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Neo-Nazis Driving a Stake Through Dracula's Business

October 31, 2000|From Reuters

SCHENKENDORF, Germany — Count Dracula, an affable antiques dealer living in a castle near Berlin, is being driven out of Germany--not with garlic, crucifixes or sunshine, but by neo-Nazi arsonists and intransigent local bureaucrats.

The 60-year-old Berlin native, an adopted descendant of the Romanian royal family, has turned his famous name into a thriving restaurant, beer garden and antiques business in a rural hamlet south of Berlin.

A philanthropist at heart, Dracula also hosts a popular "blood donor" festival on his estate for the Red Cross each June, rising from a coffin to open a party that draws thousands of donors. "You can do a lot with a name like this," he said.

Yet Ottomar Rodolphe Vlad Dracula Prince Kretzulesco, heir of the 15th century Transylvanian prince whose rule inspired Irish novelist Bram Stoker's 19th century "Dracula," says he no longer feels welcome in eastern Germany and wants to move to England, Ireland or perhaps the United States.

"I want to get out of here," said Dracula, who was formally adopted by heirless family descendant Katarina Olympia Princess Kretzulesco Caradja in 1990, four years before her death.

"I don't want to live here anymore. I'm afraid. I want to live in peace. I can't sleep nights without worrying the place may be burned down," he told Reuters.

Death threats, 10 arson attacks and countless neo-Nazi incidents, including swastikas painted on his property, have soured the west Berlin native.

In a region with an unemployment rate of 20%, many idle youths in this sleepy village 40 miles southeast of Berlin have turned to neo-Nazi gangs that have terrorized foreigners in the decade since German reunification.

Dracula suspects the fact that the castle and the 32-acre estate once belonged to a wealthy Jewish family may be the cause of his troubles.

Neo-Nazis and Bureaucrats

"There was a bunch of about 35 in the beer garden singing Nazi songs and carrying Nazi flags," said Dracula, who was born in west Berlin as Ottomar Berbig and trained as a baker.

"They were making anti-Semitic remarks like 'Jews get out' and 'Jew swine.' I went over and told them to leave. They said, 'Get lost Dracula, we're going to suck the blood out of you.' It scared me afterward to think that there were 35 of them and I was all alone. But they left."

The encounters with the far right have been bad enough, but he said that in itself would not make him want to leave the estate he bought five years ago. Right-wing extremists are a plague affecting most of formerly Communist East Germany, where there was no wholesale attempt to expunge the country's Nazi past as there was in West Germany.

For Dracula, the final straw was the local bureaucrats who have made his life miserable and defied his efforts to capitalize on his moniker by turning his 46-room "Dracula Castle," which he also hires out for parties and medieval jousting festivals, into a bona fide tourist attraction.

They have fined him for violating noise rules by holding country music concerts at his beer garden and have sent police to write hundreds of parking tickets when he has organized big events on his spacious estate. Local authorities forced him to cancel a vampire festival last summer.

"The whole village could live well off the Dracula name if everyone would pull in the same direction," he said, adding that several of his fleet of antique vehicles have been scratched by envious locals.

"We could create 150 jobs if they let me expand the way I wanted to. But instead the bureaucrats do everything they can to thwart me. They only know three sentences: 'No, it won't work,' 'No, we can't do that,' 'No, that's not allowed.' "

His Heart's Set on Britain or the United States

He said he has had four offers from local investors in the southern state of Bavaria to open a Dracula castle. Authorities in Bavaria seem to understand what a tourist magnet the Dracula business could be, he said.

But he has his heart set on Britain or the United States.

"I'm looking for offers," he said. "I'm not looking to make a fortune. I think with a name like this one can do a lot of good. I don't earn a cent off the blood donor parties, but look at all the good that does. I have the feeling England and America would be more open to my ideas. If I had an operation like this there, I'm sure it would be full every day."

Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" is probably the most famous vampire story of all time. Its main character is based on wicked nobleman Count Dracula, whose corpse returns to life at night, attacks innocent people and sucks their blood.

It was loosely based on Prince Vlad of Transylvania, also known as Vlad the Impaler or the Dragon (Dracula in Romanian) who drove Turkish armies from the country in the 15th century.

With his elegant tail coat, long curly black hair and full mustache, Germany's Count Dracula gives the instant impression that he is something extraordinary.

The menu at his restaurant includes "Dracula sausages" filled with garlic and blood-red schnapps.

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