Germany, Vampires in
Germany, Vampires in(pop culture)
As among the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, vampires and vampire-like figures have a long history in Germany, and the first literary and completely fictional presentations of vampires in literature (poems and novels) are in the German language (though vampires in folklore are much older). By the tenthcentury, Slavic expansion had reached into what is today the eastern part of Germany. Slavs and Germanic people have mixed together through to the modern era. Thus, vampire figures in the region are difficult to distinguish from those of their neighbors such as the Kushubian people of northern Poland.
A well known early vampire-like figure is the Nachzehrer. The term is not connected with the German word for night, but rather stands for “he who devours after (his death).” He is also called Gierrach or Gierhals (“having a ravenous throat”), Dodelecker or even Totenküsser, and often mentioned in German folklore from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, though certainly known earlier. Recent researches have shown he was not just known in parts of Germany in contact with Slavic people, but also in western parts as the Eifel. More rarely a dead person is called Blutsauger (with dialect variants) or “bloodsucker” (a term also used in popular speech to describe disagreeable people). A special figure is the Neuntöter or “killer of nine,” who as a child is born already with his teeth or even two rows of teeth, then usually dies quickly, and may catch or grasp others after his death so they die also.
Like the Slavic vampire, the Nachzehrer was a revenant (a recently deceased person returned from the grave to attack the living, usually family and village acquaintances). Also like the Slavic vampire, he may have originated from unusual death circumstances. A person who died suddenly from suicide or an accident may in this sense become a Nachzehrer. Similar to the vjesci of Poland, a child born with a caul (an amniotic membrane that covers the face of some babies) might become a Nachzehrer, especially if the caul was red. This figure was also associated with epidemic sickness. When a group of people died from the same disease, survivors often identified the first to die as the cause of the others’ death. In the tomb, Nachtzehrer (singular and plural of the word are identical) were known for their habit of chewing on their own extremities and clothes or shroud (a belief likely derived from the finding of bodies that had been subject to predator damage or whose gum had quickly disappeared due to decomposition). The activity of the Nachzehrer in the grave continued until he ceased consuming his body and his clothes. As a rule, he does not leave his grave, but in a magical way destroys the life of family members who die immediately after him (thus “he who devours after his death”).
He is never called a vampire in German texts, a word that became popular only with the Slavic vampire exhumations of the 1730s, though he can be found lying in pools of blood. Many ideas connected with the Nachzehrer occur only in a small number of texts, but quite often he can be identified from the sucking, chewing and gnawing noises that come from his grave. In the eighteenth century this belief was generally regarded as superstition, and became a subject for scholarly enquiry and naturalist explanations. To prevent the Nachzehrer from destroying living people, various preventive measures were proposed. Some people placed a clump of earth under his chin; others placed a coin or stone in his mouth; still others tied a handkerchief tightly around his neck. As a more drastic measure, people cut off the potential Nachzehrer’s head, drove a spike into his mouth to pin the head to the ground, or fixed the tongue in place.
In the nineteenth-and even twentieth-century cases of Nachzehrer belief, a comparison with vampires became possible. By this time the word and Slavic vampire ideas had become common knowledge. Alfons Schweiggert investigated some Bluatsauger (bloodsucker) ideas of Bavaria in the 1980s. He found that Bluatsauger were believed to become undead because they were not baptized (Bavaria is a mostly Roman Catholic part of Germany), were involved in witchcraft, lived an immoral life, or committed suicide. They might also have become vampires from eating the meat of an animal killed by a wolf. During the burial process, an animal jumping over the grave might have caused a person to return as a vampire. In like measure, Bavarians reported that a nun stepping over a grave could have the same effect. Their appearance is described as pale in color, somewhat resembling a zombie. If such a Bluatsauger were loosed upon a community, residents were told to stay inside at night, to smear their doors and windows with garlic, and place hawthorn around their houses. If members of the community owned a black dog, an extra set of eyes could be painted upon the animal, causing the vampire to flee. To effectively kill the vampire, a stake through the heart and garlic in the mouth were recommended. Such beliefs are considered the German equivalents of vampire stories, but it is extremely improbable anything in them is independent of the Slavic vampire tales, or even goes back to pre-nineteenth-century times.
