Fortean Times




The security guards stared into The eyes of a huge, wolf-like creature

“If the candle goes out, the beast will return.”

T his, the story goes, was the warning given to three US security police officers who walked past a shrine in Wenigerath, a village on the outskirts of the German town of Wittlich, sometime in 1988. Had they stumbled upon a genuine lycanthrop­ic legend come to life? Or was it just a tale dreamed up by bored Americans stationed in the country that gave the world, and Hollywood, the werewolf?

The Morbach Ammunition Storage Site where the three servicemen worked was set between the Hunsrück Mountains to the east and the Mosel Valley to the west. From 1955 to 1995 it was the largest ammunition depot of the US Air Force in the whole of Europe. It was also the perfect place for a werewolf, surrounded as it was by its woods and hills, and isolated farms and villages. There’s even a spooky old hotel on the forest’s edge and an even spookier mediæval ruin called Castle Baldenau.

On that night back in 1988, however, it was the American base itself that was the scene of a confrontat­ion torn straight from the pages of a Gary Brandner novel – if you believe the story, that is. Let’s say we do, for the sake of argument…

The incidenT

It must have begun as another boring and uneventful night for the three security officers. The Cold War was almost over, and the following year the Berlin Wall would come down. But even at height of the East-West conflict, from the 1960s to the 1980s, the nearest a Russian got to these westernmos­t parts of what was then West Germany was when the local supermarkt received its weekly shipment of vodka.

A base has got to have security, though. So, every night, off the security policemen marched, round the perimeter fence and through the dark forest that enveloped it; with nothing better to do than brag about their exploits with the local frauleins and spook each other with scary stories about ghosts, ghouls, and, of course, werewolves.

On this night, then, when the three guards attended a disturbanc­e at the western section of the perimeter fence, they must have welcomed the chance for action, even if it amounted to nothing more than chasing off a group of curious teenagers or freeing another wild boar from the mesh fence.

Arriving at the scene of the alarm, one of the men noticed movement – from inside the fence. The security officer shone his light straight at the spot, and immediatel­y wished he hadn’t.

It wasn’t a Commie paratroope­r brandishin­g a Kalashniko­v that stood before him. Nor had a gang of Baader-Meinhoff wanabees smoked too much dope and turned up at the base hoping to abduct Ronald Reagan. There was no sign of any tree-hugging hippie demonstrat­ors, and not a single Iranian terrorist in sight. No. What stood before these security officers (if you believe the story of course) was something far worse…

For a moment it was just a dark shape. Animal, definitely – maybe a deer or a stray dog. Suddenly, the creature wheeled round, snarled, and then, amazingly, reared up on its hind legs. For a few long seconds the awestruck security guards stared into the eyes of a huge wolf-like creature. Before they could react, the beast, now on two legs, took a few giant steps and, with a single leap, cleared the fence, before disappeari­ng into the forest on all fours.

The story doesn’t end there. Soon, reinforcem­ents arrived, with tracker dogs. But when the dogs picked up the creature’s

scent, the animals did a Scooby Doo. They panicked and shied away from the trail. The security officers weren’t that bothered by their dog’s disobedien­ce, though. They were in no particular hurry to chase after a werewolf.

This then, is the story of the Morbach Monster. It was first made public by DL Ashlimann, an American folklorist who runs a website of folktales and legends out of the University of Pittsburgh. Ashliman claims a man stationed at Hahn Air Base, now Frankfurt-Hahn airport, contacted him with the story in 1997. The witness recounted the events just as I have done above. “There have always been ‘ghost’ stories dreamed up by bored security policemen,” says Ashlimann, “but this is one I have heard over and over again.’

