The Strange Case of Wolfgang Herz
Isn’t it strange when a certain event or person from your past suddenly pops, uninvited, into your head? Now, the perfectly rational among us – and I like to think I am that kind of person – would say it’s not strange at all and that we just pick up on certain ‘triggers’ like a half-heard piece of music, a whiff of perfume, a glimpse of someone in the street who looks like someone we used to know. Of course, even if there is a perfectly reasonable explanation, you still can’t deny that little frisson that it gives you. Today, for whatever reason, I thought of a friend I haven’t seen for years and I dug out this article which I put together for Lone Head Records getting on for ten years ago now. Mark, this is for you.
As well as making music I like to investigate unexplained phenomena here in Scotland. Now, even though I’m a sceptic, a particular project I started work on a year ago still haunts me to this day, so much so that I feel I must perform a kind of exorcism and transcribe the story as I know it – and get it out of my head once and for all. I was first drawn to it as it involved the music industry, in particular German electronica and the legendary Wolfgang Herz. It seems that I wasn’t the only one fascinated with Herr Herz as the journalist Mark Waterman decided about three years ago to look into the whole, mysterious story. Unfortunately, due to reasons which will become apparent later on, Mark never got to present a finished article. Therefore I am very grateful to Mark’s family for giving me access to his notes and I hope that I may do his work justice by presenting his findings to a wider audience. Please note that I will refer to Mark throughout in the third person as in his writing he tends to fluctuate between first and third, this confusion of identity seems to accompany his own mental decline.
Here is Mark’s story –
Mark wasn’t particularly keen to undertake his latest assignment, travelling to Munich to interview Wolfgang Herz. He was looking forward to visiting Munich again, that was true. He had been very into Germany in the early eighties and had gone there many times. Mark had been a freelance music journalist then. He still was really, only there wasn’t so much work around these days, well nothing much that interested him anyway. His main job now was as a copywriter with a large advertising firm. He liked to keep his hand in though, by writing reviews for the some of the music press, usually Mojo, Total Synth or Q. His name still meant something in these quarters. The offer for this particular project came from one of the Sunday broadsheets. It was for one of their colour supplements and was to be a retrospective on music from the eighties, a kind of ‘where-are-they-now?’ Done to death, that kind of theme, thought Mark, but the project did intrigue him. Especially as Herz had specifically asked for Mark to do the article.
Wolfgang Herz had been very big in the eighties, his mother was English, his father German – hence the name. That gave him a head start in credibility over the others in the music scene at the time who wanted to effect Teutonic seriousness as they played their electro-pop tunes. But Herz didn’t consider his Germanic heritage to be exotic enough and therefore created a new image for himself. Perhaps new is the wrong word for the image he chose was a very old one indeed, one born in ancient folklore, that of a vampire. Herz was very subtle about the whole thing. He didn’t go into much detail, why and how a member of the Transylvanian undead should come to be living in Basingstoke in the early eighties. But the image fitted in well with that time. Mark remembered meeting him on a few occasions and feeling genuinely unsettled by his presence. Herz certainly looked the part: long jet black hair with clothes to match, parchment-like pallor with visible blue veins, long yellowing nails which were starting to curl under. Mark felt that anyone who was that convinced of his own image was quite scary anyway but what really freaked him out was the knowledge that there were real ‘living’ vampires out there. Ordinary people who would drink human blood and never be seen during daylight hours. They were just as frightening as real vampires. Mark laughed to himself – ‘Real vampires? All this hype is getting to me, I’ll be believing in the tooth fairy next.’ Then it struck him that’s how he should conduct the interview – humouring Herz. Belief in all sorts of weird things is in now, he thought, and an out-of-date muso journo scoring points off a deluded out-of-date pop star is not what people want anyway.
The day of Mark’s interview with Wolfgang Herz approached. The flight from Stansted airport was a short and pleasant one. It was winter and a light fall of snow covered Munich. Mark looked out of the window on the plane’s descent and thought how idyllic and Christmassy the scene looked. The Kristelmarkts would be on and Mark planned to buy presents for his young family. How different from the old days when he would automatically seek out the newest bars and clubs. On this particular visit there was only one club he had to find – der Vampir. This was the meeting place specified by Wolfgang Herz’s record company. Planned down to the last detail, thought Mark.