Exhumations of dead people suspected of vampire-like influences on the living happened a number of times as recent as the nineteenth century in Germany, as in Western Prussia 1870–73 (cases of G. Gehrke and Franz von Poblocki, and a few less well-documented ones; the last exhumation in 1913 in the Kreis Putzig, Western Prussia). Of course, both state and ecclesiastical authorities tried to forbid these clandestine exhumations, but without success. Cholera epidemics were sometimes interpreted as influenced by vampires, as in 1855 in Danzig, but it is not quite clear how serious these interpretations were.
The Great Vampire Debate: The beliefs and practices in Germany and Eastern Europe concerning vampire-like figures and vampiric happenings became the subject of several books written as early as the seventeenth century (although none used the term “vampire” in its text). Notable treatises included “De Masticatione Mortuorum” (1679) by Philip Rohr, which discussed the eating habits of the Nachzehrer, and Christian Frederic Garmann’s “De Miraculis Mortuorum” (1670). In the early eighteenth century, a flood of reports of Eastern European vampires began to filter into Germany, where they prompted a massive debate in the universities. Although Germany did not escape the vampire hysteria (epidemics were reported in East Prussia in 1710, 1721, and 1750), the vampire issue seems to have been initially raised by the widespread newspaper reports of vampire investigations in Serbia in 1725 and especially the 1731–32 investigation of the Arnold Paul case. A popularized version of the Arnold Paul case was a bestseller at the 1732 Leipzig book fair. Helping to initiate the debate were theologian Michael Ranft’s “De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumulis Liber” (1728; a German translation appeared 2006) and John Christian Stock’s “Dissertio de Cadauveribus Sanguisugis” (1732). The “Philosophicae et Christianae Cogitationes de Vampiris” (“Philosophical and Christian Thoughts on Vampires”) by Johann Christian (not Christofer) Harenberg (1739) is still mentioned in Sheridan Le Fanu‘s “Carmilla,” who knew this and similar items through the English translation of Dom Augustin Calmet‘s great work on vampires, translated into English by Henry Christmas (1850). The debate in German scholarly circles centered on various nonsupernatural (or at least nonvampiric) explanations of the phenomena reported by the vampire investigators, especially in the Paul case. Ranft led the attack on the existence of vampires by suggesting that although the dead can influence the living, they could never assume the form of resuscitated corpses. Others assumed that the changes in the corpses (offered as proof of vampirism) could have resulted from perfectly natural alterations due to premature burial, plague or rabies, unnaturally well-preserved corpses, the natural growth of hair and nails after death.
The debate resulted in the relegation of the vampire to the realm of superstition and left scholars with only a single relevant question concerning the vampire: “What causes people to believe in such an unreal entity as the vampire?” The primary dissenting voice, which emerged as the German debate was coming to an end, belonged to the French biblical scholar Dom Calmet. He dissented from his German colleagues simply by leaving the question of the vampire’s existence open. Calmet implied the possibility of vampires by suggesting that the very thing that would establish their existence was still lacking: solid proof. Although he did not develop any real argument in favor of vampires, Calmet took the reports very seriously and suggested that vampires were a subject suitable for further consideration by his colleagues. Interestingly enough, while most of the works of his German contemporaries were soon confined to the shelves of a few university libraries, Calmet’s work was translated into various languages and reprinted as late as the 1850s (and in English as recently as 1993). Recent research on vampires of the 1720s and 1730s has concentrated on the forensic and medical aspects, but also on the role of the vampire as a successor to the witch as a scapegoat. In the 1730s belief in witchcraft had almost disappeared in Germany and Austria, and the vampire stories took over some of its imaginative functions for the public.
The Literary Vampire: Germany and Austria also gave birth to the modern literary vampire. In all probability the first modern piece of vampire literature was a short poem, “Der Vampir” by Heinrich August Ossenfelder (1748). Not strictly a poem about vampires, but much more influential in the development of vampire literature in both Germany and England, was “Lenore” (1774) by Gottfried August Bürger, a ballad about a revenant who returned to claim his love and take her to his grave as his bride. This very well known poem was translated into English by Sir Walter Scott as “William and Helen” (1797); in the eighteenth century, four other translations appeared, such as those by William Taylor (1765–1836) and the Rev. J. Beresford, and also a first parody “Miss Kitty, a Parody on Lenora.” Bram Stoker quotes it in his story “Dracula‘s guest” (published posthumously 1914). Even more influential to the popularity of the vampire theme was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s poem, “Die Braut von Korinth” (“The Bride of Corinth”), originally published in 1797. Goethe emerged as the leading literary figure on the continent, and his attention to the vampire theme legitimized it for others.
