Monday, August 24, 2015

Bully Herbig und der Schuh des Manitu

When I read that fellow American expat blogger, Adventures of La Mari, was pondering a post about Michael "Bully" Herbig, I contacted her and tossed about the idea of tag-teaming a few posts about his work from the point-of-view of a couple of Americans. She wrote a great introduction to Bully and I started contemplating how I could follow up.

Bully has recently taken over the ads for Haribo Gummibärchen from Thomas Gottschalk, another famous German TV personality, and that transition was fun:

For those whose German is shaky, Bully says he's not sure about taking this job because he's never done commercials before... Gottschalk tells him to think about it and leaves the room. When he pops his head back in, he asks Bully. "Everything ok?" Bully says, "I'm still thinking about it."

Humor is usually a tricky thing, especially cross-culturally. I've heard and read so often that Germans don't have a sense of humor, but that is so completely untrue. To a German not everything "is the funniest thing ever"; their humor is often more subtle, which is probably why their humor is missed by many of my Landsleute.

But not so with Bully's three most popular movies, which La Mari mentioned in her post. These are spoofs of films that are well-known in Germany (ok, Star Trek & Star Wars are known almost worldwide), and I decided to write a little about my favorite of the three - der Schuh des Manitu, or Manitu's Shoe.

No child growing up in Germany can reach the age of 12 without knowing who Winnetou was. Winnetou was a fictional noble hero and son of the chief of the Apaches, who is once saved by and becomes blood brother to Old Shatterhand, a greenhorn from "the south". He got his name because he could knock a guy out with one punch. His rifle had a name, too - Bärentöter (Bearkiller), because...well, you know. The stories were first a collection of novels written by the German writer Karl May (1842-1912), who never got further west in the USA than St. Louis. Through Winnetou German boys learn that "ein Indianer kennt keinen Schmerz!" (an Indian knows no pain!"). They learn about doing one's duty, being honorable and fearless even in the face of death, and protecting one's womenfolk. I asked M if he had a crush on Nscho-Tschi, Winnetou's virtuous and beautiful sister, and he said, "Oh sure. Everyone did."

My students affectionately called her Nacho Cheese, because her name
is pronounced "N'Cho-chee"

If you haven't seen any of the  Winnetou movies, you can still get a laugh watching Schuh des Manitu if you've seen a few westerns. You'll miss the language puns and jokes aimed directly at Winnetou, but here's the bigger issue - it's just not as funny in English. The "Extra Large" DVD has an English track, but a third of the fun of the original is Ranger's Bavarian (ähm...southern) dialect. Those who dubbed the voices into English sound like midwesterners. 

Some of the funny bits still work, like this one:

But if your German is ok, this clip is a good example of where the humor is lost in translation:

I can't tell you how many times M has used the lines, "dann morgen hamma koan Stress mehr" and "Ich bin mit der G'samtsituation unzufrieden."

Here it is in English:

The meaning of the original text is there, but it's just not as funny. This commenter (Addison DeWitt) on IMDb explains the problem really well. Monty Python doesn't work in a language other than English because much of the humor comes from word puns and cultural quirks of the Brits, and Mel Brooks' films lose much their humor when dubbed into German. Dramas, mysteries, action and suspense films work well enough when dubbed. But comedy is too closely connected to culture and language to be simply translated or dubbed.

Films are very useful tools for learning about culture and language. I used films in the German classes I taught at all levels - with English subtitles for the lower levels and German subtitles for the upper levels. There were always memorable lines that the students retained, even as simple as Ranger and Abahatschi's greeting, "Servus!" (Bavarian for "Howdy!!"):

Der Schuh des Manitu is a real gem and loads of fun. It gets a bit silly at the end as spoofs often do, but I think the plot is easy enough to follow even if you miss some of the dialog.

Back to you, La Mari!

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