Mark hurried towards the airport exit, feeling superior that he didn’t need to wait at the baggage carousel, he only needed an overnight bag for that was how long he was staying. Before he would have been disappointed at staying for such a short time but now he kept thinking about his family, his wife and his two young daughters – he missed them terribly. He stepped out into the crisp Munich winter, hailed a taxi and got in. Mark asked in faltering German – “Konnen Sie mich zum der Vampir… ?” The mood of the previously smiling driver changed in an instant, he didn’t answer, he didn’t drive off, but just sat in silence. Mark decided that the best course of action was to grab his bag and exit.
Mark hailed another taxi and shrewdly asked for Bier Teufel instead. Der Vampir, he had been informed by the record company, was situated in the basement of this better known club. Der Vampir was a little known word-of-mouth-type place, still known enough to have been recognised by the first taxi driver though, thought Mark. He could have kicked himself that he had been so obvious.
Mark soon spotted the little red neon devil above Bier Teufel. He ignored the main entrance and slipped down a steep set of stairs at the side of the building which was concealed in the shadows. A young goth girl with a carelessly painted crimson mouth sat behind a wooden table at the bottom of the stairs. “Hello, you must be Mark,” she said in perfect English. “Go right through, please.”
Mark pushed through a heavy brocade curtain. He was met by an acrid smell of dust, sweat and incense which jagged at his nostrils. A band of Marilyn Manson clones were crammed onto the tiny stages, incongruously they were playing a very slow crooner-type number about how good it was to be young, German and in love. Mark glanced over to the corner, a familiar face seemed to glow with a silvery light.
“Hello Mark, it’s good to see you again,” said Wolfgang Herz. Mark was taken aback, he hadn’t expected to be recognised by Herz.
“Hello Wolfgang, you haven’t changed a bit,” said Mark truthfully.
Herz smiled and nodded, “Please sit down, we’ve a lot to talk about. What do you want to know?”
“Let’s get some of the old myths out of the way first. Going out during the day, how did you manage that one?”
“If you remember correctly, my young Mark, I was never actually seen during the daylight hours, not a difficult task for people in our business, that is true. But of course when that was necessary I had a willing band of devotees who would impersonate me for the cameras. As you can see my look is even more in vogue these days, so finding suitable people is not a problem,” Herz laughed and nodded towards the band on stage. “In fact when people are so schooled in deception, it’s difficult to know who you are dealing with. That must be especially tricky when you’re in your line of work.”
“Oh I’m usually a pretty good judge of character,” said Mark. He looked at Herz and was struck by an overwhelming feeling that he had known him all his life. Longer than that even.
“So,” Mark continued. “You’ve seen Goth Rock having a bit of a revival and you’d like to have some media attention again. But you turned your back on the media at the time. That’s true, isn’t it?”
“That is true, the media had served me well. And when it suited me I retired from the limelight. Now I have things to say and I want access to an audience.”
“Very well, but before we get to that, can we start with your origins? You were born in Basingstoke to an English mother and a German father. Hence the name and your connection with Germany. However according to press releases you were born – date unknown – in a little Transylvanian town in mysterious circumstances. You were adopted by a German family on holiday there. Your adoptive mother died and your adoptive father subsequently married an English woman and settled in England.”
“You can take from that what you like. We all have different ways of viewing the truth. We all have different belief systems.”
“However your image became a little muddled when, forgive me for saying this, your career died in the late eighties. You began to advocate green causes, vegetarianism even. I mean, a vegetarian vampire? You were even parodied in a children’s cartoon shown on British TV.”
“To me that isn’t muddled or strange, it all makes perfect sense. Don’t believe the myths you have heard. Yes, I am six hundred years old. Yes, I need blood to survive. I see from your expression you don’t believe me. Firstly the blood thing – my supplies of blood have always come from willing partners. And I have never had a lack of willing partners.”
“So all of your partners became like you?”
“Not necessarily. If they chose to, they could. But not many did or else they were killed for other reasons.”
“Yes. You see where I have chosen to live over the centuries, there has always been an epidemic or an organised pogrom of extermination. Many of my loved ones have perished that way. If they had chosen eternity at the right time – any one of them could have been with me right now.”