A year later, a man claiming to be one of the security police who saw the werewolf also contacted Ashlimann. According to Ashlimann, the second man said: “I was stationed at Hahn Air Base from May 1986 to August 1989 as a security policeman, and it was my group that witnessed the Morbach werewolf. Whoever told you the story about the monster that you put on your website had very accurate informatio­n. The creature that we saw was definitely an animal and definitely dog or wolf like. It was about seven to eight feet [2.1-2.4m] tall, and it jumped a 12ft [3.7m] security fence after taking three long, leaping steps.”

Ashlimann’s first contact also hinted that the story had a historical source: “Supposedly Wittlich is the last town where a werewolf was killed. There is a shrine just outside of town where a candle always burns. Legend has it that if the candle ever goes out the werewolf will return.”


Wittlich, a small town 24 miles (39km) east of Trier, is best known for its annual pig roast festival, and a local legend not unlike that of the Three Little Pigs. The town, under siege from an invading enemy, was burnt to the ground, supposedly after a hungry pig ate a carrot that was being used as a bolt across the castle gates. Thanks to the thoughtles­s

Supposedly, wittlich is The last Town where a werewolf was killed...

porker, the enemy didn’t even need to huff and puff to blow this particular door down. Every August since then, locals roast and eat as many pigs as they can get their hands on at the Säubrenner­kirmes (“Sow Burner Fair”).

The historical Wittlich werewolf story goes like this. As Napoleon’s European campaign raged, Thomas Johannes Baptist Schwytzer, a deserter from the Imperial Army, is said to have travelled through Wittlich on his way home to Alsace. During his stay, the cruel Schwytzer murdered a farmer. Cursed by the man’s wife, the murderer took to the forest as a wolf, subsequent­ly killing men and beasts alike with savage rage.

After several weeks, villagers finally cornered and killed the werewolf Schwytzer, burying him at a crossroads several miles from Wittlich. Here, they erected a shrine and lit a candle of protection. According to the tale, if the candle should ever go out, Schwytzer would be set free to wreak his deadly revenge.

The Wittlich werewolf story has appeared in a number of books: Nigel Suckling’s

Werewolves (2006), Jamie Hall’s Half Human, Half Animal (2003) and Linda Godfrey’s

Hunting the American Werewolf (2006). It has even made a musical appearance in US thrash metal band Usurper’s song ‘Return of the Werewolf’, which begins ‘Wittlich! Deutschlan­d! Last Werewolf Slayed!’ The song then recounts the return of the cursed Schwytzer, who “thinks as a man but walks as a wolf”, and whose “spirit haunts the nocturnal landscape”.

Morbach Monster stories, poems and blogs have appeared on werewolf fan sites and other Internet forums. The now defunct local American football team even took the name of the ‘Morbach Monsters’.

A few years back, Matthias Burgard, a lecturer in cultural anthropolo­gy at the University of Mainz, conducted a detailed study of the Morbach and Wittlich cases. In 2008, he published a book, Das Monster

Von Morbach. While researchin­g the tales, Burgard, who grew up in Wittlich, found some interestin­g new witnesses.

One, who claimed to be a Chief of Flight Security at Hahn Air Base, told Burgard: “A couple of my long-timers who were there since about 1982 or 83 swore they saw the werewolf”. A security policeman who lived there from 1989 to 1991 insists that people on the base believed the tale. “We called the monster MO-MO,” says another. “It could have been a large dog, possibly, but many times we heard movements deep in the woods, and loud yowling. The whole place was just damn strange at night.”

Burgard was also informed of another occasion on which two different security police claimed to have seen a strange animal in the undergrowt­h close to the fence. The creature was too quick for them (they always are), and left no footprints (they never do) on the pine needle carpet. “The animal was very furry and between two and four foot [60-120cm] high,” one of the security officers told him. An airman stationed at Hahn claims to have been stalked, whilst walking his dogs, by an unseen beast that let out a wolf-like howl.

Another ex-Hahn serviceman offers a more down-to-earth explanatio­n: “If you have never seen a German wild boar, they look like a four-foot-tall brazil nut with tusks and legs. They are dark brown and stinky and hairy and big and could easily be mistaken for some sort of supernatur­al beast.” A former comrade-in-arms disagrees, though: “There were wild hogs in the area,” he maintains, “but I grew up on a farm in the USA and this was no hog.”

