- My name is Josh Simpkins, and I first came to Düsseldorf in 2001.
- Originally from a small town in Ohio.
- Married to a German woman I got to know in Ohio. She was a nanny.
- Except for a few years when we moved back to the States, I have been in Germany most of my adult life.
- I have spent many nights here in the Altstadt.
- This is the Stadterhebungsmonument. It commemorates the awarding of city rights to Dusseldorf.
- It was built in 1988 on the occasion of the 700th anniversary celebration.
- Among the depictions:
- The battle of Worringen.
- Took place in June of 1288
- One of the largest battles in Europe in the Middle Ages.
- We’ll return to it in a minute.
- The charter giving Düsseldorf town status
- The was on 14 August 1288
- The elevation of St. Lambertus from a parish church (Pfarrkirche) to a so-called collegiate church Collegiate (Kollegiatstift).
- A collegiate church is similar to a cathedral, although a collegiate church is not the seat of a bishop.
- The battle of Worringen.
This tour concentrates on the Altstadt, which of course is just a part of Düsseldorf. But it’s a good place for a tour like this because there are a lot of good stories packed into a small area.
Fun facts about Düsseldorf:
- The Altstadt is not actually the oldest part of what is today Düsseldorf.
- That distinction belongs to Kaiserswerth.
- At the end of the 1300s, the Altstadt was a little settlement of fishermen and farmers.
- The name Düsseldorf. What does it mean?
- Well, Dorf means village and Düssel is the name of a river.
- Over there is the Rhine, but where is the Düssel?
- The Düssel stars over near Wülfrath, which is close to where I live in Heiligenhaus, and then breaks into four smaller rivers, brooks, creeks, once it gets to Düsseldorf
- Nördliche Düssel
- Südliche Düssel
- We’re looking at the Nördliche Düssel.
- The Düssel stars over near Wülfrath, which is close to where I live in Heiligenhaus, and then breaks into four smaller rivers, brooks, creeks, once it gets to Düsseldorf
- There are over 300 bars in the Altstadt.
- The so called longest bar in the world “längsten Theke der Welt”.
- Düsseldorf is famous for a certain kind of beer. What kind? (We’ll come back to this theme again in a little bit.)
- If you look around Düsseldorf, you will see this image people doing cartwheels:
- This is the so-called Radschläger.
- You’ll see it in souvenir shops, in front of buildings, on beer coasters or even manhole covers.
- Show: Take them over to the Radschlägerbrunnen, which is in the middle of those weird trees.
- Show image of Radschläger. More often, you’ll see a more abstract version.
- Goes back to the battle of Worringen. The population of Düsseldorf was so happy that the war of six years was over (and that Düsseldorf gained city rights) that both adults and children ran into the street and began doing cartwheels.
- Another story concerns the 1585 wedding of Jacobe von Baden (we’re going to come back to her shortly). Supposedly, she was very unhappy on her wedding day, and kids ran beside her wedding carriage doing cartwheels, which made her laugh and brightened her mood.
- About 400 Japanese companies are based here. (http://www.japantag-duesseldorf-nrw.de/en/japan-in-duesseldorf/)
- The Japanese began setting up business here in the 1950s
- Düsseldorf has the 3rd largest concentration of Japanese people in Europe after London and Paris.
- Around 8500 in Düsseldorf itself.
- Famous people:
- Jan Wellem. There’s a Jan Wellem Platz here in Düsseldorf. And a stuatue in front of the Rathaus of a rider on a horse. That’s Jan Wellem. 17th century Nobleman from the Wittelsbach dynasty. Born and died in Düsseldorf,
- Heinrich Heine (born on Bolkerstrasse), Düsseldorf’s most famous literary figure. (More on him later.)
- Wim Wenders, filmmaker who made arts films like Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas.
- Kraftwerk. For years they had their studio, Kling Klang, within spitting distance of the HBF on Mintropstrasse. Now their studios are out in Meerbusch. This is a cover of their 1978 album “The Man Machine”
- Die Toten Hosen
- Düsseldorf has also served as the hometown of a few fiction characters.
- For any Simpsons fans, there’s a German exchange student named Üter Zörker.
- In the Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, the travelling dentist played by Christoph Walz, Dr. King Schultz, also hails from Düsseldorf.
- Düsseldorf is also home to Fortuna Düsseldorf, which was not a great team when I came here around 2001
- They were struggling so much in fact, that Die Toten Hosen actually stepped in and sponsored them from 2001 to 2003.
- They have now managed to make it into the Bundesliga, which is the top league.
2: The Devil and St. Lambertus Church
- Anglo-Saxon monks came to the Rhine at the end of the 7th century AD and began to proclaim Christianity to the pagans on the Rhine and in Westphalia.
- There are no written records of the beginnings of a church at this site. However, financial records from 1159 mention a small church located on the Rhine which is probably a predecessor to this church.
- In the 13th century, the small church was expanded to a larger village church.
- In 1288, the sovereign Count Adolf V. von Berg allied with the free citizens of Cologne against the Archbishop Siegfried von Westerburg. There was a bloody battle in a field near Worringen, north of Cologne.
- To thank for the energetic help of the Dusseldorf citizens, the count elevated the small town on the Düssel to the status of city and signed the document on August 14, 1288.
- Now he wanted to have a nicer and, above all, larger church in his young city and began to expand the church.
- The construction of this church took place over many years.
- On July 13, 1394, the consecration of the new church took place.
- As a parish church, the church is dedicated to St. Lambert, a martyr who was murdered in 705.
- The altar houses a shrine containing relics of St. Apollinaris, who has been worshiped as the patron saint of Düsseldorf since 1394.
- In 1815 lighting struck the church and started a fire and badly damaged the church.
