german ghost stories

5 Spooky German Ghost Stories to Keep You Awake at Night

The church bells in the village have just chimed midnight.

Outside the castle gates, a woman appears on a moss-covered stone.

She has a melancholy look about her, and she wears a long white dress, fashionable 200 years ago.

She stares into the mist on the mountainside, and she sighs.

Where does this story come from? Just pretty much every castle in Germany ever.

The thing is, Halloween isn’t really so popular in Deutschland. But that doesn’t mean ghosts, ghouls, gremlins, urban legends and grisly tales are scarce here. After all, this is the country of the Grimm Brothers, original catalogers of some of the most gruesome and viscerally scary folk tales in western culture.

This is also a country with a medieval castle, an abbey, a monastery or fortress pretty much everywhere you look—and where there’s a medieval structure, there’s usually a creepy ghost story to go along with it. As if that wasn’t enough, the tragedies of the 20th century that unfolded in Germany—World War II and the repressive East German government—mean that there are plenty more modern ghost stories too.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your flashlight, huddle around the campfire and get ready for the season with these five German ghost stories.
 


 
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What You Should Know About German Spookiness

Halloween is slowly becoming more popular in Germany.

Although Halloween has its roots in ancient rites from the British Isles, the holiday as we know it today stems from North America. But like so many aspects of American culture, Halloween is slowly but surely seeping into Deutschland. Especially in a large, international city like Berlin, you can easily find Halloween costumes and children trick-or-treating.

And some people don’t like it.

Not all Germans are happy about this American import. “Der Spiegel,” one of Germany’s premier news sourcesreported back in 2013 that some Germans are angry that Halloween has arrived on their shores, citing a dilution of their culture as well as the annoying aspects of Halloween traditions, such as the trick portion of “trick or treat.”

Nevertheless, you don’t have to look far to find some German spookiness.

But even though Halloween isn’t a native German holiday, you won’t have to look far to find spooky German tales. Ghost stories really do abound in this country of folktales, castles and dark forests.

20 German Vocabulary Words to Prepare You for Ghost Stories

Learn these 20 spooky vocabulary words, and you’ll be telling ghost stories in German in no time.

  • Der Geist (the ghost)
  • Die Gespenstergeschichte/Geistergeschichte (the ghost story)
  • Das Kostüm (the costume)
  • Das Gespensterhaus/Geisterhaus (the haunted house)
  • Der Vampir (the vampire)
  • Der Teufel (the devil)
  • Das Volksmärchen (the folktale)
  • spuken (to haunt/spook)
  • das Zauberwald (the haunted forest)
  • gruselig/unheimlich (spooky)
  • die Hexe (the witch)
  • der Fluch (the curse)
  • der Friedhof (the cemetery)
  • die Untoten (the undead)
  • der Schadenzauber (black magic)
  • das Geisterschloss (haunted castle)
  • Der Ghul (the ghoul)
  • die Gruselgeschichte (the scary story)
  • das Monster (the monster)
  • übernatürlich (supernatural)

5 Spooky German Ghost Stories to Keep You Awake at Night

1. Der Freischütz (The Marksman)

What’s the story?

A master marksman finds himself unable to catch any wild swine or deer in the dark autumn forests. One day, he’s approached by a mysterious peddler wrapped in a cloak that conceals his face. The peddler offers the marksman seven bullets, with one condition. The first six bullets will hit whatever the marksman wants them to hit, but the peddler will choose the trajectory of the seventh. The marksman agrees.

The marksman quickly earns himself a reputation as the best hunter in the village, as he brings home wild boar after wild boar. He catches the eye of the prettiest girl in town, and they fall in love.

But all too soon, the marksman uses up all six bullets, and when he shoots the seventh, it goes astray and hits his love in the chest, killing her.

The peddler appears to the distraught marksman and reveals himself as the devil. Live a pious life, repent of your hubris, and you will be reunited with the girl after your death, the devil tells the marksman. The marksman tries, but he is overcome by desire for another girl in the village, and he marries her instead.

One year to the day after his bullet pierced his original love’s chest, he is riding in the forest when he comes across a clearing where skeletons dance around cold flames. One of the skeletons, the girl’s, waltzes with him all night, and the next morning, the villagers find the marksman and his horse, dead, at the edge of the forest.

What’s the backstory?

Folktales about Freischütze were common in the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s in Germany. The tale was first written down in “Das Gespensterbuch” (The Ghost Book), a collection of German ghost and folk stories compiled in the 1810s and published in five volumes. The story subsequently became the inspiration for an opera by Carl Maria von Weber.

Where can I find out more?

