Video & Interview: SIMA EBRAHIMI
Text: HANNO HAUENSTEIN
“You know the state when you feel like wrapped up in cotton? When everything around you sounds dull, like you are trapped in a bell. And a second later you’re in the midst of a giant rock concert, you hear more intensive, feel more intensive, and then suddenly you don’t hear anything. 1000 things happen at the same time.” - the way Lilith Bernstein, a 37-year-old Berlin vampire, describes what happens when she drinks blood mirrors the whole canon of drugs and their usage, stories of escapism, excess. The promise of blood-sipping is clear: purification, perfection, renewal, relief, and freedom, at least its dusky replica. A red ribbon connects it with the promise of love, art and religion.
In fact, listening to Lilith reminsce her last shot of crimson liquid is a little like listening to an addict that embraces addiction, someone that incorporated it as a natural state of things. What is addiction? A second skin, a spongy texture, quickly absorbing, quickly drying up. Inside that sponge all the sense of insecurity and fear works as tunnels, as tiny ways that divert the substance towards a hole and thereby nullify the system. Addicted people forget what their substance has made them feel. They simply need more, to bypass its absence and make bad thoughts disappear.
Underneath the surface, Lilith isn’t really addicted like others are to cigarettes. When she speaks about it, she seems fascinated, like someone who awakened from a swoon and can’t get enough of the world. Also she tells about sponges, but means people she drinks from. People that can be friends, but have to submit to a specific policy. Lilith is a Safe Sucker, she doesn’t drink from anyone under 18, who is drunk, high or self-injuring. “All of them have to get tested regularly, at least every three months. If my donor wants to donate to someone else, he has to consult with me. Just like I have to ask them before I drink from someone else.” All this corresponds with some of John Brownings research on vampires. The author met with real-life-vampires all over New Orleans, many of which claim to suffer from a strange medical condition: fatigue, headaches, stomach pains. To them, feeding on another human’s blood is actual treatment.
Lilith sees her craving for blood as the essential force that differentiates people like her from, well, human beings. “You humans don’t have to care about where your next blood comes from”, she says. Apart from that vampires weren’t so different. “We even die at some point”, she says with a smile, “just that we cut a better figure doing so”. Clearly, Lilith is the most Berlinerish vampire one can think of: A gloomy lady that takes the S-Bahn and strolls over Alexanderplatz in daytime, and she carries herself with grace. Alias Vivian Vermont she is a drag-performer in some dark night corners, and, unsurprisingly, she also advocates her very own political agenda: “Berlin Vampires should have an account in the blood bank. The blood there is controlled, healthy. That would really make my life easier.”
And what about Lilith Bernsteins (born Büschof) Alter Ego? The Hebrew Lilith names a female demon in Jewish mythology and translates to “night creature”. Bernstein is a Jewish name meaning “amber”. Why would a contemporary German vampire with Greek roots have a Hebrew first- and a Jewish surname? The answer might lie in the cultural history of the vamp – as well as its Jewish undertones. Clearly, vampires weren’t just Bram Stokers invention. As “others” of society they’ve been part of human imagination for hundreds of years. It was in the 18th century that a literal vampire hysteria arose allover Europe, with stakings reported even in Germany. In an article on the blood-thrill Joan Acocella suggested Dracula wasn’t just a spooky count, but a symbol for Jewish immigration in the late Victorian era. At the end of the century, when Eastern European Jews fled to Western Europe, they were said to dilute supposedly pure (English) blood. Dracula himself was an Eastern émigré. As a matter of fact, Stokers book contains many pejorative remarks about Jews; and obviously, Dracula’s figure also epitomizes the anti-Semitic sentiments of the time: nose, money, physique, the whole, old story.
Aside anti-Semitism, some Jewish thinkers in the 20th century, like Rosenzweig in his 1921 book The Star of Redemption, have argued for Judaism to be a “community of blood” as opposed to a community of spirit. Knowingly others, like Hannah Arendt, strongly opposed that theory. However, with regard to blood, Christianity actually seems to stick out more. In his book Blood – A Critique of Christianity Gil Anidjar explains how Western Christianity attached its very version of love to a fetish for blood. This reaches from transubstantiation cults - wine as Christ’s blood and so on – to Renaissance art, like the image of Catherine of Sienna, which became blueprint of the mesmerized woman sucking Dracula’s wound. For Anidjar even the Angel of History, the Benjaminian creature that irresistibly propelled into a future to which his back is turned, can be seen as some sort of insatiable vampire bat.
Speaking of future: “You cannot define the future”, says Lilith. “Vampires are loners, but sometimes they band together, these communities are called ‘havens’” - groups in which people suck from and care for each other. “I still only have non-human friends”, she says. “Drinking your blood allows me to taste which creature lives in your soul, what is the age of your soul, and one or two other things. Honestly, if humans are scared of me, that might not be completely unjustified.” Whatever vampires are or might be – blood-sucking monsters, misunderstood nerds, mirrors of modernity, spooky junkies, glittering queens or just a type of people that share a medical pattern – they are among us, full of love, out for blood.
A project by Sima Ebrahimi: simaebrahimi.com