- An architect named Adolph von Vagedes led the construction of a new spire. Unfortunately, the wood he used was still green (i.e. damp). This caused the whole construction to twist.
- Legend has it that the devil, furious at seeing the church being rebuilt, twisted the tower while trying to pull it down.
- Interestingly, the church was again badly damaged in WWII, and the roof and spire once again had to be replaced. The residents of Düsseldorf were adamant that the spire should be constructed twisted.
- According to popular belief, it will straighten itself out again when a virgin gets married in the Lambertus church.
- Show: A door with a Radschläger as a knocker.
3: Hand in the Grave
- Under the square of the St. Lambertus Church lies the first cemetery in Düsseldorf. The deceased were then buried in the churchyard, which is the Stiftsplatz.
- The first documentary mention of this cemetery is 1303. However, since this has been the site of churches for far longer, we can assume that the yard has served as a cemetery for much longer as well.
The following story is from Jan Wucherpfennig’s book Hexen, Henker und Halunken (Witches, Executioners and Scoundrels) and is called “Die ruhelose Tochter” (“The Restless Daughter”). It’s a legend that concerns a burial, though which graveyard is never explicitly named.
There was a woman who was a widow and she had to raise her five children alone. Life was hard, and the woman went from market to market selling her baskets at the Düsseldorfer market. As the children grew older they began helping their mother.
However, the youngest child and only daughter refused. When her brothers tried to persuade her to work, she would throw a fit and so they left her alone. As time went on, the brothers began leaving home to start their own families.
The daughter, however, remained single and living at home with her mother. It seemed that no man was interested in such a foul tempered and lazy girl. The mother loved her daughter, though, and tried to make her happy. But it was for nothing.
The girl became more and more unpleasant and began to abuse her mother. The mother got older and it became harder for her to weave her baskets. Still her daughter continued to do nothing.
And then one day…the daughter died.
Neighbors said that she died “of a poisoned heart”. The mother, despite how the daughter had tormented her and made her life difficult, was heartbroken. After her daughter was buried, the mother visited her grave frequently and heaped flowers on it.
One day, the mother returned to the grave to find all of the flowers wilted and her daughter’s hand protruding from the grave. In a state of shock, the mother hastily buried her daughter’s hand and put fresh flowers back on the grave.
But when she went back the next day, the same thing. She found wilted flowers and her daughter’s hand protruding from the grave.
And so it went, day after day. Graveyard visitors began to steer clear of this part of the graveyard and of the mother herself, and she became more and more lonely.
One day a member of the clergy passed her, and she grabbed him by the arm. “Help me!” she said. “What can I do so that my daughter finds peace?!” At a loss for what to do, the priest’s eye wandered until her lit upon a birch tree. “Break a switch off of off this tree and beat your daughter with it. Strike her as she once struck you.”
So the old woman dug up her daughter’s body, and as she did so, she heard her daughter’s voice: “You are right, mother! Beat me with the branch from the tree whose roots now pierce my final resting place. This shall be my atonement.”
The mother, with tears streaming down her face, dropped the switch and embraced her daughter, and together they sank into the grave together. And at this grave the most wonderful flowers bloomed and people came from miles around just to look at them.
4: The woman in white
- This is the Schlossturm and the site of probably Düsseldorf’s best known ghost story.
- Schlossturm means castle tower, and it was once the north tower of a much larger structure which was built starting in1260 for the Duchy of Berg. A duchy is a territory or state ruled by a duke or duchess. The Duchy of Berg was a distinct political entity from the early 12th to the 19th centuries.
- This is a model on display in the Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf, and shows how the castle looked in 1585:
- The Burgplatz, where we are standing, is where the rest of the castle once stood.
- Over the years, it served as the residence of Jan Wellem (remember him?!), a mint during the Prussian empire, a house of parliament.
- Over the years, the castle caught fire a few times. On March 19 of 1872, the castle caught fire and burned through the night.
- This is what it looked like after the fire:
- Over the next 24 years, the rest of the castle was demolished piece by piece, and by 1896 only the tower we see before us was left.
- Since 1984 the maritime museum has been located in the tower.
- In 2001, the tower received a new interior design.
- Overall, the height of the castle tower is 33 meters (110 feet).
The Lady in White Legend:
- So why am I telling you all of this about the Schlossturm?
- Because it’s haunted.
- By the Woman in White (Die weiße Frau). If the Altstadt has a best-known ghost story, this is it.
- Her name was Jakobe von Baden and she died on September 3, 1597 in this Schlossturm at the age of 39.
- Jakobe was born into nobility but she became an orphan at an early age and was raised in the court of her maternal uncle, Duke Albert V of Bavaria, where she had several suitors.
- However, her family and other powerful people suggested she marry Duke John William of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, who was considered physically unattractive and mentally unstable.
- They married in 1585.
- In any case, a few years later, in 1592, Jakobe’s father-in-law died, which made her husband ruler of the duchies.
- Her husband was unfit to rule due to fits of madness.
- Jakobe tried to rule on behalf of her husband, but she had an enemy: her sister-in-law, Sibylle of Jülich-Cleves-Berg.
- Her sister in law told her, “”You were unfaithful to my brother and you are a wicked lawbreaker.”
- What did she mean by “lawbreaker”? See, Jakobe had had an affair with a much younger man, and the relationship came to light.
- Jakobe’s position was also precarious for a few other reasons:
- She never became pregnant (possibly because her husband was impotent). The dynasty was in danger, and the family needed a male heir, which Jakobe hadn’t delivered.
- She also refused to take sides in an ongoing conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the area. (She herself was born Protestant but raised Catholic.) Jakobe’s enemy, her sister-in-law, was a Catholic herself.
