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Indian Village Opens In Europe

By Peter B. Gallagher

VIENNA, Austria - Indian Village Europe - the first attempt at an American Indian theme park overseas, opened to capacity crowds May 13 on the grounds of Schoenau Castle, 19 miles south of this international capital of classical music.

A gala grand opening ceremony, held on the castle grounds the day before, attracted hundreds of dignitaries from across Austria and nearby Germany, including the man many feel will be Austria's next Prime Minister, Martin Bartenstein. The crowd was feted to a free tour of the 20-acre theme park, some thickened fry bread, indigenous buffalo chili and an eclectic display of American Indian dance and music provided by actor Reubin Silverbird, the Dallas-based Sacred Hoop Dance Academy, and the Lakota Sioux rock band Arrow Space.

A private venture of two Swiss companies (Indigeno Co. Ltd. - owner of the business and Schoenau Co. Ltd. - owner of the castle and grounds) headed by financier Peter Signer, Indian Village Europe is a three-year project designed to test Signer's idea that the European community (especially the nearly 3 million Austrians in the Vienna area) would embrace and support a large-scale American Indian cultural experience. Part of the proceeds from the Village revenue will go to the Austrian Make-a-Wish Foundation, according to director Hanukkah Rose.

The 100-year-old Schoneau castle, situated on a beautiful 10-acre nature sanctuary, will house a host of American Indian performers and artists now being assembled by agents Gordon Bronitsky and Horst Eilers. The theme park will operate daylight hours only, six days a week, through early October. Numerous special events - both at the park and in Vienna - are being planned, including a possible concert by Seminole Chief Jim Billie.

The theme park itself includes no rides, but concentrates on presenting the traditional village scenes of American Indians, organized by geography (Prairie, Eastern Woodlands, Southwest, Northwest Pacific Coast, Plateau). Centerpiece of the park are 35 full-size tipis (15 more will be built soon) that can be rented out for overnight stays ($32 a night). A few are even adorned with authentic Plains Indian artifacts, blankets and decorations; one includes a full service baby-changing experience.

Currently, there is no Southeastern village on the grounds, though Signer says he plans to have a Seminole village constructed soon. "We tried to contact all the Southeastern tribes," said Bronitsky, who has ample experience booking American Indian entertainment in Europe," But none of them ever got back with us."

No one at the Seminole Tribe of Florida's headquarters can recall any contact from Bronitsky or Indian Village Europe. The Tribe connected to the project through the Internet. Chairman Billie was invited to attend the grand opening but was unable to attend; a letter wishing the Austrians well was read at the event.

Admission to the project is $3 for children aged 3-5, $8 for children 6 - 14, and just under $14 for over 14. There is a 20 percent discount for soldiers in uniform, elderly, handicapped persons and groups of ten or more.

The visitor enters through a Navajo ho-gun-like structure which doubles as a gift shop and information center and directs one out to a large field. In different areas of the park one can view a Long house, sweat lodge, wigwams, tipis, mat lodges, a clan house and ho-gun earth lodges. A rustic designed restaurant offering both Austrian and American Indian-styled food and drink is situated across from a huge children's village.

Children in many European countries, including Germany and Austria, study American Indian history in the fourth grade and are required to read many of the works of the German adventure writer Karl May (whose works are still translated in 20 languages). "We are hoping to attract a large number of families and children on school trips," said Village founder Signer, whose main competition may be Austria's largest shopping center, which just opened nearby. "There are really no theme parks of any kind in this part of Europe. And children have a large fascination with the American Indian."

So much so, that a nationally famous puppet show (which airs each and every morning on Austrian television) has moved its live performing shop onto the village and even created a new puppet - Shosho, patterned after a Pocahontas-like female Indian character. A petting zoo, with riding ponies and playground apparatus is also part of the "Mini Tipi Club" area.

Organizers plan to rotate American Indian groups every three weeks and are attempting to work out a sponsorship with an airline to facilitate the biggest problem - bringing real American Indians to Austria. So far, they are arranging to have at least 15 American Indian representatives on site at all times. "We do not want to have local people dressed up like Indians. Absolutely not," said Bronitsky. "They have Karl May parks like that in Germany. It makes it much harder to get a lot of traditionally dressed Indian people out here, but it gives this park integrity I feel people will appreciate enough to keep coming back. This is the best place, short of flying to America, to see the real thing."

Silverbird, a star of stage and screen who once operated a successful American Indian food restaurant in New York City, has been hired as a consultant to the theme park. He is staying in a tiny room on the third floor of the castle and is a little unsure about the whole project: "The thing I have to keep reminding myself is: we're in Austria, not Arizona. They have done a great job in some areas, but they need some help and advice in others. I've only been here a few days, and all I can say is a lot of work and money has gone into this project so far. Talk to me in a couple months."

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