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HALLOWEEN

Halloween: Five of Germany’s most haunted places

While Halloween isn’t quite the event in Germany that it is in some other countries, that doesn’t mean that there’s a lack of eerie and spooky places to explore.

Halloween: Five of Germany's most haunted places
The Marienberg fortress is said to be haunted by the ghost of one of the last witches burned in Europe. Photo: Pixabay

To mark Halloween, we’ve identified five little known haunted places in Germany – and the figures said to haunt them.

The last witch – Festung Marienberg, Würzburg

The Marienberg fortress looms above the beautiful city of Würzburg like a particularly squat bird of prey. Once the seat of the prince-bishops of the region, it has also played an important role in several major historical events as a demonstration of power. 

However, the ghost of the fortress isn’t some stern noble, or soldier – it’s a vengeful nun, accused of witchcraft. 

Maria Renata Singer von Mossau was born in 1679, and as a daughter of a lesser noble, became the prioress of the Unter Zell convent, close to the Czech border in Bavaria. Most of her tenure as the prioress was uneventful, even if many of the nuns thought she was a very strict leader. 

That all changed in 1746, when one of the nuns began to have fits of convulsions, screaming and meowing like a cat. The phenomenon spread throughout the convent until almost all of the nuns were experiencing similar symptoms. 

Maria was then placed under investigation, and searches allegedly turned up occult objects. A series of ‘interviews’ then turned up a confession – Maria told her interrogators that she had been pledged to Satan since childhood, and had been poisoning nuns and causing trouble for decades.

As late as the eighteenth century, the punishment for ‘witchcraft’ was execution, and on the 21st of June, 1749, she was beheaded near the fortress and her body burned. This verdict, when published in broadsheets, shocked Europe, and helped lead to the end of ‘witch’ persecutions across the continent. 

This was a little too late for Maria, however – her angry spectre is said to roam the halls of the fortress, in addition to the convent at Unter Zell, expressing her displeasure. Not something you want to come across in the small hours of the night! 

The family ghost – Plassenburg & Residenz Ansbach, Burg Hohenzollern & Berliner Schloss

It seems that in Germany you aren’t a respectable noble unless you have your own ‘Weisse Frau’ – a ghostly woman, dressed in white, who appears to herald the death of a member of the family. Think banshee, but for the rich. 

By far the most famous ‘Weisse Frau’ in Germany is that attached to the Hohenzollerns, the family that would become the emperors of Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

According to legend, this ‘Weisse Frau’ is the ghost of the 14th century Kunigunde von Orlamünde, who fell in love with Albrecht von Hohenzollern. Albrecht, a powerful noble, told Kunigunde that he would marry her if ‘four eyes weren’t in the way’. By this, he meant his parents, who were seeking a more suitable match. 

Unfortunately, Kunigunde is said to have thought this meant her children. Much like the ‘La Llorona’ legend of Mexican folklore, she is said to have killed her children, and was later damned to haunt the Hohenzollerns forever. 

The only problem is that the historical Kunigunde didn’t have any children. Never mind, there are plenty of other candidates in the family history for the ‘Weisse Frau’s’ real identity. 

Lurk long enough around the Plassenburg in Kulmbach, the Residenz Ansbach or the Berliner Schloss and you might just see her – although you might want to let the family know she’s arrived.

If you want to see a depiction of her, she’s included as part of the murals in the library at Burg Hohenzollern, south of Stuttgart.

The ‘Weisse Frau’ of the Hohenzollerns as depicted in a 19th century illustration. Photo: Wikipedia

The family feud – Düsseldorf Castle

We’re used to watching family squabbles turn deadly in shows like ‘House of the Dragon’ – but did you know George R. R. Martin’s work is heavily influenced by European medieval and early modern history? 

One story worthy of the Targeryens is the sad fate of Jakobea von Baden. A lively and beautiful young woman, Jakobea was pledged to marry Duke Johann Wilhelm of Berg, who ruled the area around Düsseldorf in the late 16th century. 

Unfortunately for Jakobea, Duke Johann had a mental health condition and was quite often violent. In fact, he was so afflicted, a council ruled in his stead. Her sister-in-law Sybille was also a real piece of work, suspecting Jakobea of trying to take over the duchy. 

When the Duke died, Jakobea thought that she may at least be able to improve her condition, while also working at improving the lot of her subjects. However, before she could act, she was found dead in her room in a tower of the Düsseldorf Castle on September 3rd, 1597. 