- Jakobe was eventually arrested and locked up in the tower of Düsseldorf Castle
- However, Jakobe had her own powerful connections, and there was a good chance she would be freed at some point, so Sibylle decided to take matters into her own hands.
- Jakobe was found dead in her room on the morning of September 3, 1597, after she had received guests and toasted on her husband’s health the night before.
- The official cause of death was given as a stroke.
- However, eyewitness accounts suggest that she was strangled or suffocated.
- According to tradition, she should’ve been buried in the Lambertus Churchyard, but she was buried in Kreuzherrren Church on Ratinger Str.
- Here is an image of her created in 1600, which of course would’ve been a few years after her death.
- Since then, her spirit has wandered the castle tower looking for her murderer in order to avenge herself.
- Sometimes, at midnight, one can see the spirit of Jakobe von Baden floating past in her white dress in the upper castle tower or a bloodstained Jakobe sitting at the window. During the renovations in 2001, some of the construction workers claim to have seen her.
- In 1820 her remains were moved to the Lambertus Church. According to one source I found, her bones are buried next to the castle tower, though where exactly is unclear.
- Hermann Drillings
- What would a haunted tour be without a famous murder or two?
- This was is really a tragedy.
- It concerns a gentleman named Hermann Drillings who was murdered in his 2 and a half room apartment on the 3rd floor of this building (Kurze Straße 9) on November 13th, 2005.
- Police are pretty sure they know who murdered him, but to this day, they remain at large.
- After his murder, the Rheinische Post ran a lot of articles about the guy because he was a well-known and popular character in the Altstadt.
- He was 82 years old and the wealthy retired owner of a jewelry and diamond business. He also bought and sold art. He frequented the bars here where he would run a tab and then go around paying them off with a big wad of cash.
- On Sunday, November 13th, 2005, a friend of his went to the police since he had been unable to reach Drillings all day Saturday. The police gained access to his apartment and found him dead in his bedroom. He had been a victim of blunt force trauma to the head. Police found the murder weapon in the apartment, but did not release what it was exactly. Since the apartment showed no signs of forced entry, police were certain he knew his killer.
- His murder was a shock because he was so well-liked. But he had what turned out to be a fatal flaw: he chased younger women.
- “The victim has always surrounded himself with younger companions, and he gave them plenty of gifts,” said the friend who originally had gone to the police.
- He was last scene in the company of a woman going by the name of Tina or Julia who barely spoke German and was from the Ukraine.
- She was dark-haired, slim, pretty, young.
- The fact that most of the women came from Eastern Europe leaves room for speculation as to whether Drillings had any contact with the red light district.
- Some of his friends, when interviewed by the Rheinische Post, said, “He was generous with the young women he kept in his company, but none of them were prostitutes.”
- With a description of their suspect, police soon had a name: Yuliya Pyvovarova, a 20-year-old Ukrainian.
- At her apartment on Bahnstrasse they found other DNA and fingerprints which also turned up in Mr. Drillings apartment.
- This man was soon identified as Alexis Kvezereli, a 34-year-old Georgian whom they believed was Yuliya’s accomplice and likely her boyfriend.
- When police talked to Yuliya’s landlord, he told them that the couple was gone. They left Düsseldorf for Amsterdam on November 11th after telling the landlord, “We robbed the grandpa.”
- The couple had stolen at least 10,000 euros worth of watches, diamonds and rings from Drillings.
- Early on the morning of November 12th, they flew to Kiev.
- Although German police issued two international arrest warrants, extraditing criminals from either the Ukraine or Georgia is difficult, and the two suspects remain free to this day.
- The Andreaskirche Ghost / Stove Pipe to Nowhere
- I’d like to point out something else here that’s not necessarily spooky, but it is kind of weird.
- This is the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. So have a look at this wall. Do you see anything weird?
- There’s a stove pipe located up there.
- Do you really think the museum has a wood burning heater in there?
- This is actually a piece of art from 1981 titled Das Schwarze Loch or The Black Hole by Joseph Beuys, who is a well known Düsseldorf artist. This is his contribution to an exhibition titled “Black”.
- If you go to the second floor, you will see a black hole on the interior wall where this stove pipe is connecting to the interior of the museum. If you put your ear to the ole, you can hear noises from the street below.
- What does it mean? Art is not really my thing, so I will read you an interpretation that appeared in the magazine Spiegel in 1981:
- “It symbolizes the exchange of air and ideas, between inside and outside, literally and figuratively. The inconspicuous stovepipe also acts as a disruptive presence and an ironic commentary to the brutal architecture commonly used in art galleries.”
The Ghost at the Andreas Church:
- This is another Catholic church run by the Dominican Order.
- It was constructed between 1622 and 1629
- Do you remember we talked about Jan Wellum? Well, his tomb is located in the church.
- This story comes from a woman named Uta Pollmann, who has been offering city tours for 40 years. The story appeared in the Rheinische Post.
- In the winter of 1883 the inhabitants of the old town became frightened when they noticed ghosts in one of the two towers of the Andreaskirche.
- At around dusk a ghost would appear.
- People said they saw a bony arm that beckoned.
- Over time people began to gather near the towers to see the spook.
- Finally, a few courageous men, along with the sexton – a sexton is in charge of the maintenance of a church buildings and/or the surrounding graveyard – entered the tower and there they found a few schoolboys who had access to the tower as altar boys. The bony arm was actually a stick with a leather glove.
- According to Pollmann, they weren’t altar boys after this incident (and probably got a few smacks to the head as well).
- The Vampire of Düsseldorf
- The Dead Swan in the Hofgarten
- On December 7th, 1929, the park bird keeper, a long time employee named Mathias Weyergraf, found a dead swan here in the Hofgarten.
