Karl May, creator of Winnetou, born 175 years ago

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Germany's first best-selling author

This pictures dates from 1910, at the height of Karl May's success. The author wrote 70 books, which sold more than 200 million copies worldwide. At the beginning of the 20th century, his characters were as famous as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker from "Star Wars." May's stories accompanied generations of young Germans on fantastic journeys to distant worlds.

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Winnetou and Old Shatterhand

In America's Wild West, Old Shatterhand, a German engineer, unites with his blood brother and the wise chief of the Apaches, Winnetou, to fight against rascals and crooks. They're portrayed here by Pierre Brice (left) and Lex Barker (right) in a 1963 film version. May's interpretation of the Wild West was a fantasy, however: at the time the story was written in 1875, he had never left Germany.

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Home in Hohenstein-Ernstthal

Karl Friedrich May was born on February 25, 1842, to a family of poor weavers, in this green house in Saxony's Ore Mountains. Nine of his 13 siblings died as young children. May wanted to become a teacher, but minor thefts landed him in jail several times. Afterward, he survived on occasional jobs and as a con man - until he was first published in 1874.

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Getting into character

May wrote serialized novels for magazines, blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction. As narrator, he chronicled the trips he would have liked to have experienced. Getting into character, he had costumes made and posed for photos. Here, he's seen as his alter ego, Old Shatterhand. The leather jacket, lasso and animal tooth chain are on display at the Karl May Museum in Radebeul.

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First wife, first novel

In 1878, May began living with his girlfriend, Emma Pollmer. They married two years later. May spent his days and nights writing, and soon earned enough money for the couple to move into a rented apartment in Dresden. He began work on his first successful novel, "Das Waldröschen," which sent its main character, the German doctor Karl Sternau, around the world.

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Successful author

In the 1890s, May began publishing the books that made him rich and famous: "Treasure of Silver Lake," the Winnetou trilogy, "Durchs wilde Kurdistan" (Through wild Kurdistan) and more. The imaginative con man had become a successful author.

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A German abroad

Written from a first-person perspective, May's series of stories depicting travels through the Ottoman empire feature another of his alter egos: Kara Ben Nemsi. Although the books reflected the period's typical colonial views, they still promoted dialogue between societies. May's first real trip abroad was to the Middle East, when he toured Egypt in 1899.

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Off to America

When May married his second wife, Klara Plöhn, in 1903, he was a rich but controversial figure. He was regularly accused of fraud and plagiarism, and the disputes affected his health. He nevertheless set off with Klara for his second major trip abroad in 1908, to North America. He didn't reach the Wild West, however - his westernmost destination was Niagara Falls.

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German classics

May died on March 30, 1912 in Radebeul, near Dresden. His works have become classics of popular literature, and these green volumes were proudly kept on the bookshelves of German households for several generations. For many years, however, East German citizens weren't allowed to read them - the lands depicted in these tales were not "socialist brother states."

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Enduring popularity

In West Germany, the Winnetou films in the 1960s triggered a renewed interest, and May's tales are still performed live on stage to this day. In 1987, Deutsche Post created another tribute to the author's most famous character to mark the 75th anniversary of May's death. This special stamp allowed the wise chief to travel over 28 million times through Germany - for a mere 80 pfennig, or pennies.

Winnetou was the Harry Potter of the 19th century. His creator, Karl May, was born 175 years ago. May was Germany's first best-selling author - and remains popular to this day. Here's a look back at his life.