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Culture

Horror tours lure thrill-seekers in Germany

Horrifying histories and ghoulish ghost tours are becoming a big attraction in Germany, with people increasingly seeking to be scared, or perhaps encounter the supernatural. Demand for ghost tours soars around Halloween.

When night falls in Munich, Keith Fenniran finds his way to track 32 at the train station. There, he gathers a handful of thrill-seekers and heads into the darkness of the city's cobblestone streets and bloodstained past.

"There are plenty of scary stories coming out of Munich," he says. "And most of them, I'm afraid, are true."

From Munich and Frankfurt to Berlin and Dusseldorf, ghost guides and horror tours in German cities are luring more and more people with a penchant for fright.

Irish-born Fenniran is an archaeologist turned horror-tour specialist at Radius Tours. He doesn't believe in ghosts, but he loves a good scary story. His favorite from Munich is the Pappenheimer witch trial from 1600.

"It was horrendous torture of an innocent family," Fenniran told DW. "It's all about people assuming this family was possessed by the devil - and engaging in horrendous practices like murdering pregnant women, ripping out the fetus, grinding it down, turning it into black powder."

"The strongest emotion is fear"

A ghost tour guide is leaning against a wall waiting for his customers to arrive.

Horror tour guides in Germany have their hands full scaring thrill-seekers, especially around Halloween

Although the archaeologist Keith Fenniran doesn't believe in the supernatural, Matthias Zwermann does - because he's experienced it. Zwermann has been leading groups into graveyards and beyond since 2005. He said that while conducting research for Morticus Ghosttours in Frankfurt - and even during a tour - he and his colleagues encountered signs of the surreal.

"It wasn't in Frankfurt, but nearby in the Oberrad Graveyard," Zwermann said. "We heard voices and saw fog, lights and shadows. After ruling out every other possibility, we could only explain it by our knowledge of modern spiritual research."

Whether people actually believe in ghosts or not, Zwermann says they love the thrill of being scared. For his own tours, he transforms into a blood-stained vampire or a faceless shadow. Like most of the ghost guides, Zwermann has spent months researching his city's horrendous past, including executions, the plague and bombing.

"People love the thrill," Zwermann said. "Because besides lust the strongest emotion is fear."

Pumpkins are decorated for Halloween night Foto: Patrick Pleul/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

More and more people in Germany are looking for a good scare

Fun in fright

So why do we like to like to be scared?

"When I studied archaeology, I found that every culture no matter who they are, are always fascinated by the things they can't explain," said Fenniran. "A lot of times it's their own fear of mortality that drives them to being very curious about things like ghosts, spooks and goblins."

Just like Fenniran, all of the ghost tours and gruesome guides report an overall growing trend of customers looking for a scare.

"I have noticed an increased interest," said Dieter Jaeger, a member of the History Club in Dusseldorf, which tries to preserve the city's history through storytelling. "When groups or birthday parties or firms have something to celebrate, the tour that is mainly requested is the murder and homicide tour."

When he's not teaching French in the local high school, Jaeger has been leading willing victims through the murder and homicide tour for more than a decade. He says demand increases as the hours of daylight decrease. Especially around this time of year, with Halloween approaching, tour guides notice an upward swing in participants.

There's no ignoring the dark

"I repeat the words 'All Hallow's Eve… All Hallow's Eve,' quicker and quicker until I turn it into Halloween, so people get an idea where the word comes from," Jaeger said. One year demand was so high that he led three back-to-back ghost tours on Halloween.

Halloween theme: Witch and bats are flying Fotolia © Stasys Eidiejus #4359476

Halloween is now more popular than its traditional German counterpart "Walpurgisnacht"

Jaeger's counterpart in Frankfurt confirms the gruesome curiosity around the end of October.

"At Halloween there is of course an increase of interest, because the dark season cannot be ignored any longer," Frankfurt's Matthias Zwermann said. "Darkness and balding nature reminds us of death."

Though it's not a native German holiday, Halloween is gaining momentum.

For the Cologne Ghost Trail, Florian Schmidt morphs into a medieval thief that was hanged. He regales scare-seekers with chilling lore from the region - including his favorite of a fiddler who summoned dancing corpses in a graveyard.

Schmidt, who has been leading tours for 17 years, says Halloween has overshadowed its German counterpart "Walpurgisnacht", which occurs six calendar months prior to Halloween.

"The traditional German night of ghosts was Walpurgisnacht, the night before the first of May," Schmidt said. "But by now Halloween has taken over that function."

Halloween is an old Irish tradition

While Halloween's popularity is growing in Germany, it's certainly not without controversy. Irishman Fenniran is quick to point out that the ghastly holiday's origin is his birth country: Ireland. It's called Samhain, a seasonal festival in which the door to the underworld opens.

"It kind of annoys me as an Irishman living in Germany, that most of the younger Germans, who are getting interested in Halloween, see the American version of it, which is nothing like the original version at all," Fenniran said.

If he had his way, the old Irish traditions would take center stage.

"We always lit bonfires on Halloween and everyone dressed up specifically as witches - not slutty bunnies or weird supermen," Fenniran said. "You dressed up as something that was supposed to be of the other world, and you light fires to signal the dead - your ancestors - to come by the fireside and inhabit your body so they can live again briefly. Unfortunately, it's dying out in Ireland as well."

But what's not dying out any time soon are revelers in the surreal, looking for a thrill. Whether on Halloween, Samhain or any dark night in Munich, Fenniran can summon a chill.