You can read the original Gespensterbuch here, although beware that it’s written in Fraktur, or old German text. You’ll be better off perusing the opera libretto here, or simply thinking about the tale the next time you’re traveling in Germany and find yourself wandering in an old, spooky forest.

2. Rattenfänger von Hameln (The Rat Catcher of Hameln)

What’s the story?

The people of Hameln, in lower Saxony, are dying from the plague sweeping through Europe. Desperate, they hire a pipe player to lure the town’s rats away with music, in hopes that doing so will save the town from sickness.

The piper does in fact save the town from the plague, but the ungrateful townsfolk refuse to pay him. In revenge, the piper plays his pipe to lure all the town’s children away. He pipes until they walk into the sea and drown.

What’s the backstory?

Versions of the Pied Piper can be found in many medieval sources, since the tale plays on medieval and early modern European fears about emigration and sickness. The Brothers Grimm, those famous German folklorists, set the tale down in one of their collections in the early 19th century, and the famous Goethe wrote a poem about the tale as well.

Where can I find out more?

Well, you can visit Hameln for historical recreations and atmospheric history. You can read the story here, or if you feel like practicing your listening comprehension skills, you can listen to it here.

3. Anna Sydow, die Weiße Frau (The White Woman)

What’s the story?

Anna Sydow was the lover of the King of Brandenburg, Joachim II, in the 16th century. They lived a happy life together in the Grünewald outside Berlin. On his deathbed, Joachim asked his son to take care of Anna, and the son promised that he would.

But after Joachim died, the son threw Anna into Berlin’s Spandau Citadel, where she died. Anna is said to wander the halls of the citadel, unable to leave.

What’s the backstory?

These kinds of Weiße Frau (white lady) ghost stories are popular tales to tell about European castles, fortresses and monasteries. They almost always involve a wronged woman haunting a rural area, unable to leave. Indeed, Anna Sydow’s status as a restless mistress who cannot rest in the grave after the hurt perpetrated against her is a common one in European folklore. Just look at Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s wronged lover, who is said to haunt the Tower of London—where she was imprisoned.

Where can I find out more?

Visit the Zitadelle Spandau, of course! But failing that, you can read about Anna and her backstory here.

4. Maria Renata Singer von Mossau

What’s the story?

Maria Renata Singer von Mossau was a nun with a terrible secret. She joined a Bavarian convent in the mid-18th century, but the other nuns soon became possessed by convulsions and swore that the devil was taking control of them.

When officials searched the convent, they found strange robes and poisons in von Mossau’s room, and she confessed that she had sworn herself to Satan as a child. Von Mossau was beheaded and burned, convicted of heresy and witchcraft.

What’s the backstory?

Von Mossau was hardly the only woman who was accused of witchcraft in early modern Europe. These kinds of accusations were common in a society beset by anxiety about disease, religious wars and rapid change. Von Mossau was, however, one of the last women executed on this kind of charge in Germany.

Where can I find out more?

You can read all about Von Mossau here. Or think of her when you visit the Bavarian wilderness, or if you find yourself in Naples; she was said to favor Neapolitan methods of poisoning.

5. Die Gänsemagd (The Goose Girl)

What’s the story?

A queen sends her daughter and her daughter’s maid to a faraway kingdom so the daughter can marry a prince. En route, the maid forces the princess to switch places with her, and rides off on the princess’ precious talking horse, Falada. When they arrive at the castle, the false princess orders Falada killed, and the real princess is forced to work as a goose girl.

She begs the butcher who killed Falada to hang his skull over the city gates so she can still talk to him, and she puts a curse on a boy who taunts her while she’s herding geese. The king hears of this strange girl, and he asks her for her story. When he finds out the truth, he dresses the goose girl in royal garb, and punishes the false princess by rolling her around the city in a spiked barrel until she dies.

What’s the backstory?

The Goose Girl comes from—you guessed it—the Grimm Brothers’ folktale collections. Although it has a happy ending for the protagonist, it has a typically gruesome end for its antagonist (the false princess). The story, in various forms, has been adapted for film and television numerous times over the past century.

Where can I find out more?

Read all about the Goose Girl in German here.

 

As you can see, Germans don’t even need Halloween—they have enough creepy stories to last them the whole year.

So even if you live in a temperate climate, close your shutters tight, pretend that winter’s coming, imagine you’re huddled in a cottage high in the Bavarian Alps or a castle deep in the Black Forest, and sink into the creepiness of Germanic folktales and ghost stories this Halloween season.
 


 

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I probably don’t have to convince you that learning German through scary stories, or any other content that exists purely for entertainment value, is a lot more fun than staring at the pages of a textbook.

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