Germany is a country that has macroscopical variations of vampire traditions. Much of this can be accredited to the divergent history of the region and the many cultures that have contributed to shaping Germany's character. Most of Germany's vampire traditions distinctively resemble those of the Slavic people, who, around the tenth century had spread out into Eastern region of Germany along the Jeetze River. The Slavic and Germanic people have integrated since that time, so it is a very difficult task to recognize the differences between the vampire traditions of Germany and that of it’s neighboring countries.
The most well known of the German vampire was the Nachtzehrer translated as "night waster" (also referenced as nachzehrer.) The Nachtzehrer was prominent in the Northern region of Germany including Silesia and Bavaria and also with the Kashubes of Northern Europe. The Nachtzehrer is distinguishable in it’s coffin by it’s curious custom of holding the thumb of one hand in the other and keeping it’s left eye open.
This species was believed to have the ability to kill family members through some type of long-range magic. The Nachtzehrer, while in the grave, would eat it’s own shroud, nibble by nibble, moving on to feed on it’s own flesh. While this is going on, the family members of the deceased would begin to waste away due to their life force being drawnout from them.
It is also said that sometimes the Nachtzehrer would rise from it’s grave and feed on the bodies of other corpses. The Nachtzehrer would often be accompanied by the corpse of a woman who had died in childbirth. The Nachtzehrer was often tracked down by a sucking sound most often familiar with the same sound as a woman nursing a baby.
Some Kashubes believed that the Nachtzehrer would leave it’s grave, shapeshifting into the form of a pig, and pay a visit to their family members to feast on their blood. In addition, the Nachtzehrer was able to ascend to a church belfry to ring the bells, bringing death to anyone who hears them. Another lesser known ability of the Nachtzehrer is the power it had to bring death by causing it’s shadow to fall upon someone. Those hunting the Nachtzehrer in the graveyard would listen for grunting sounds that it would make while it munched on it’s grave clothes.
The cause of becoming a Nachtzehrer was attributed to unusual death circumstances such as suicide or accidental causes. The Nachtzehrer was associated with outbreaks of epidemic illnesses as well. When a number of people would die from the same illness, survivors would blame the first one who died as the cause of all the others’ death. Also, those that were born with a caul(the amniotic membrane that surrounds the baby in utero) were destined to be a vampire upon their death, especially if the caul was red.(caused by hemorrhages).
To prevent the child from becoming a vampire and provide protection from an attack, the caul was preserved and dried and gradually was crumbled into the child’s food and fed to them. Another belief of cause is that if a person’s name was not removed from their burial clothing, that person could return from the dead as a vampire.
Other preventive measures were practiced such as the following: Placing a chunk of earth under the chin of the deceased, placing a coin or stone in their mouths, tying a handkerchief tightly about the neck, placing nets or stockings inside the grave (vampires in northern Germany were said to be compulsive untiers of knots), or being buried face down to avoid it’s potentially dangerous gaze(The Silesians). Some extremists would go as far as to decapitate the head of the deceased, drive a spike in it’s mouth to fasten the head to the ground, or fixed the tongue so it couldn’t move.
Melton, Gordon J. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Canton,MI. Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Bunson, Matthew. The Vampire Encyclopedia . Gramercy, 2000.
Maberry, Jonathan. Vampire Universe: The Dark World of Supernatural Beings That Haunt Us, Hunt Us and Hunger for Us. Citadel Press, 2006.
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