During the American History Show. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
As most people who know me (and anyone who has looked at my sauerkraut cowboys blog) are aware, I’ve been exploring and researching the American wild west/American frontier in the European imagination for some years now. Good lord, 10 years in fact — I researched my first article on the topic (a travel piece on European wild west theme parks for the New York Times) back in the summer of 2003, and already in 2004 I had a visiting scholar fellowship at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles to look into the marketing of the Frontier Myth abroad.
My New York Times story was largely centered on Pullman City, a wild west theme park in Bavaria, near Passau.
And it was back to Pullman I went a few weeks ago for some filming on a documentary on “Cowboys, Indians and Europeans” that is being made by the New York filmmaker Riva Freifeld, whose past work includes a documentary on Annie Oakley.
With Riva at Pullman’s Mexican restaurant, after the shoot. Photo: Stefan Grandinetti
What can I say. It was fun — and a bit of old home week, as I caught up with some folks I had met years ago. Riva and her cameraman, Stefan Grandinetti, filmed me interviewing a variety of people who work (or hang out) at Pullman — from an “18th century minuteman” who has built a cabin in the “authentic section” of the park, where hobbyists and reenactors can construct their own dwellings, to Hunting Wolf, the “half blood Cheyenne” who conducts programs based (in part) on Native American lore; to Detleff Jeschke, a former prize-winner rodeo rider who has long been the park’s program director.
The scene was much as I found it in 2003 and on my subsequent visits (the last time I had been there was at Xmas in 2009, when my country singer friend Willie Jones played Santa.) This is what I wrote in the New York Times:
It’s nowhere near high noon, but a tough-looking hombre in a black leather vest, black stovepipe pants and a black cowboy hat is sauntering down the dusty length of a frontier Main Street, a gun belt slung low on his hips. He strolls past the sheriff’s office, the Palace Hotel and a saddled horse hitched loosely to a wooden railing, then pauses for a moment at the broad covered porch of the Black Bison Saloon. Entering, he strides up to the bar and places his order.
”Ein bier, bitte.”
This is Pullman City, a theme park in southern Germany where more than a million visitors a year step out of 21st-century Europe into an American Wild West fantasyland of stagecoaches, gunfighters, mountain men and Indians. Set on 50 rolling acres a two-hour drive northeast of Munich, near the Bavarian town of Eging am See, Pullman City is a compendium of mythic iconography engrained in the global psyche by well over a century of hugely popular adventure stories, movies, television shows and traveling Wild West extravaganzas.
Here are some pictures from the shoot:
Hunting Wolf and his buffalos. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
Riva and Stefan filming the American History Show. That’s Detty Jeschke on the horse. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
The minuteman hobbyist “Richard Baker” reads the Declaration of Independence during the American History Show. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
In the saloon…. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
I always enjoy going to Pullman City Passau…and also to Pullman City Harz, a sister wild west theme park in north-central Germany. These places become a world of their own.
At Pullman City Passau, the organizers are keen to emphasize that it is a “living” western town, because of the “Authentic Area” where hobbyists actually live — on weekends and vacation time. Some come even in the winter, modeling their “real imaginary” lifestyles on the 19th century past, even in the bitter cold.
A number of songs have been written about both Pullmans. They tend to play on the country music trope of “home” that make “Country Roads” and “Sweet Home Alabama” so popular….
Here’s the official Pullman City song, declaring that Pullman City is “my home town.”
And this seems to have been written by a fan