- There was a swan he recognized in the park because it was friendly, and he often saw it between the Opera house and the war memorial.
- He was dismayed, then, when he found the swan dead.
- Upon examining the swan, he saw that someone had clearly cut its throat.
- What’s more, there was not a trace of blood anywhere.
- He later stated, “Ich habe die ganze Umgebung bis zum Wasser hin abgesucht, aber keine Spur von Blut gefunden. Ich muß annehmen, daß derjenige, der das Tier getötet hat, das Blut ausgesogen hat.”
- “I searched the whole area up to the water but found no trace of blood. I assume that whoever killed the animal also sucked out its blood.”
- And with that, the story of The Vampire of Düsseldorf begins.
- Background /Sources
- We’re dealing with a lot of creepy and violet stories, but this is the one that gives me the heebie jeebies. I’m warning you now. We’re going to get into some nasty business.
- This is also the story I’m going to spend the most time on.
- Everything I’m going to tell you is factual.
- Dozens of books have been written about this subject but tonight, I’m going to draw on the research carried out by a guy named Jan Niko Kirschbaum, who wrote a master’s thesis on the subject at Heinrich Heine University. His work draws from two main sources:
- A book called Peter Kürten, genannt der Vampir von Düsseldorf by Elisabeth Lenk and Katharina Kaever.
- A book called Der Sadist: Der Fall Peter Kürten by Dr. Karl Berg. Dr. Berg interviewed the killer and later published a forensic and psychiatric report in “Deutschen Zeitschrift fur die Gesamte Gerichtliche Medizin” and this forms the basis for the book.
- So who was the Vampire of Düsseldorf?
- Peter Kürten was born on May 26, 1883, in Cologne and was the third of 13 (or 14, depending on the source) children.
- The family moved to Düsseldorf when he was 10.
- First they lived on Grafenberger Allee in a 2 room (!) apartment. (They later moved to a 3 room apartment in Grafenberg.)
- The father was an alcoholic who beat both his wife and children.
- In 1898, when Peter was around 15, his father was sent to jail for one and half years for molesting his oldest daughter.
- These are the facts, and these facts alone are enough to support the idea that the Kürten family was profoundly dysfunctional.
- However, in the interviews with Professor Berg, Kürten’s described a childhood of unfathomable depravity.
- When discussing his father’s treatment of his mother:
- “Wenn es sich nicht um Eheleute gehandelt hätte, wäre das als Notzucht anzusprechen.”
- “If they had not been married, it would have been rape.”
- When the family was still living in Cologne, Kürten told Professor Berg that a dog catcher lived in the same building, and the two of them used to torture dogs together. They would poke them with needles or break their tales. He was nine years old.
- Around the same time, he committed what he claims was his first murders.
- While playing on log rafts in the Rhine, he claims to have pushed two boys into the water. He held one under the water using his raft until the boy drowned and the other one was swept away in the current.
- A few years later, his mistreatment of animals had reached a new level of deviance. Around the age of 13, he began to engage in bestiality and discovered that when an element of violence added to his sexual gratification.
From The Sadist: “I attempted sexual intercourse with a sheep; whether it succeeded or the sheep would not keep still, I forget. I stabbed the sheep and at that moment ejaculated. I repeated that frequently for two or three years.”
In 1897 when he was around 14, Kürten began an apprenticeship as a mold maker at a foundry.
In 1899, when he was around 16, Peter Kürten committed his first documented crime, a theft.
However, he also claimed to Professor Berg in The Sadist that he strangled a woman to death in the same year.
“In November 1899 I picked up an eighteen-year old girl on Alleestrasse. I went with her to the Hofgarten, past the Zoo, to the Grafenberger Wald. On the way home, amid lovely
country, I strangled her. I left her lying there, supposing her to be dead and heard no more of her.”
No evidence supporting his claim was ever discovered.
Kürten’s adult years were marked by stints in prison for convictions for a number of crimes. These included arson, assault, military desertion, extortion, burglary and sodomy.
In 1913 Peter Kürten committed his first confirmed murder.
This was Kürten’s first victim. At least the first one authorities were certain he killed. 9-year-old Christine Klein.
In 1913, he was breaking into a tavern in Cologne and eventually made his way to the living quarters above the tavern. He discovered Christine asleep in her bed. Without provocation he strangled her and then cut her throat.
Kürten returned to the crime scene the day after the crime, listening for hours in an inn to the conversations of angry guests.
While leaving the tavern, Kürten dropped a bloodstained handkerchief with the initials “P.K.” on it. Unfortunately, the girl’s father was named, Peter Klein, and he was immediately a murder suspect.
After killing Christine Klein, Kürten went to prison for arson and burglary.
Like a lot of serial killers, he also managed to give the appearance of normalcy.
For example, in 1921, fresh out of prison, he met a woman named Auguste.
At this point in his life, Kürten had spent 20 of his 38 years behind bars.
Nonetheless, she agreed to marry him, and they did so in 1923. In Düsseldorf they eventually settled at Mettmanner Straße 71.
Unsurprisingly, he did not treat her well. He smacked her around and had affairs. Interestingly, she never described his sexual appetites as being particularly deviant. Nor did she ever suspect he was a serial killer.
For the first time in his life, Kürten also got a regular job.
Aside from a few incidents of arson and strangulation, Kürten apparently didn’t murder anyone for the next couple of years.
This changed in 1929. Between February of 1929 and May of 1930, he committed 8 known murders.
- On February 9, 1929, he went in the evening with a larger pair of scissors
Kürten used a pair of so-called Kaiser scissors. They were called Kaiser scissors because they had an image of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife on them.
He was on his way from Flingern towards Gerresheim.
