Arizona’s sights and cities attract a broad range of people each year, in large numbers. The National Park Service estimates the Grand Canyon alone welcomes almost 5 million visitors annually. Some of these people are Europeans, drawn to the Wild West image of America. KJZZ’s Tony Ganzer found a club of Arizona fans in Dresden, Germany where the Old West is spurring a new kind of thinking.
(NATS piano music “In den Saloons, das Bier fliesst” (beer flows))
TG: It’s not what you’d expect to find playing on a projector in a German hotel–a video devoted to Arizona’s mystique. But at this Dresden Best Western, the Arizona Club is a captive audience.
(NATS “Glendale, Mesa-Tempe, Sun City, or Scottsdale, die Beverly Hills der Wuste” (of the desert))
TG: About 20 of the club’s 100 members gathered as they do every month to chat about the Desert Southwest, about vacations real or imagined, and to catch up on the latest news.
(NATS Ewald speaking in German, “People leave at 4 in the morning because it’s darn hot.”
TG. People in Arizona have to leave early in the morning because it’s darn hot, says Joerg Ewald the club’s president and one of the founders. At this meeting he flipped through slides of the Grand Canyon, showing club members what the area was like before the recent flooding.
Joerg Ewald: “The life over there, and especially during the late evenings with the warm temperature, we have the BBQ and the fireplace, and that’s what we like. As young people you like to be a cowboy and we can play during our vacation time.”
TG. Ewald began entertaining the idea of an Arizona club in 1984, as a way to combat cold German winters. But when the Berlin wall fell, Ewald began using the club as a way to show East Germans the Wild West.
Ewald: “The West German people could travel to the US, and so we came together. We could tell something of beautiful landscape and beautiful people over there.”
TG: The Southwest US became an interesting common ground for some Germans. Many are fascinated by the old west because of novels by German Karl May, who wrote romantically about cowboys and Indians. But May wrote many of his works without having visited America. The slides and stories in the Arizona Club, are first hand.
Otfrid Weiss: “I’m a pioneer.”
TG: Otfrid Weiss is a software sales manager, and also a founder of the club.
Weiss: “Doing things and trying the impossible—that’s the approach we found in the Old Wild West, and in the new Wild East of Germany.”
TG. The club says it’s non-political, but Weiss does hope its existence eases relations between Germans and Americans, especially over the issue of the Iraq war.
Weiss: “We love the Americans, and like the American approach to solve problems, and we think it will last longer than just a little bit of irritation.”
TG: Along with monthly slide shows and meetings, the Arizona Club has organized student exchanges between high schools in Dresden and Scottsdale, and club president Ewald admits the club promotes the Southwest as a tourist spot—even earning recognition from past and present lawmakers, whose letters hang in the Best Western restaurant. But overall, club members say they want to share a Wild Western way of thinking: if something needs to be done, just do it.
For KJZZ, I’m Tony Ganzer in Dresden, Germany.