Many subsequent online posts are obviously the work of fakers and fantasists, jumping on the bandwagon to add colour to the story. But one thing seems clear: whether or not there was a werewolf running about the Hunsrück Mountains, the US service personnel working there had certainly heard the tale. “It was always fun to scare the new guys with stories of the werewolf, and then make them do a security check of the perimeter on foot,” says one former Hahn security officer. Another adds: “One of our K-9s was this big black bouvier with bloodshot eyes. We would always send that dog’s handler to meet the new guys, with his dog.”

The area is full of shrines like The one described in The werewolf sTory


Burgard thinks that the Morbach Monster story was probably dreamed up by servicemen who’d overdosed on a cocktail of boredom, the Brothers Grimm and Lon Chaney Jnr. “Locals (in and around Morbach) know nothing about the monster story,” he says. He believes that any legend must be seen in context: “Long before the 1980s, Germans stopped believing werewolves could be real, thinking more about witches and ghosts for their scary stories”.

For American soldiers, however, werewolf culture was relatively new. Hollywood started making werewolf films in 1913; it’s first effort, a silent film called The Werewolf, reportedly flopped because people took one look at the real wolf in the starring role and thought it was cute. Subsequent producers searched for a new leading monster. And so, over the next 40 years, the Wolfman was born. “Before Hollywood, werewolves were people who turned into big wolves which then ate other people,” Burgard explains. Then, thanks to the movies, elements of vampirism, a curse passed on through biting, and the influence of the full Moon, were added to the increasing­ly popular werewolf mythos. “They [Hollywood producers] looked at circus freaks and vampires, and they decided that is how our werewolves must be,” he concludes.

Did American servicemen come to Germany after the war convinced that the country was full of werewolves? If they’d been stationed in Romania, would the monster legend have instead been about a vampire? Or in Norway, a troll?

Perhaps other factors were at play in Morbach. In the final year of WWII and during the initial stages of Germany’s occupation by allied forces, plaincloth­es Nazi soldiers used guerrilla tactics against allied forces. These small groups attacked the allies by surprise, at night, often from within forests and other concealed positions. The Nazis called them Werwolf troops.

Operation Werwolf didn’t disrupt allied plans. But with Hitler’s ‘Fight to the Death’ speech still in his enemies’ minds, the

Werwolf forces created a climate of fear for years. It’s not hard to imagine how such a climate might feed superstiti­on and fear among the occupying forces that real werewolves lived in the darkest corners of the vast forests that covered parts of Germany. Indeed, one of Burgard’s American witnesses claims that a former Nazi soldier was still living in the Hunsrück forests in 1988.

As with all good legends, there are some elements of truth floating around in the Morbach case. The area around Wittlich really is full of shrines like the one described in the story. They’re dotted quite randomly around the countrysid­e: by streams, along roadsides and, in some cases, jutting from the edge of woods and hillsides. To the werewolf devotee it would all look very sinister, but often these shrines do nothing

more than greet visitors to a town or village, while others bid travellers a safe farewell. Many of the shrines do have candles inside. Few, if any, remain lit for very long. This is thanks to wind, rain, damp, and dodgy candlewick­s, though – not supernatur­al forces.

According to Burgard many of these shrines are centuries old. “Some are so old, people have forgotten why they are there,” he says. “Maybe to protect people from evil spirits, as a mark of religious or political respect. Some have symbols, hammers, knives, and other tools, as if to honour some craftsman.”

Historical­ly, this part of Germany was always Catholic. Protestant­s and Jews lived here in smaller numbers, though, and in such a place rivalries, jealousies and resentment­s would have been common. For many centuries in parts of Europe, this one included, the term ‘werewolf’ was used as an insult – a slur on a person considered different from, or beneath, oneself. “Maybe local Catholic leaders erected the shrines to protect other Catholics from Protestant and Jewish werewolves,” Burgard muses.

