Sunday 23 May 2010


Vampire: Monster - Mythos - Medienstar by Florian Kührer, Mag. Phil. at the University of Vienna with a background in Romanian history, is published by Butzon U. Bercker this June:

'Die Vampire sind zurück! Ob als blutgierige Monster, aristokratische Einzelgänger, sensible Feingeister oder als Ziel erotischer Schwärmereien - die Grenzgänger zwischen Leben und Tod haben nichts von ihrer Jahrhunderte langen Faszination verloren. Als Geschöpfe menschlicher Phantasie sind sie Spiegel unserer Ängste und Wünsche und zugleich Fenster zu einer anderen Welt. Was ist ihr Geheimnis? Und wo liegt die Grenze zwischen Mythos und Realität? Dieses Buch entwirrt mit kritischem Blick die Motivstränge des Vampir-Mythos und erzählt dabei die Geschichte vom Aufstieg eines Dorfmonsters zu einem der größten Popstars der Moderne.'

Der Vampir sind wir: Die Erfolgsgeschichte eines unsterblichen Mythos by Rainer M. Köpl is published by Residenz Verlag on September 15. Köpl is professor at the Institut für Theater-, Film- und Medienwissenschaft at the University of Vienna and is probably best known for his contribution to the Vampir Prinzessin documentary which he hosted. The book is advertised this way:

'Sie sind zwischen dem Diesseits und dem Jenseits unterwegs, geistern durch die Nacht und beißen schöne Frauen in den Hals. Wunschvorstellungen und Ängste offenbaren sich in der Figur des Vampirs, der als Roman- und Filmstoff Weltruhm erlangte, aber auch in Werbespots, politischen Kampagnen und in der Psychoanalyse zum Einsatz kommt.

Der Wiener Vampirologe Rainer M. Köppl erzählt von der angstvollen Hysterie zwischen Aberglaube und Aufklärung. Er zeigt, wie die Vampire in die romantisch verklärte Literatur flüchteten, im 20. Jahrhundert im Film wiederauferstanden und zu Beginn des 21. Jahrhunderts erfolgreicher denn je agieren. An eindrücklichen Beispielen macht er die Vollkommenheit von Form und Funktion des Vampirs deutlich: als Spiegelbild unserer Phantasien über Sex, Gewalt, Angst, Blut, Tod, ewige Liebe und ewiges Leben.

Eine faszinierende Zeitreise durch die Geschichte eines unsterblichen Mythos.'

Another book that is out in September is Dracula-Mythen und Wahrheiten: Ein Handbuch der Vampire by Christine Klell and Reinhard Deutsch. Published by Styria Im Styria Pichler, this one should be some kind of encyclopaedic handbook:

'Menschen brauchen Mythen: Vampire sind ein ewig junger Stoff, antike und neueste Trivialthemen, Sehnsüchte und Ängste verknüpfen sich in dieser Figur. Schon seit den früh esten Stummfilmen kamen die ersten Vampire, nun haben sie Hollywood endgültig erobert, lassen Jung und Alt in die Kinosäle und Buchhandlungen strömen. Von Erotik bis zu handfesten Machtkämpfen, von Film- und Bühnengeschichten bis zu Bildender Kunst, Comic, Musik, Religion und Literatur reicht das Betätigungsfeld der Blutsauger. Doch wer die Vampire wirklich sind und warum sie keinen kalt lassen – das erzählt dieses enzyklopädische Lese- und Stöberbuch, in dem sogar solche Leser fündig werden, die Bücher sonst scheuen wie der Vampir das Tageslicht ...'

Finally, also in September another reprint of Sturm and Völker's classic anthology Von denen Vampiren oder Menschensaugern is published by Unionsverlag. This is definitely one of the most reprinted books on vampires ever, and deservedly so, although it is somewhat dated now.

Friday 21 May 2010

A visit to Leiden

While staying in Amasterdam for a couple of days, I spent some hours in Leiden, the birthplace of Gerard van Swieten. Just half an hour by train from Amsterdam (and ten minutes from Schiphol airport), it was quite easy to go there for some sightseeing. There is a route that takes you on a walk lasting about two hours around town, the 'Leidse loper'.

