Dracula Lives On
[Photography is not my own]
INSTANTLY, I started to regret my decision. People have nightmares of what I chose to volunteer for. If your life really flashes before your eyes, then what images would you see, what thoughts would dart around in your head, in those final moments and how could something which started out as a joke suddenly feel so serious. How can the brain turn a man into a vampire, a monster and my tormentor?
It started out on a sunny Sunday in 2000, out cycling with my ex-girlfriend. We had met a year earlier in Ireland and now I was spending the Summer in Germany. We had cycled to a small neighbouring town called Schenkendorf, 30km from Berlin.
We stopped outside a walled house and past the gates of an impressive gatehouse was a very unassuming building. This house she explained was Schloss Dracula which translates in German as castle despite the building’s lack of proper fortification and defence. Her town Königs Wusterhausen was famous for it´s tall radio towers similar to the ones in Moydrum and Majahonda.
There were many cars parked along the road outside and music could be heard in the distance, so we went inside. Walking around the castle grounds, I was impressed to see an actual live joust being performed. A large band of men riding horses using large lances and swords and clobbering each other with maces for our entertainment.
Leaving the tournament, we went into the Schloss for the guided tour. The tour cost us 5 Deutschmarks each, a large silver coin, bigger than a €2 coin and about the same value. €2 for a tour seemed very reasonable and the tour guide, Dracula.
The man reminded me of a friend of mine called Ray. Dark hair and a rounded face but this man had a thick beard and wore a cloak.
This man, dressed as Dracula, was the last heir to the Dracula name. He was Prince Dracula and he didn’t shy away from becoming Bram Stoker’s fictional creation. He was Dracula, he collected blood, had bats and battles took place on the grounds of his castle.
My guide basked in Stoker’s legend but he was less villainous. When I said that he collected blood, I meant he held blood drives for the German Red Cross and I saw a framed article by OK magazine which claimed he had collected over 3,000 litres.
When Shakespeare’s Juliet asked “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet” she asks Romeo to be baptized anew as Juliet’s love but could my tour guide, Ottomar Rodolphe Vlad Dracula Prinz Kretzulesco have persuaded people to give their precious blood by any other name?
You See Mr Dracula was born in October 1940, during World War Two and was baptized as Ottomar Berbig. Despite being the last male heir to Vlad the Impaler’s legacy, Ottomar was not actually a blood relative.
Working as an antiques dealer in Berlin in 1978, he met an old woman looking to sell antiques. that had an unusual family coat of arms. She was Romanian Princess Caradja-Kretzulesco, a childless woman with claims of being a blood relative of Vlad III.
While Vlad´s name and cruelty were real, the vampire myth was added by Dublin writer, Abraham Stoker and his 1897 novel Dracula has shaped our stories, films and books ever since. In fact an estimated 700 books and films have been inspired by Stoker´s story.
Ottomar befriended the elderly woman and with his dark hair and beard bearing a Romanian look, he was invited to meet the family in Paris and he was adopted to continue the family name.
The next part of the tour was his car collection and since I was not impressed by his grand house being called a castle, I was expecting to be bored.He pulled back the double doors of his garage, revealing a Lamborghini LM002. A very good choice for Dracula, an aggressive jeep nicknamed the Rambo Lambo.
Behind the Lamborghini was an old blue Ferrari and a beautiful Jaguar E-Type, there was a normal Mercedes Benz and a some very unusual carriages and a selections of coffins.
One of the carriages in the garage was a horse drawn hearse used for making his appearance at the blood donor events. In front of it, was a beautiful box with a soft purple padding inside. Speaking to the German group, I think he asked if anyone would like to step inside.
Not sure if that was what he said, people laughed and I stepped forward, hoping that I could try out Dracula’s coffin.
Taking his caped hand, I stepped inside and tucked myself into the elegantly designed box; I smiled up at my girlfriend and watched the lid descend. Blackness moved from left to right and then, darkness.
My body froze, my eyes darted desperately to find light or shadows within the coffin, I had so eagerly stepped into. No longer amused by being in Dracula’s coffin, I was now in a fucking coffin.
Almost in an instant I regretted my decision and my last look of light closing before my eyes replayed over and over again, longing for it, not to be the last time I would see the world, almost as if I could turn back time and reach out and stop the coffin from being shut.
My life playing out as a montage of imagery looped to the closing of the coffin, my temporary tomb. Crazy thoughts flooded my mind. Had I been tricked?
I remembered from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer that a vampire cannot enter without first being invited, here I was in a foreign land, in a stranger’s castle and I had volunteered to enter a coffin, gateway and grave to the other side.
This man with my friend’s face, who organised Red Cross charity blood drives had become in my mind, Dracula, the ancient Stoker tale of a blood thirsty vampire who lived in a coffin.
Tensed inside, I couldn’t relax, wouldn’t it be fun to step inside Dracula’s coffin, I thought. Now my breathing became harder and I feared that I would cry out and embarrass myself.
Of all the crazy things I have done in my life, this was the gravest.
When you are inside a box so much associated with death, a muscle in your chest beats louder almost as if it is looking to escape. My silence unbearable as electrons ran from my brain to my heart saying, GET OUT.
My mind scanned the darkened tomb to see if I was alone, my hands afraid to touch anything, my nose terrified to smell the stale air of the coffin. Who else had been in this coffin before me and what had it been used for? Of all the images that flooded my mind, it gave me the sense that this coffin had a past.
Had it been used before. How many times before? My mind demanded were bodies buried in this casket?
I was no longer inside the shed of a man who was adopted into the Dracula family, a man who keeps bats in his attics, coffins in his garage and had collected blood for the Red Cross. I was not even in a villainous vampire’s lair, I was somewhere much worse. I was deep inside the darkest part of my brain, a place where a distant lawnmower sounds like a chainsaw and a bird could become a hungry vulture. I was in trouble.
Every film, ever made to horrify, scare and disgust us was being filtered through my head and only the worse bits remained. I say worst when you are tempted to correct me that technically they are the best bits. They are only good when you are looking for a fright, to make you jump off your comfy seat; they are the worse parts when thinking of them through the blackness of a coffin.
An Irish author may have given us the story of Dracula but the words of another one, tells a much truer story, there are two tragedies in life, not getting what we want, and getting what we want. I had asked for this, I had entered death’s elevator. While luckily this coffin didn’t lower me to a grave below. This was something I had willingly gotten myself into.
No elevator music to sooth and bore, imagine an elevator with doors closed and not moving, the lights go out and the walls tighten in. This elevator is full of old stories and the walls whisper them. You can’t see the spider on the floor but you know its lurking there. You fear touching the sides, in case you discover something horrible. All these things and more are in the elevator and you know they will all be gone when the doors open. If the doors open.
Perception is reality and Bram Stoker had made a man, a bat. A hungry, flying, strong as an ox, bat.
I was trapped. My tomb, property of Prince Dracula could very easily be my final resting place. If you wanted someone dead, trick them into a coffin. What I am saying is I was at the group’s mercy. If they wanted to keep me inside they could have.
A coffin is an entrance, not meant to be exited.
Afraid to open my mouth in case the spiders would climb in, all I could do was wait to be freed. After about a minute, the lid was lifted and my chest eased. My embarrassment saved and my skin pale. My friend’s won’t believe I was in Dracula’s coffin.
PHOTOS: Tragically, I don't have any photos from that day and will have to see what pictures I have from another visit to the Schloss but I have included some internet pictures showing Prince Dracula in both a coffin and his garage. He died in 2007 but left behind a one year old baby to inherit his legacy.