What may have been the first vampire novel in any language was written by Ignaz Ferdinand Arnold (1774–1812; he also wrote as Theodor Ferdinand Kajetan Arnold). In his time Arnold was a well known and quite successful musician and writer. He wrote popular novels on crime, conspiracies, conjurers, secret societies, ghosts and other sensationalist subjects. Although never taken as serious literature, his three-volume novel published in 1801 entitled Der Vampir (also known as Der Vampyr) was noticed in some contemporary catalogues and biographies, but no copy is known to be in existence. Such books were not bought by libraries in the early nineteenth century. Der Vampir was probably the first vampire novel ever published, and the vampire is certainly meant in a literal, not a metaphorical sense, as can be concluded from the sensationalist supernaturalism of Arnold’s other books. Germany also produced the first monograph on vampires not in folklore, but in literature: Stefan Hock, Die Vampirsagen und ihre Verwertung in der deutschen Literatur (1900; reprinted in 2006); by the time this monograph was written Hock was not able to find a copy of Arnold’s book. There are other German vampire novels almost as early, for example: Der Vampyr oder die blutige Hochzeit mit der schönen Kroatin; Eine sonderbare Geschichte vom böhmischen Wiesenpater (1812); or Theodor Hildebrand(t), Der Vampyr oder die Todtenbraut. Ein Roman nach neugriechischen Volkssagen (1828). There is also a tale by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (1776–1822) sometimes mentioned in this context. This story—often called “Aurelia” (1820), though originally without title and part of a larger composition and published in English under a variety of names—is in fact about ghouls, and even has a model in the Arabian Nights (Night 351, “Story of Sîdîî Nu’mân”).
There has been some argument about another early German vampire story that may have been the first short piece of vampire fiction. An English version of a story “Wake Not the Dead” was published in 1823, and became attributed to the famous German writer Johann Ludwig Tieck. But the story is in fact by Ernst Raupach. It was originally entitled “Laszt die Todten ruhen” (“Let the Dead Rest”) and there is a play using the same title. The tale is notable for featuring a female vampire, Brunhilda, who was brought back to life by Walter, a powerful nobleman. Walter was in love, but awoke one evening to find his wife draining his blood. The German version has more clear-cut allusions to the Elizabeth Bathory tradition. Another later vampire tale is Edwin Bauer’s “Der Baron Vampyr, ein Kulturbild aus der Gegenwart” (1892).
The first really extensive German treatment of vampires in eastern European folklore in the nineteenth century was written by Georg Conrad Horst, “Zauber-Bibliothek” Vol. 1 (1821), who stated that even the name of vampires had become little known by then. This certainly changed with the successful romantic opera Der Vampyr (1828) by Heinrich Marschner (1795–1861), with a libretto by Wilhelm August Wohlbrick based vaguely on Polidori’s “The Vampyre” and more particularly on the play Der Vampir oder die Totenbraut (1821), written by Heinrich Ludwig Ritter. The opera is still occasionally performed. It is also discussed in Karl Rosenkranz’s very influential Ästhetik des Häszlichen (853), together with Goethe’s and Lord Byron’s (i.e. Polidori’s) vampiric texts. Another theoretical and ethnological text of some impact (perhaps even on Stoker, via Arminius Vambéry or other channels) is Wilhelm Mannhardt’s Über Vampirismus (1859).
The flow of vampire novels and tales in Germany since then never abated. Ferenz Köröshazy, (pseudonym of Seligmann Kohn) wrote Die Vampyrbraut oder die Wirkungen des bösen Blickes. Aus dem Ungarischen (1849). Perhaps the most interesting of these nineteenth-century German vampire novels is Hans Wachenhusen (1822–98), Der Vampyr, Novelle aus Bulgarien (1878), where the vampire is an evil former Eastern Orthodox priest in pursuit of a young woman, until she is rescued by an English officer. But the real strength of the novel is its careful description of the multicultural society in the late Ottoman empire, which Wachenhusen knew well from travels (and about which he had published many books). Gypsies are also mentioned a number of times and have a similar role to those in Stoker’s Dracula. Indeed the atmosphere of the novel in some parts is comparable to Dracula, though Stoker’s is a much more complex tale. In 1860 in “Odds and Ends” there appeared an anonymous short story, “The Mysterious Stranger,” translated from German. The story tells of a certain Azzo von Klatka, a nobleman living in the Carpathian Mountains. He attacked the daughter of a neighbor, an Austrian nobleman. She began to weaken and had wounds on her neck. Meanwhile, von Kaltka grew visibly younger. In the end, the victim was forced to drive nails in the vampire’s head to kill him.