On Behrensstraße he met 9-year-old Rosa Ohlinger, who was lost. He offered to help her get home.
Not far from his own apartment, he stabbed her until she was dead.
During the murder, he admitted to sucking blood from a wound in her temple.
The crime scene was near a construction site and relatively secluded.
He then went to his apartment, cleaned up and went to the movies.
Later that night he filled a beer bottle with kerosene. In the early hours of the next day, he doused the girl’s body with kerosene and set it on fire.
The body was discovered by construction workers in the early morning.
- At this point, Kürten appeared to be hunting.
He roamed the area around Berthastraße day after day.
On February 12, 1929, at around midnight, he came across a 54-year-old named Rudolf Scheer on Hellweg in Geresheim.
Kürten stabbed him with the Kaiser scissors.
Again, he later admitted to drinking blood from a stab wound on Scheer’s neck.
He then pushed the seriously injured man down a slope where he died during the night.
On August 8, 1929, he met a woman named Maria Hahn at the Hansaplatz and they made plans to meet on the coming Sunday
That Sunday, they took the tram to Neaderthal and spent the day hiking.
On the way back to Gerresheim, he lured her to a meadow where he stabbed her to death with the Kaiser scissors.
He drank her blood and then vomited it back up.
He left her body in a ditch and went home. He went back later in the night and buried the body.
Now you’re getting an idea of why he was called the Vampire of Düsseldorf.
At this point, Kürten switched from the Kaiser shears to a knife.
On August 24, 1929, he took the tram to Flehe, where a shooting festival (Schützenfest) took place.
When 13-year-old Luise Lenzen and her 5-year-old companion Gertrud Hamacher left the festival, he followed them.
He caught up to the girls, began talking to them and eventually sent Luise to buy cigarettes for him.
When Luise was out of sight, he choked Gertrud unconscious, carried her to a bean field and cut her throat.
When the older girl returned, Kürten attacked her as well. She managed to escape at first, but Kürten caught up with her and stabbed her to death.
The bodies were found the next morning.
Once again, Kürten switched weapons, this time to a hammer.
On September 29, 1929, Kürten went to the Hauptbahnhof where he met a woman named Ida Reuter.
The crossed the Rhine into Oberkassel and walked down to the dam along the Rhein.
As night fell, Reuter insisted on going home. Kürten agreed, but he suddenly struck the woman with a blow on the temple.
He dragged the unconscious woman down to the meadows along the Rhine, where he raped her before killed her with the hammer.
After going through her belongings, he began dragging her corpse by the feet to the Rhine to sink her in the river.
Reuter’s body was found early the next morning.
On the evening of October 11, 1929, Kürten went to the Düsseldorf city center and again took his hammer.
On Graf-Adolf-Straße he met the 22-year-old Elisabeth Dörrier.
Later they went for a drink at Schumacher’s on Oststraße – this would turn out to be one of his favourite places to take his victims before killing them or trying to do so – before ending up in Grafenberg, where they took a walk in a meadow near the banks of the Düssel.
There he dragged her behind a bush and beat her with his hammer.
He thought she was dead.
However, she wasn’t. The following morning someone found her, and she was taken to the hospital.
Unfortunately she died 36 hours later without ever having regained consciousness.
On November 7, 1929, Kürten committed his last known murder. (Sadly, the assaults and attempted murders would continue.)
He went to Flingern with the Kaiser scissors.
There he met the 5-year-old Gertrud Albermann, who was playing in front of her aunt’s house.
He persuaded the child to go with him.
Kürten led the child to a small garden area near a factory on Grafenberger Alee where he choked her and then stabbed her to death with his scissors.
Sadly, two men had seen Kürten leaving with the child, but they assumed it was a father and daughter.
Now I should mention that in between the actual murders, Kürten was also committing a great number of other attacks. During this 1929 to 1930 time period, he attacked literally dozens other people (this is according to The Sadist), either stabbing them, or strangling them or hitting them with a hammer. And were not talking about harmless attacks, either.
In one attack, he stabbed young woman named Gertrud Schulte in Oberkassel, and the knife actually broke off in her spine. She survived.
On another occasion, he hit a prostitute named Klara Wanders so hard with his hammer that it broke on her head. She survived.
So mentioning the people he actually murdered gives only a small part of the larger violence he was perpetuating on Düsseldorf fin this period.
Kürten attacked men, women and children, though he seems to have preferred women and children.
In Düsseldorf, unprecedented hysteria spread over the failure of the investigation. Under pressure from the media and the public, the Ministry of the Interior set up a special homicide commission and had police transferred from Berlin to Dusseldorf.
Among them was Kriminalrat Ernst Gennat, who later recorded his experiences in the essay Die Düsseldorfer Sexualverbrechen.
He was the first to coined the term serial killer.
Arrest and Trial and End:
Peter Kürten’s eventual arrest started with a woman named Maria Budlies. He invited her first to his apartment on Mettmannerstrasse and then for a walk in the countryside. Alone in the countryside, he choked and raped her but did not murder her.
Shortly thereafter, she described the incident in a letter to a friend. The friend was named Brückner in Düsseldorf. As luck would have it, the letter was mistakenly sent to a family named Brügmann that lived on the same street. The Brügmann family handed the letter over to the police.
A few days later, Maria Budlies led investigators to Kürten’s apartment, but he wasn’t there. However, the officers managed to track him down the next day and he was finally arrested on May 24th, 1930 in front of the Rochuskirche. (That’s the church that looks like a big half-egg sticking out of the ground.)
Kürten’s response? “It took you long enough.”
The indictment against Kürten accused him of 9 murders, 32 attempted murders, 3 assaults, 1 rape, and 27 arsons.
It appeared that Kürten’s trial would be lengthy due to the long list of crimes he was accused of committing.