I was there on Ascension Day, and people were at church, so it was probably a very quiet Leiden I visited. Unfortunately it was grey and pretty cold, but it was a very welcome change from the busy capital. One of the places you pass by on the walk is the old prison with a square where people were executed, as seen in the photo above. One of the houses in the background is the old Latin School where Rembrandt was a pupil. Unfortunately, I am not that well versed in van Swieten's biographical history, so I am not quite sure whether he was a pupil there as well.

One is left in no doubt of Leiden's role in the advancements of science, especially if you visit the old botanical gardens from around 1590, and the Boerhaave museum. The museum traces the scientific revolution in various sciences, including physics and medicine, and anyone who has studied e.g. mechanics will enjoy studying the experimental setups on display. And everyone will be horrified to see the surgical instruments on display. On exhibit is a reconstruction of the Leiden Anatomy Theater, originally constructed in 1593 and displaying various human and animal skeletons:

'In 1593 the University of Leiden was one of the first to build an anatomy theatre in Europe. It was constructed in a former church, which had fallen to the city of Leiden after the Reformation.

In the winter the professor of anatomy conducted public dissections of corpses. During the summer months there was no teaching and the theatre was turned into a kind of museum containing human and animal skeletons. There were also curiosities such as Egyptian mummies and Roman antiquities. It was a place where visitors could stand in amazement and ponder the transience of life.

In the 19th century the anatomy theatre closed down, leaving no trace. What you see here is an actual-size reconstruction of how it must have looked in about 1610, based on manuscripts and prints. The skeletons are also modern, but a few of the curiosities have survived.'

I noticed no mention of van Swieten anywhere, but popular vampires had, of course, set their mark, in this case on a bag on display in a shop window as seen below.

The Blood Countess needs your support :-)

If anyone is interested in supporting an opera about Erzsebet Bathory, here is your chance:

Sunday 9 May 2010

Yet another Czech 'vampire' found

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Javier Arries points out to me that there are in fact no less than two recent archaeological finds that may document beliefs in revenants. Apart from the find in Hradék nad Nisou, a more recent one was done in Modrá, known in German as Neudorf, located in Moravia in the South Eastern part of the Czech Republic. You can find more information on the history of Modrá here.

The news about this find is, unfortunately, not available in English, but here is the Czech news story dated May 4 2010: 'V Modré objevili archeologové hrob tzv. vampýra', an interview with the archaeologist Miroslav Vaškových, so here the word vampire, and not upir, is actually used. From what I can gather, the indications of revenant belief includes that the corpse was prevented by stones from exiting the tomb, and that the skull should have been crushed on purpose.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Another 'vampire' skeleton found

Javier Arries has kindly pointed me to news from Radio Prague concerning a recent archaeological discovery of a skeleton in Hrádek nad Nisou (known in German as Grottau) in the Czech Republic close to the borders to both Germany and Poland

Archeologists in Hrádek nad Nisou are excited about an archeological find uncovered during street repair work in the city centre. Workers digging under the surface of the cobbled street came upon a grave just 20 centimeter below the surface. The skeleton was that of a woman dating around 1310. She was found lying head down with a handful of coins clasped in her hand.

Her position and the location of the grave suggests that she was either considered a witch or a vampire or suffered from a severe physical anomaly and was buried far from the local cemetery in order to prevent her coming back to haunt or harm members of the local community after her death. The skeleton is reported to be surprisingly well preserved given how shallow the grave was and archeologists are hoping to glean much more from the remains. When the research is over the skeleton will be displayed at the local museum.

A couple of news stories in the native language with a few photos can be found here and here, including a close up of the skull. But you should go to this site to watch a TV news story on the vampire (upir), showing both the skeleton and views of the excavations!

Apparently, the five coins found in her hand date from the years 1310-30, and that is why the find is estimated to be from that period. If we should hazard to assume that the body was actually buried in this fashion to prevent it from returning to harm the living, the find is contemporary to the shepherd from Blov and the 'witch' from Levin, the most famous cases of magia posthuma before the 17th and 18th centuries. Both cases were located in the same part of Europe, which makes this find more interesting than the skeleton found in Venice a couple of years ago. Still, I think it pertinent to be sceptical when reading these sensational news stories of supposed 'vampires'.

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