Elements of this tale may have echoes in Dracula; both stories open with a person traveling into the strange territory of the Carpathian Mountains and being impressed by the picturesque scenery. In “The Mysterious Stranger” the travelling knight and his family were startled by the appearance of wolves, but the “stranger” calmed and commanded them (as did Dracula). The stranger is found to live entirely on liquids and appears only in the daytime. Eventually, he is discovered sleeping in an open coffin in a ruined chapel below the castle. One character in the story, Woislaw, an older man who was quite knowledgeable about vampires, may also have inspired Stoker’s vampire-hunting character Abraham Van Helsing.
“Psychic vampirism” is more rare in German novels, though the theosophists often wrote about it, influencing e.g. Franz Hartmann’s article “Seelenbräute und Vampirismus,” (1895), later published as a small book. Ladislaus Stanislaus Reymont, “Der Vampir, Roman” (1914, from the Polish “Wampir”) is a story about a weak-willed protagonist who falls victim to a demonic, strong-willed woman in London. More important is another tale of psychic vampirism, Georg von der Gabelentz, “Das Rätsel Choriander” (1929). The erotic side of vampirism is most clearly expressed in Toni Schwabe’s story, “Der Vampir” (1921).
The German version of the first homosexual vampire novel by German author George Sylvester Viereck, “Das Haus des Vampyrs” (1909) was originally published in English (“The House of the Vampire”, 1907). It was translated into German by the author himself. There also exists an unpublished German drama by Viereck, “Der Vampyr, Schauspiel in 3 Akten” (1905?). Another stylistically elegant vampire story is Leonhard Stein, “Der Vampyr” (1918), where the female vampire can be read as a metaphor of the psychic side of social decline.
Almost nothing from the classic German vampire literature has been translated into English. In these golden years of the German phantasmic tale (1900–30), vampires even became a subject of children’s literature: Friedrich Meister, Der Vampyr, Eine Seegeschichte (1910). As is to be expected, many novels about vampires are more popular reading than high literature, just, as in many other languages. For example Paul Pitt, whose real name is Paul Oskar Ernst Erttmannwrote “Der Mitternachtsvampir, John Kling’s Erinnerungen Bd. 15” (1931). And L. Hackenbroich’s “Ein Vampyr. Kriminalroman” (1908) is a non-supernatural crime story.
Stoker’s Dracula first came out in German in 1908, translated by Heinz Widtmann. By then vampires were firmly established in the German supernatural tale. In 1912 a psychoanalytical analysis of vampire tales appeared, written by Ernest Jones, a follower of Sigmund Freud, entitled Der Alptraum in seiner Beziehung zu gewissen Formen des mittealterlichen Aberglaubens.
The undisputed masterpiece of German vampire tales is Karl Hanns Strobl, “Das Grabmal auf dem Père Lachaise” (1913), a short novelette comparable in complexity to “Carmilla”. A young scholar is financed by the Countess Anna Feodorowna Wassilska (a character reminiscent of Elizabeth Bathory), if he is willing to live for a year after her death in her tomb, where he is sometimes visited by his fiancée. There he soon encounters strange phenomena. Fed by meals devilishly well prepared by a Tatar servant of the Countess, he quickly finds he cannot leave the tomb, and becomes convinced he is to be the victim of a vampire. But things are more complicated. This subtle tale can be read as a study in personality deteriorization and allows both for a supernatural and a non-supernatural reading.