However, Kürten gave a detailed confession, and the trial, which began on April 13, 1931, only lasted ten days.
During the trial if came out that he had a proclivity for drinking some of his victims’ blood.
Remember the swan at the beginning of this story? Here is his quote as it appeared in the English translation of The Sadist.
“It was the same with the swan in the Hofgarten. I used to stroll at night through the Hofgarten very often, and in the spring of 1930 I noticed a swan sleeping at the edge of the lake. I cut its throat. The blood spurted up and I drank from the stump and ejaculated.”
In any case, this is how he became known as the Vampire of Düsseldorf.
Peer Kürten was given nine death sentences on April 22, 1931.
At dawn, on July 2 of that same year, Peter Kürten was beheaded by guillotine in Cologne.
As he went to his death, Peter Kürten reportedly told his executioner:
“Tell me…after my head is chopped off, will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sound of my own blood gushing from the stump of my neck? That would be the pleasure to end all pleasures.”
„Sag, wenn mein Kopf abgeschlagen ist … werde ich im letzten Moment das Blut aus meinem Hals fließen hören können? Das wäre eine Freude zum Ende aller Freuden!“
Peter Kürten’s Head
There’s a weird footnote to this story.
Kürten’s head was saved so that his brain could be studied for abnormalities. To remove his brain, doctors bisected his head. (Forensic analysis found nothing abnormal.)
Shortly after World War II, the head was transported to the United States – I was unable to determine the exact circumstances – and ended up in the hands of an antique dealer named Arne Coward. When Mr. Coward died in 1979, the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum bought it.
Show the head slide
Peter Kürten’s head is currently on display at their museum in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.
- Der Kö Opa, der Fall Simon / Otto-Erich Simon Disappearance
- Fast facts about the Köningsallee or “Kö” as it is commonly called.
- Düsseldorf has a reputation for being a rich and kind of snobby town. One of the reasons why is the Köningsallee.
- This shopping street and promenade is the busiest luxury retail street in Germany.
- The canal and boulevard were completed between 1802 and 1804
- There is the “shopping side” and the “quiet side” comprised of mostly banks and hotels.
- The canal is fed by the Düssel and is up to 5 meters (16ft) deep in some spots.
- Chestnut trees (German: Kastanien) were planted along the canal and the boulevard was originally given the name “Kastanienallee”.
- In 1848, Düsseldorfers threw horse manure at King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. They were unhappy with certain Prussian regulations. As a gesture of reconciliation, the street was renamed “Königsallee” (meaning King’s Avenue).
“Mordprozess ohne Leiche”
- We’re here tonight because of the disappearance of a man named Otto Erich Simon.
- The case was a sensation back in the 90s, and became known as the “Mordprozess ohne Leiche” or the murder trial without a body.
- He was a wealthy Düsseldorfer in his early 70s who, around the 12th of July in 1991, disappeared.
- Because of his age, the press sometimes referred to him at the Kö Opa.
- Show photo. It’s from the Rheinische Post.
- Despite so much being written about him in the press after his disappearance, he was and remains a bit of an enigma.
- What is know is this: He owned two properties on the Königsallee, numbers 76 and 78, and had since at least 1963.
- The buildings were not well regarded. Spiegel described them as “Zwei faule Zähne inmitten eines strahlenden Gebisses.“ Two rotten teeth in the middle of a beautiful smile. But of course location is sometimes everything.
- Mr. Simon made his money in the wine business. He lived alone on the top floor of number 78 and led a modest life. He had been divorced for 40 years. He travelled by public transport (using his discount senior citizen ticket). It later came out in the press that he didn’t even have a bed, but rather slept on a mattress on the floor.
- The Spiegel article states that he did, however, have one room in the basement that was full of carpets, paintings, antiques, Meissen porcelain, a vault full of cash and jewellery; in the garage a Mercedes.
- He had few social contacts and would often go off alone on trips out of town without informing anyone. (This becomes important later.)
- But those two properties. They were just growing and growing in value.
- In the mid-80s, the real estate market in the area started to get hot, and properties began to change hands frequently. Except for numbers 76 and 78. Even as the other buildings on the street began to be renovated or new buildings were constructed, Mr. Simon did very little with his buildings.
- Of course, Mr. Simon also received offers, but he usually didn’t even respond. So it was a surprise when a developer with a shady reputation and with the ridiculous name of Hans-Johann Hansen negotiated a deal with him.
- According to the Bild Zeitung (and if you know the Bild, take this next part with a grain of salt), Simon sold the properties for 30 million DM (around 30 million euros today) in cash and disappeared with the money. Supposedly, the cash was delivered in a suitcase weighing around 50 kg or 110 pounds.
- According to a Spiegel article, at the time, Simon could have gotten 120 million DM for the property.
- What is for sure is that July 12th, 1991 was the last time anyone ever saw Mr. Simon alive. Sometime after that, Mr. Hansen had a signed deed to the properties.
- The transaction was certified by a Swiss notary on July 22. Mr. Hansen and another guy, supposedly Mr. Simon, came to the notary’s office and signed the papers. It’s generally believed now that this other guy was not Mr. Simon. In fact, the identity of the other guy has never been confirmed
- In December, work crews began clearing out all of the valuables from the building. Later, cleaning crews entering the buildings found Simon’s apartment not quite cleared. Simon’s passport, bank cards, his will – all of these important documents were still there.
- An acquaintance finally filed a missing person report with authorities on Christmas Eve of 1991. Over the course of the investigation, this contract came to the attention of investigators. Upon reviewing it, they discovered that Mr. Simon’s signature was a fake.
- Of course, Mr. Hansen was considered a suspect. Though what for exactly wasn’t really clear.