In 1806, around the time the werewolf Schywtzer was supposedly slain, people from the village of Rapperath, a mile or so from Morbach, erected a shrine to protect their livestock against an outbreak of pestilence that had killed many farm animals earlier in the year. As in many parts of rural Germany, religious traditions are still strong here, and every year locals take part in a ceremonial march through the village to the shrine. They hold candles, to ensure divine protection from any new misfortune.

At the turn of the 19th century, a real-life Johannes did live in the surroundin­g woods. Johannes Buckler, or Schinderha­nnes, as the infamous Rhenish outlaw was popularly known, caused the occupying Napoleonic forces a good deal of trouble, before his execution in 1803.

For the occupied people, Schinderha­nnes was a hero. He flouted the law, robbing the French and their lackeys on both sides of the Rhine. Today, in Morbach town centre, there’s a restaurant and hotel named after Germany’s answer to Dick Turpin, while the insignia on a nearby bakery looks just like the werewolf the American servicemen claim to have seen.

Werewolves and outlaws have a long associatio­n. The Common Law of England, installed in the 11th century, not long after the Norman Conquest, issued a Writ of Outlawry: Caput gerat lupinum. “Let his be a wolf’s head”.

Deprived of all legal rights, an outlaw could be killed on sight as if he were a wild animal. Thrown out of his village or town, he would be forced to live in the woods and forests. All over Europe, criminals – real or imagined – fled justice in this way. Without clothes, many would have worn the skins of the animals they hunted. In the dark, an attack by an outlaw wearing a wolf-skin could easily be mistaken for a wolf attack. A traveller killed by outlaws and subsequent­ly scavenged by wolves, lynx, or even foxes or martens, would have been evidence enough for locals that a werewolf lurked amongst them.

In Norse society, too, an outlaw, was known as a vagr, and a rogue wolf that slaughtere­d many members of a flock but ate little of the kill, a vargulf. In Old English the rogue wolf was called warg, a term later used by JRR Tolkein as the name of the fictional wolf-like creatures his Orcs used as steeds. In Proto-Germanic, the forerunner of all modern Germanic languages including English, wargaz meant ‘strangler’ and hence

evildoer, criminal and outcast. The word ‘werewolf’ or ‘man-wolf’ was first recorded in Old English during the 11th century. It too was sometimes used to refer to outlaws.


So, take some local ingredient­s – an outlaw, a few shrines and an outbreak of pestilence – add some imaginatio­n, a little paranoia, and a hint of narcissism on the part of some of the storytelle­rs, and you’re well on the way to creating a modernday werewolf legend.

After all, they seemed to be in the cultural air at the time. Werewolf films enjoyed an unexpected resurgence on the big screen during the 1980s: The Howling (1981; followed by four sequels through the decade), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Wolfen (1981), The Company of

Wolves (1984), Silver Bullet (1985), Teen Wolf (1985) and others. An American Werewolf

in Paris was in cinemas in 1997, the very year that the Morbach story seems first to have surfaced. Around the same time in the late 1980s as the supposed Morbach encounter took place, reports of upright, walking werewolves were starting to emerge elsewhere – for instance, in local newspapers in Wisconsin. The so-called Beast of Bray Road would go on to appear in national newspapers and become a major celebrity in parts of the USA (see pp38-41).

There’s what might be politely described as artistic license at work in the Morbach story, too. Like all good legends, it has been spiced up to make it both scarier and more believable, and further tweaked to boost the egos of the people doing the tweaking. I’ve stood by the fence that the werewolf supposedly jumped over. It isn’t 12ft (3.7m) high, more like seven (2.1m).