With the Nazi era, came the end of fantastic literature in Germany, but in the 1970s vampire literature was revived, most of it quite stereotype. But some items deserve mention. Barbara Neuwirth, a successful Austrian writer, has edited an anthology of vampire stories written by German and Austrian female writers, some of them with a feminist approach (Blasz sei mein Gesicht, 1988). The Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek (nobel laureate, 2004) is certainly the most important living writer deeply interested in the vampire motif, which she has used many times (Die Kinder der Toten, 1995). And of course many supernatural and fantasy writers in present-day Germany have written vampire tales, sometimes long cycles of novels as with Wolfgang Hohlbein (born 1953) or more rarely cycles of rather sophisticated short stories, as with Christian von Aster (born 1973). Jörg Weigand, Isabella oder eine ganz besondere Liebe (1993) who uses the vampire theme for a complex story of Eastern and Western Germany (which became reunited in 1990). Hans Carl Artmann (1921–2000) wrote many satiric pieces such as “Dracula, Dracula” (1966). Especially noticeable has been original juvenile literature on vampires, and among children’s authors, Angela Sommer-Bodenburg (born 1948) has emerged as an international favorite. Her series of children’s novels starring “the little vampire” Rüdiger who befriends the human child Anton started in 1979, and has been translated into over 30 languages and has sold many millions of copies.
As in most western countries, vampires are a beloved part of public imagination. A vampire museum existed for some years in the Gieszen era, but at present is not open to the public. Germany has shared the international vampire fashions from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Twilight. But in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century Germany has produced extensive and substantial scholarship on vampires in folklore, mythology, literature and the arts, none of which has been translated into English so far.
The Cinematic Vampire: Germany reemerged as an important locale for the developing vampire myth in the early twentieth century. In 1922 Prana Films released Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. Nosferatu was a greatly disguised but recognizable movie adaptation of Dracula. It was screened only once before Stoker’s widow, Florence, charged Prana Films with literary theft. Meanwhile, as she pursued the case, the financial instability of Prana Films forced it into a receivership. After three years of litigation, Stoker finally won the case and all copies of the film were ordered to be destroyed. In recent years, Nosferatu has been hailed as one of the great films of German expressionism and the silent era. However, it could be argued that it had only a minimal role in the development of the modern vampire. The few copies that survived were hidden and not seen by audiences until the 1960s. By then, Florence Stoker was dead and both the Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee versions of Dracula were already finished.
Although Nosferatu remains the most famous German vampire film, Germany has given the public a number of other important cinematic treatments of the subject. The German vampire emerged in the 1960s in a series of forgettable films including (as released in English) Cave of the Living Dead (1964), Blood Suckers (1966), and The Blood Demon (1967) with Christopher Lee. The 1964 movie The Vampire of Düsseldorf told the story of Peter Kürten, a true life serial murderer who drank the blood of his victims. It was followed in 1962 by Tenderness of Wolves (1973), which treated the vampiric/ghoulish murders of Fritz Haarmann, who had murdered some twenty-five boys and consumed their blood.
During the 1970s, Germany was the location for two of the most unique and thoughtful vampire films. Jonathan (1970) used vampirism as a parable for the rise of fascism. Martin (1976) explored the life of a young, sophisticated vampire who moved from biting to using a razor blade and syringe. Other more recent German vampire movies include The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (1970), The Vampire Happening (1978), and A Lovely Monster (1991).
The Twentieth-Century Literary Vampire: During the last two decades, Germany provided a fruitful environment for the vampire novel. The country has been an ever-present element of horror literature, and numerous vampire short stories appeared in Germany’s several horror-fiction magazines. For three decades, a host of contemporary popular fiction writers have mined the vampire cave of legend. They were led by Jason Dark, who wrote more than 300 popular novels including some twenty featuring Dracula and other vampires. His vampire books were published in a series of horror pulps by Bastei-Lübbe Verlag at Bergisch Gladbach. Frederic Collins, who had also written several vampire novels, was the editor of the series. Among the writers who also developed multiple vampire novels for Bastei-Lübbe were: Brian Elliot, Robert Lamont, Frank de Lorca, A. F. Morland, Mike Shadow, and Earl Warren. Many of these names, of course, are pseudonyms; some are house names used by different writers.
Zauberkreis-Verlag and Pabelhaus, both pulp publishers located in Rastatt, also released a set of vampire titles in a horror series. Among the more popular writers for Zauberkreis-Verlag were Maik Caroon, Roger Damon, Marcos Mongo, Dan Schocker, John Spider, and W. J. Tobien. Pabelhaus writers included James R. Buchette, Neal Davenport, Frank Sky, and Hugh Walker. The majority of German vampire novels continue to be published by these three publishing companies.