Silver Lake City, with its big Main Street, looks like any other frontier town from the American Wild West. But no, it’s a theme park in eastern Germany.
Take a trip to Silver Lake City and you find yourself transported back in time and space to an American frontier mining town in the Old West.
The general store is there, the combination barber shop and dentist practice is furnished with authentic 19th century dentistry implements. Tinkling out-of-tune piano music wafts from the Mexican cantina.
Scoundrel-looking men with big moustaches saunter down Main Street, their spurs going ching-ching as they walk. Shady ladies smile at them from behind parasols.
A plains Indian family, complete with papoose, huddle on a street corner and glare at you as you approach.
Then the chief, adorned with feather headdress, breaks into a toothy smile and offers you a “Guten Tag, Mein Herr.”
An American frontier in Germany
Silver Lake City is a theme park in eastern Germany, not far from Berlin. Adjacent to the hamlet of Hindenburg, it is located on the site of a former East German Communist Youth Group summer camp.
But any resemblance to a German village ends at the entrance to Main Street, at the far end of town. For that matter, any resemblance to a genuine American frontier town is also absent in Silver Lake City. It is a theme park, after all, and as such takes its cues from fantasy, not from reality.
“We want people to relive their Cowboy-and-Indian fantasies from their childhoods,” says spokesman Siegfried Schiemann. “Whether you grew up in East Germany or anywhere else in the world, you grew up with books and comics and movies about Cowboys and Indians. They inhabited the world of imagination, and that is what we want to create here.”
Silver Lake City is “a very romantic interpretation of American frontier life in the year 1880”, he says.
“There is adventuresome banditry and rootin’ and tootin’, but there is no actual evil or cruelty,” he says. “The Indians are noble and get along with the white man, who is also gentlemanly and friendly to strangers. Nobody gets lynched and nobody is run out of town for having a different creed or religion or skin colour.”
Silver Lake City is also a theme park in progress, having only opened its doors earlier this month. A Wild West Museum opened in August.
Only last summer did a menagerie of buffaloes, horses and longhorn cattle fill out the town’s corrals and blacksmith stables.
The park management even flew in from South Dakota a group of genuine Native American Indians to put on rain dances, and displays of weaving and arts and crafts.
The Silver Lake City Music Hall, which accommodates 1,200, has been a focal point of those Indian shows.
Elsewhere, visitors can watch the local undertaker tending his cemetery with an ever-watchful eye for new customers amongst the local gunslingers – at least one of which is guaranteed to bite the dust in a shootout on Main Street every day at high noon.
Visitors will also wonder why anybody in his right mind would ever deposit his life savings with the Silver Lake National Bank, since it is robbed by masked men at 10am, noon, 2pm and 4pm every day of the week.
Charming Silver Lake City
Part of the charm of Silver Lake City is the authenticity of its buildings and their furnishings, along with the costumes of the actors who play the town’s inhabitants.
They are all the work of Buffalo Child, a Native American Cherokee-Choctaw Indian who has lived in Germany for many years, since marrying a German woman during his time in the Munich area as a US military serviceman.
Another Western theme park designed by Buffalo Child, his No Name City outside Munich, is hugely popular with Germans and has done much to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions among Germans about the ‘red man’.
Helping Buffalo Child is 19th century architectural historian Heinz Bruendl, who rounded up many of the furnishings for Silver Lake City.
The saloon, the general store, the newspaper office, the bank and other buildings are festooned with over 1,000 antiques, many brought over from America.
And for those visitors who want a touch of 19th century reality, the 1880s barber chair is genuine – and the foot pedal-operated tooth drill still works.
Silver Lake City is open from 10 am until midnight daily. Tickets range from about EUR 8 for children up to EUR 15 for adults. It is located near the town of Templin, some 60 kilometres north of Berlin.