- However, you know the saying: no body, no crime. There was no proof Mr. Simon was actually dead. He could’ve just gone off on one of his solitary trips.
- Still there was evidence against Hansen. Investigators found a receipt from July of 1991 for a spade, an axe, a pickaxe, saw, wheelbarrow, gloves and ten garbage bags. Mr. Hansen also admitted that he had recently completely replaced the interior of his SUV.
- As legal proceedings against Mr. Hansen began in 1992 for fraud – the episode in Switzerland – and a later charge of murder was added.
- The case dragged on until 1996 when the proceedings were temporarily stopped due to Mr. Hansen’s deteriorating mental state. At this point, Mr. Hansen had been in police custody for four-and-a-half years and was supposedly suffering from severe depression.
- He was declared unfit for trial and released from custody in order to seek psychiatric help.
- By 2002 the court had declared Mr. Hansen “permanently incapable of negotiation” and the proceedings closed in 2002 without a conviction for Mr. Hansen.
- Show image. This is Mr. Hansen in 2011 when he was in court for a different matter: making a false statement under oath.
- In 1997, Mr. Simon was declared legally dead.
- A nephew of Mr. Simon’s ended up inheriting the property, and in the end he received a total of 70 million euros for the properties.
- The Simon buildings have since been torn down and currently, there is an H&M at 76. At 78 there is a store called Athropologie, which is part of Urban Outfitters.
- The case is still officially open.
- Heinrich Heine Ghost Story
- Fast facts:
- Heinrich Heine was a big deal. He is definitely Düsseldorf’s most famous literary figure.
- The form of his output was wide ranging, but he is best remembered as a poet.
- He was born in 1797 to a Jewish family but converted to Lutheranism when he was 28.
- At the time Düsseldorf was still just a small town of around 16,000.
- In 1827, at the age of 30, he published Buch der Lieder (The Book of Songs), which established his literary reputation.
- He used a lot of satire, and was a controversial figure for many years in Germany because of his many critiques and unkind depictions of his homeland. He actually left Germany in 1831 for France and lived there for the last 25 years of his life.
- You find his name everywhere in Düsseldorf:
- University named after him.
- Heinrich Heine Allee.
- Show image of Heine. This is an 1831 painting of Moritz Oppenheim when Heinrich Heine was 34.
- The Ghost Story (Sort of…)
- This place is advertised as the birthplace of Heinrich Heine. But it’s a little more complicated. There was a front part and a back part. Heine was born in the back part, which burned in 1942 and what was left of it was torn down in the 1960s. The front part of the house is still original, though, and dates from the 17th century.
- Since 1990 it has been on the register of historic places.
- Since 2006 the house has served as a literary center.
- So is there a Heinrich Heine ghost story? Ehhh, sort of.
- He wrote a travelogue called Die Harzreise (The Harz Journey) and it describes a four week trip he made from Göttingen (where he was studying) to the Harz Mountains in 1824. As a travelogue, we assume it’s a work of non-fiction.
- Anyway, one night he stopped in Goslar and writes that he had been reading ghost stories.
- I’ll paraphrase what he wrote:
The ghost story was so marvelously told that it sent shivers down my spine
Moreover, the moon was now shining in the room so equivocally, all manner of uninvited shadows were moving on the wall, and as I sat up in bed to look more closely, I caught sight of –
There is nothing more uncanny than unexpectedly glimpsing one’s own face by moonlight in a mirror.
At the same moment a bell began to toll. After it stopped and the night was again silent, the door opened and the late Dr. Saul Ascher slowly entered. I trembled like a leaf and could scarcely look at the ghost.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said, “And don’t imagine I’m a ghost. It’s an illusion of your imagination. What is a ghost? Come, give me a definition. Deduce for me the conditions that make a ghost possible. Reason, I say. Reason!”
- At this point, the ghost began to do an analysis of reason and to quote Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.
- Okay, so as a ghost story, it appears to go a little off the rails…
- If you consider the context of the story, it’s clear that Heine is being satirical.
- Ascher was an intellectual that Heine got to know when living in Berlin in the early 1820s. Apparently, Ascher liked to argue the superiority of reason over emotion. In this regard, Heine disagreed with Ascher.
- Heine goes on to write
“Reason! Whenever I hear this word, I still see Dr. Ascher. This man in his late fifties, was a personified straight line. The poor man had argued away all life’s splendor, all the sunbeams, all the faith and all the flowers, leaving nothing but the cold grave.”
By imaging a totally irrational situation – the appearance of a ghost – and then having the ghost want to debate the rationality of the situation, Heine is clearly poking a bit of fun at his old acquaintance.
- The Brewery Ghost
- Alt Beer
- This is Uerige, which in my opinion is the best Alt beer in Düsseldorf. Füchsen and Schumacher are also really good.
- Are you interested in hearing a little about Alt bier?
- As you know, in Düsseldorf, it’s Altbier and in Cologne it’s Kölsch. Don’t order an Alt in Cologne and don’t order a Kölsch in Düsseldorf.
- In beer making, there are top fermented beers and bottom fermented. Top and bottom refer to the location of the yeast. Top fermentation takes place at warmer temperatures. In the English-speaking world, we would call this ale.
- Wanna know a secret? They’re actually very similar beers.
- The most obvious difference is in the malt. Altbier is darker than Kölsch. For altbier, the malt is roasted longer, and the final product is probably a bit more bitter.
- They’re both about 4.8% alcohol.
- Alt is also drunk slightly warmer than Kölsch.
- The waiters or Köbes here have a reputation for being rude and rough. But it’s almost a role they play.
- I have a friend who tried to order a Coke here and they told him if he wanted a Coke, go down to McDonalds. Another guy told me he tried to order water, and they pointed to the Rhine and said, “There’s your water.”