Sybille claimed that Jakobea had died of a stroke, but those who attended her funeral would often comment on the bruises around her neck for years afterwards. 

Today the castle’s tower is the only part that remains, and this is where Jakobea has been seen floating around the top of the Turm – quite a terrifying sight if you think about it! 

Duchess Jakobea von Baden and the Schlossturm where she died. Photo: Wikipedia

The heartbroken teen – Frauenkirche, Munich 

The twin towers of the Frauenkirche are one of the landmarks dominating the Munich skyline, and have done so for over 500 years. It’s also the site of a horrific tragedy that involves one of Germany’s literary giants.

Fanny von Ickstatt, who hailed from a wealthy family, was 17 when she met the dashing Franz von Vincenti, eight years her senior, during a trip to Ingolstadt. She was infatuated with him, and he was her, but Fanny’s mother, Franziska von Weinbach opposed the union.

Franziska did everything she could to oppose the union, telling Fanny she was not to see Franz. Depending on which version of the story you hear, Franz may have ended up seducing Franziska. Nevertheless, Fanny was heartbroken – she felt that she couldn’t go on.

On the 14th of January 1785, she climbed to the top of one of the Frauenkirche’s towers, and when her servant’s back was turned, she threw herself from it, dying instantly. The entire city was horrified at this act, with the tragic case being the subject of discussion for months.

When her house was searched, a copy of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrow of Young Werther was found on Fanny’s bedside table. This novel, while immensely popular, had a somewhat sinister celebrity – the tale of a heartbroken young man taking his own life was allegedly linked to a rash of suicides across Europe. Goethe himself would visit the site next year – he didn’t have much to say, other than he’d visited it. 

The possessed – Gottliebin-Dittus-Haus, Möttlingen 

To finish, we have a tale with something approaching a happy ending. 

In the 1840s, in the small village of Möttlingen, on the edge of the Black Forest, near the town of Calw, lived young Gottliebin Dittus.

This star Sunday school pupil seemed destined for a life of quiet piety, when the departure of her favourite pastor seemed to set her off. 

By this, we mean that things took a rather supernatural turn – all pointing to her. While she shrieked and convulsed, and there were ominous rumblings heard around town. 

Ghosts were allegedly seen flitting around her small cottage, and there are even reports of her throwing up nails and metal objects. 

It was at this point that the new pastor, Johann Christoph Blumhardt took control of the situation and proceeded with a series of exorcisms that lasted a whole two years, from 1841 to 1843. 

Eventually, when things seemed to be reaching a crescendo, and Gottliebin’s two siblings seemed to be starting to succumb to the same ‘possession’, the supernatural activities abruptly stopped. .

Gottliebin would go on to marry, have three children, and work for the church, living another thirty years. For the rest of her life, however, there were many questions for her about her experiences – and what exactly she thought had possessed her. 

If you visit Möttlingen today, there’s a small memorial and museum devoted to Gottliebin at her former home. It’s perfectly safe to visit by day, but who knows what happens after dusk – to this day, the area has a reputation for strange supernatural occurrences. 

Do you have a favourite German local legend or ghost story? Email [email protected] and you may see it covered in a future article

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HALLOWEEN

How Halloween is celebrated in Germany

It's not just a North American tradition - Halloween is also celebrated in Germany. From the phrases you need to local 'trick-or-treating', a German-American shares what the holiday is like in Berlin.

A carved pumpkin in Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia.
A carved pumpkin in Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Caroline Seidel

Spooky cobwebs coated the windows of my family’s home and candle-lit carved pumpkins glowed in the shadows.

This scene might resemble a house in the US around Halloween, but it actually took place where I grew up in Berlin. 

When I used to go trick-or-treating in Schmargendorf, in the Berlin neighbourhood of Wilmersdorf, I would dress up and have my mom put make-up on my face shortly before it became dark.

After that I would head out for one or two hours with my mom or dad, who were usually dressed up as well. We knew which places to go to and which houses to avoid in order to stock up on candy.

A creative (and gruesome) pumpkin carving in Brandenburg for Halloween 2018. Photo: DPA

How Halloween spread to Germany

Halloween originates from the old Celtic festival of Samhain.

In the evening from October 31st to November 1st, the dead supposedly rose from their graves and attempted to repossess the living.

