what the "Dutch" call Heimat,
the search for a place to call so.
Vivien Zeller for all her creative input and energetic support –
and to many others, mentioned at the bottom of the >> German essay where you will
also find literature references and web links.
PS: Mind this small internal link collection on the topic (all