- A Köbes – by the way, that’s the Plattdeutsch form of Jacob – is so rough because originally they weren’t really even waiters. They were brewery laborers who schlepped beer barrels during the day and earned something in the evening by serving drinks.
- They were not particularly concerned with being friendly. In fact, abrasiveness is the trademark of a good Köbes here in Düsseldorf.
- They will always say Du to you.
- And if you have an empty glass, they will replace it, usually without even asking.
- According to the official website, even the current owners don’t know when this building was constructed, although it dates form at least 1658.
- In 1862, Willem Cürten bought the building and began brewing beer. According to legend, Cürten was chronically in a bad mood or, in Düsseldorf’s Plattdeutsch, uerig. Ergo the name of the place.
- The brewery was in the Cürten family until 1902 when Willem Cürten’s son, Max, died. Mrs. Cürten sold the brewery, and it changed hands a few times over the years.
- The Schnitzler family took over the business in 1976, and the brewery remains in their hands to this day.
- Brewery Ghost
- There was a time when Düsseldorf supposedly had more breweries than doctors.
- In one of these breweries (it’s never clear in the story), that a poltergeist appeared in the basement.
- In German folklore, there are noisy ghosts who carry out pinching, biting, hitting, tripping, They throw around cutlery and dishes and knock on doors.
- In any case, there came a point where journeymen brewers no longer wanted to work at this brewery.
- The owner, Wilhelm Gerstenmann, offered a large sum of money to anyone who could get rid of the ghost. Many treid and mayn failed.
- And then one day a crusty soldier came to Düsseldorf. A veteran of the Napoleonic wars, he fought on the French side and made it as far as Moscow.
- After 8 years he returned to Düsseldorf, his hometown. However, there wasn’t much to return to. His parents were dead. His brother had migrated to America. His sister had married and moved away.
- With few prospects he saw the poster offering 100 Taler (The German word Taler is where the word dollar comes from, by the way) as well as free room and board for a year if he could rid the caller of the poltergeist.
- He went into the cellar, armed with a both a pistol and a club. At midnight the Rathaus Uhr or courthouse clock began to chime.
- A screeching and growling started. His first impulse was to run, but he steadied himself and waited behind a large, wooden beer cask.
- And then they appeared: Two sets of red, glowing eyes. The soldier was astounded when he began to hear a conversation:
- “Louder, louder!” said one.
- “Okay, okay. Soon the property will be ours. And after that nobody will bother us anymore.”
- “And then this awful brewer will be gone.”
- The soldier gathered his courage. He lit his torch and jumped out with his club and came out winging. He hit one of the ghosts and saw it retreat, one leg dragging. He threw his torch at the other one in hit its ear. The ghost grabbed its ear and fled.
- The next morning the brewer found the soldier sleeping at the stairs of the caller.
- “What a night!” said the brewer. “You were attacked by ghosts but my wife was hit on the leg and our neighbor was attacked and had his ear burnt.”
- Later the soldier went to where the brewer’s wife was recovering. He looked at her bandaged leg. “Do you remember me?” he asked dryly. “I suggest you and your boyfriend stop this nonsense in the caller. Or I will make sure your goose gets cooked.”
- She promised.
- After that the caller was silent. The brewer’s wife and the neighbor disappeared from Dusseldorf shortly thereafter.
- I read a different version of this story in the Rheinische Post. Again it’s a wife and a boyfriend, but this time they’re behaving like cats rather than ghosts.
- Guillotine / The Beer Fingers / The Hangman’s Daughter:
- On November 2, 1811, Napoleon rode into Düsseldorf.
- Through an alliance between Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria with Napoleon, the Duchy of Berg fell in 1806 to France.
- (Remember, the Duchy of Berg was a distinct political entity from the early 12th to the 19th centuries. We talked about this earlier.)
- Düsseldorf became the capital of the new Grand Duchy, a region slightly larger than today’s North Rhine Westphalia.
- Napoleon wanted to have a look at the city for himself.
- Napoleon made his way on horseback down the Ratingerstrasse.
- This is a painting by Wilhelm Schreuer commemorating the event.
- Heinrich Heine was among those who watched Napoleon make his way through Düsseldorf. He wrote: “The Emperor wore his shameless uniform and little hat, and the people cried in a thousand voices: Long live the Emperor!”
- Why am I telling you all of this?
- The Guillotine
- In the 19th century, while Düsseldorf was under Napoleon’s rule, this was the site of a prison, the “Kriminalgefängnisse an der Akademiestrasse”.
- These walls are all that is left of it. The rest of it was destroyed in the Second World War.
- A guillotine stood in the courtyard, and this guillotine plays a role in the story I’m going to tell you.
- The story goes that the widow of the executioner, “die alte Göchin” was supposedly a witch.
- Her name was unusual, but she was called that because she was supposed to be from the city of Goch, which is on the Dutch border.
- The widow is rumored to have chopped the fingers off of the executed prisoners and, years later, sold them to local barkeepers around the Altstadt.
- Why in the hell would she do that? And why would the barkeepers be interested?
- Her orphaned niece, Josefa, lived with her, and supposedly she was Heinrich Heine’s first true love, and apparently Josefa told this story to Heinrich Heine.
- Writing in his memoirs, he said
Her best customers were barkeepers, to whom she sold the fingers she pretended to possess from the estate of her husband. These are the fingers of a hanged thief, and they serve to make the beer in the barrel tasty and grow in volume. If one lets the finger of a hanged man, especially an innocent one, hang down from a string fastened inside the barrel, the beer will not only be tastier, but one can draw twice or even three or four times more from the barrel than from an ordinary barrel of the same size.”