In order to avoid this, the Celts tried to scare them away or disguise themselves in order to remain unnoticed. This traditional holiday eventually turned into a commercial celebration in America and is nowadays renown worldwide.

The holiday came to Germany at the end of the 90s and is a popular event today. In Germany, the younger generation such as preschoolers and elementary schoolers participate actively.

READ ALSO: The rise and rise of the pumpkin in Germany

Kindergardens, schools and after school care-clubs often join in this event by hosting small parties in class, accompanied by music, snacks and costume-competitions.

For the most part, Halloween costumes are spooky or gruesome, such as a witch or ghost. Children will not usually dress up as a princess for example, because in Germany Halloween is considered a spooky event and “Fasching” (Carnival) is reserved for non-Halloween costumes that are more colourful and joyful – such as clowns. In southern Germany, however, these costumes can take on a scarier appearance.

READ ALSO: Fasching: Tracing the roots of South Germany’s ‘Dark Carnival’

How do you ‘trick-or-treat’ in Germany?

Two children trick-or-treating for candy at an American military base in Stuttgart. Photo DPA

You can either make your own Halloween costumes or buy them in dozens of stores ranging from simple supermarkets to actual costumes shops that sell whole costumes or individual items such as coloured contact lenses or elf ears.

Trick-or-treating, or “Um die Häuser ziehen (Going around the houses)” as the Germans call it, usually takes place in your own neighbourhood with the same intentions as in the US: collecting candy or playing pranks (Streiche spielen).

The German version of the classic Halloween phrase trick-or-treat is “Süßes oder Saures” (Sweets or sours) or, differently phrased, “Süßes sonst gibt’s Saures” “Give me sweets or there will be sour things.”

But some children learn longer phrases and “perform” them in order to earn candy:

“Spinnenfuß und Krötenbein, wir sind viele Geisterlein!”

“Wir haben leere Taschen und wollen was zum Naschen!”

“Spider foot and frog leg, we are many ghosts! We have empty bags and want something to snack”.

These phrases usually rhyme and are a fun thing to recite!

A special scary spot

Trick-or-treaters enjoying a well-decorated Halloween yard in Stuttgart. Photo DPA

In Berlin, it has come to some Germans’ attention that the American sector near Oskar-Helene-Heim is a great place to collect the “good” American candy. These streets are often decorated incredibly scary and the people pass out tons of candy.

In other German neighbourhoods, as I can only speak from my experience, there are only a few houses that actively participate in decorating.

It should also be mentioned, that it is more difficult to decorate visibly from the outside when you live in an apartment story building. Also it’s a bit unclear at the moment how widespread visiting houses will be since we’re still in the pandemic.

But many households carve scary or fun pumpkins and set them outside for everyone to see. This is a good indicator for from which homes you will receive candy and from which not. If you do not wish to participate in Halloween you should turn your lights out; only then you will you not be bothered by the doorbell.

There are fewer Halloween parties than in the US where you dress up and eat gruesome foods, but they are becoming increasingly more popular, especially through Youtube influencers.

They post dozens of videos on how to throw a great Halloween party or how to make a last minute costume which sparks interests in especially young adults.

However, many teenagers and adults do not skip this event but visit parties in clubs, where they dress up, drink and dance.

I never learned a longer phrase to recite but stuck with trick-or-treat or Süßes sonst gibts Saures, because that would do the trick as well. When walking through the streets, we would pass usually younger children with their parents, children in smaller groups, or teenaged boys with Halloween masks on who were only in it for the candy.

A sweet reward

Fun ghost cupcakes for a Halloween dessert. Photo DPA

When I was growing up many people – I could tell – bought their costumes. I, thanks to my mom, had a homemade costume every year.

Most people who had their lights on were prepared to hand out candy and excited to see the spooky costumes. Others would open the door, seemingly haven forgotten about Halloween, and hand out random sweets or fruit that did not excite me very much. (We would try to remember that place and avoid it the next year). 

Others were just annoyed by this event.

Despite those people, it was a fun evening every year. I always returned home with more candy then I could eat. There were times where it literally lasted until Easter!

When I grew older I had the feeling that less people went trick-or-treating and less people were participating in this event, which could be because the neighbourhood was growing older or because people went to areas where there was more candy to collect.

Nowadays, I try to convince my friends to throw a Halloween party with me. Initially, they are never thrilled by the idea because they are not convinced by the dressing up part, but usually I can persuade them by mentioning the Halloween-y food and drinks.

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