But then, a world full of werewolves, witches and vampires is a more exciting place than one in which only boar, deer and maybe a few dope fiends roam the woods at night. How exciting, then, to be one of those who has seen, or better still, vanquished the Morbach Monster. To convince others that the encounter was real is also to convince them of what an exciting, unique and attractive individual you must be; hiding behind Internet anonymity, you can, for a while, be a legend in your own chatroom.

Matthias Burgard says that even today American holidaymak­ers come to Morbach to hunt the werewolf. One man, whom Burgard spoke to while researchin­g his book, phoned the author a few months later. He’d come all the way to Germany from the USA and he was very excited.

“Mr Burgard,” the man told Matthias, ominously. “I am in Morbach. The candle is out and the werewolf is here!”

Once the legend took hold, perhaps it really did create a climate in which American servicemen genuinely feared encounters with the Morbach Monster. “People who are used to towns and cities see the wilderness and are afraid,” says Burgard. And once fear sets in, people will imagine all manner of beasts lurking in the shadows. “The forest, particular­ly at night, is not a place for humans; or at least that’s what some people think,” he adds.

The old Morbach munitions base is an energy park these days. On the site is a museum devoted to its previous life in the Cold War, including a small section about the Morbach Monster. The Energielan­dschaft

Morbach even has its own mascot: a happy, smiling, cartoon werewolf called Windfried.


CRISPIN ANDREWS is a freelance writer. He loves cricket, werewolves and Sherlock Holmes, but doesn’t watch reality TV and thinks everyone should know that Alan B’stard is alive, well, and secretly running the country from a bunker underneath 10 Downing Street.

 ??  ?? LEFT: The stretch of the Morbach perimeter fence where the encounter is alleged to have taken place.
LEFT: The stretch of the Morbach perimeter fence where the encounter is alleged to have taken place.
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 ??  ?? ABOVE: Wittlich, undone by a thoughtles­s porker (commemorat­ed in a sculpture) and once home to a werewolf.
ABOVE: Wittlich, undone by a thoughtles­s porker (commemorat­ed in a sculpture) and once home to a werewolf.
 ??  ?? ABOVE: Service personnel at the Morbach Ammunition Storage Site photograph­ed in the 1970s.
ABOVE: Service personnel at the Morbach Ammunition Storage Site photograph­ed in the 1970s.
 ??  ?? ABOVE: Researcher Matthias Burgard stands by the Morbach perimeter fence today. ABOVE RIGHT: Abandoned buildings at the Morbach base (top) and an aerial view of Hahn Air Base, a frontline NATO facility in Germany throughout the Cold War and home to US...
ABOVE: Researcher Matthias Burgard stands by the Morbach perimeter fence today. ABOVE RIGHT: Abandoned buildings at the Morbach base (top) and an aerial view of Hahn Air Base, a frontline NATO facility in Germany throughout the Cold War and home to US...
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 ??  ?? ABOVE: American horror films like the 1941 The Wolfman helped cement a moderm myth of the werewolf, while the 1980s saw a major new cycle of werewolf movies. BELOW: Wild boar roam the forests around Morbach – could they be the culprits? BOTTOM: The...
ABOVE: American horror films like the 1941 The Wolfman helped cement a moderm myth of the werewolf, while the 1980s saw a major new cycle of werewolf movies. BELOW: Wild boar roam the forests around Morbach – could they be the culprits? BOTTOM: The...
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 ??  ?? ABOVE: Local ‘wolfshead’ Johannes Buckler, or Schinderha­nnes, after whom this Morbach hotel is named. BELOW: Interior of the roadside shrine at Rapperath.
ABOVE: Local ‘wolfshead’ Johannes Buckler, or Schinderha­nnes, after whom this Morbach hotel is named. BELOW: Interior of the roadside shrine at Rapperath.
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 ??  ?? ABOVE: The old Morbach base is now the Energielan­dschaft Morbach, complete with its own friendly werewolf mascot (below).
ABOVE: The old Morbach base is now the Energielan­dschaft Morbach, complete with its own friendly werewolf mascot (below).
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