“Let me get this right. People you have known, intimately I presume, could have chosen not to die. Is that right?”
“It’s not as simple as that. Going back to belief systems, I didn’t say to the person – at the moment of death or at the point when you know that life isn’t going to get any better – give yourself over to me now. They had to trust me at the start, when times were good. And say then – ‘I trust you. I will give myself over to you. I will die for you with no promise of reward’.”
“But those people – you would basically use them as blood banks?”
“That is a gross over simplification. I loved every single one. Serial monogamy, isn’t that what it’s called these days? What passes between lovers isn’t theft and that includes blood.”
“Isn’t that a bit of a parasitic/host relationship?”
“Aren’t a lot of relationships like that? Anyway it wasn’t always like that. I had a lot to offer – power, riches, glamour, the right connections.”
“And now you promote green issues.”
“Of course the world is a mess and it’s getting worse. Obviously I have always wanted a well ordered, unspoiled world to live in. Selfish reasons, I suppose, as I’m spending more time here than most. But now I fear for everyone who will be here in the future.”
“You mentioned earlier that you have lived in places where there were epidemics or pogroms. Does that include the Nazi era?”
“Indeed, I was right here in Munich when the whole sorry business began.”
“You say ‘sorry’. I would have thought that vampires wouldn’t have been averse to slaughter and killing.”
Wolfgang Herz leaned forward, his eyes glowed in the candlelight; his gnarled nicotine-stained fingernails dug deeply into Mark’s hand. “What the Nazis did, that was hate, pure hatred. Anything I have done has come from love – whatever you may think of my actions. What I was telling you before, about trust, about commitment when times are good… Back in ’33 I knew something terrible was going to happen, I saw them building Dachau. I had many lovers, but none of them would commit.” Herz leaned back in his seat as if he was shrinking. “But then, Mark, you know about people not committing, don’t you? Remember Gina?”
Mark felt his head starting to swim. He hadn’t thought of Gina in years. Guilty conscience perhaps. She had been his childhood sweetheart, she wanted commitment but he didn’t. He had his big journalism career to pursue, so she followed him down to London. Whether it was because he didn’t have time for her or not but she soon went down the route of too many drugs and too much promiscuous sex. When he had last seen her she was a five stone drug-ravaged body lying on a hospital bed.
“Mark, look over there,” whispered Herz.
Mark looked over past the stage and saw Gina sitting there. She looked young and fresh under heavy goth make-up. She looked over and smiled at Herz.
The blood drained from Mark’s face. “But Gina’s dead, I know she is. I don’t how you’re doing it Herz, but you are seriously messing with my mind.”
“My dear Mark,” said Herz, lightly scraping the back of Mark’s hand with a long fingernail. “You should be grateful to me. I brought that young girl back to life after you discarded her.”
“ But you said that a person had to commit to you when the going was good. That couldn’t have been Gina by the time you got to her.”
“I made a special exception in her case. I could still see her beauty lying there on that hospital bed. After they decided that there was no hope and had gone through all the paraphernalia of sending her to her eternal rest. I sought her out and took her for myself.”
Hot tears started to well in Mark’s eyes as he lunged at Herz. Herz quickly grabbed Mark’s wrists to restrain him.
“Calm yourself, my friend. Remember what I was saying about relationships and how they are symbiotic? I may have used Gina, but see what she has become. Young and lovely as when you first knew her.”
Mark tried to stand up but his legs felt like lead. Herz rose to steady him, Mark could feel his cold, rancid breath on his neck…
Mark’s notes end there. Apart from a scribbled postscript that is all I have. After his meeting with Herz Mark’s mental state caused his family more and more concern until finally they came to the decision to commit Mark in order that he could receive the proper psychiatric help. I’m sure you will all join me in wishing that Mark will one day make a full recovery.
It had been some time since Mark’s meeting with Herz and the news of his death – AIDS related – had come as a shock. Why? Did he really expect him to live forever? Perhaps it was just his imagination when he believed he glimpsed Wolfgang Herz weaving through the side streets of Schwabing or drinking in the Turkenhof. Perhaps… or could he feel the blood of another running in his veins, so loud at times it sounded like a voice in his head making him talk… and think.