The city’s only vampire, Dopiječ, unlives in a borrowed grave in Olšany Cemetery
Prague surprisingly has few tales of vampires before modern times. Many films, novels, and computer games mention Prague as a nexus of vampire activity, but the actual legends are a bit scarce. And even though some apparent vampire graves have been found not far from the city, the tales about their occupants are long forgotten, as if people swore to never speak or write about the events that led to the burials.
One legend is a bit sad, and manages to elicit some sympathy for the poor, shy vampire. He resides in Prague’s Olšany Cemetery (Olšanské hřbitovy) and is known as Upír Dopiječ – Krvavé koleno, or the Vampire Drink-It-Upper – Bloody Knee. He was unremarkable in life, not exactly a beggar but not far from it.
His clothing was threadbare and ill-kempt, and he was seldom clean-shaven, but never had a proper beard either. He liked to go to the cheapest pubs but never had enough for his own drinks. Instead, he drank the remnants of beers left behind by others, earning the derisive nickname Dopiječ, or Drink-It-Upper.
Once he took a stranger’s glass of red wine thinking it had been abandoned. He was confronted by the strange traveler who demanded Dopiječ pay for a new drink. Of course, he had no money. A scuffle ensued and Dopiječ died from stab wounds. The stranger even bit his forearm during the struggle.
There was no money for a funeral, and Dopiječ was to be cremated and have his ashes spread on a common meadow for paupers, or alternately put in a common grave. But he wasn’t as dead as all that. In fact, he was undead. He woke up among his fellow paupers rather confused and finally figured out what had happened. He had become a vampire, perhaps infected by the stranger’s bite.
Vampires can’t stray far from their grave dirt for too long, and since he was a homeless vampire, that is without his own grave as such, the whole cemetery counts as his grave. So Dopiječ is stuck forever in and around Prague’s biggest cemetery. His mild manner hasn’t changed though. He is too shy to attack the mourners in the cemetery. Instead, he waits for someone to trip on a misaligned paving stone and cut his or her knee. Dopiječ then pounces from a borrowed mausoleum or from behind a random gravestone and licks up the blood from the wound.
Sometimes he ventures out of the cemetery gates and finds a nice tram accident or a bike rider who took a spill. The farthest he dares to go is the playground at Parukářka, a park across the street, where he waits for a child to fall off a swing. This behavior has earned him his second nickname, Bloody Knee. He could go much farther than a few streets, but he is too afraid to even try for fear he might lose his way and not be back by dawn, even though night trams stop at the cemetery every half hour.
Sadly, this pathetic specimen is the best vampire Prague has to offer until someone finds out the story behind the famous vampire graves from the suburbs. The story of Dopiječ is seldom told, as horror fans consider him a bit of a disgrace to the respected traditions of vampirism.
It is not only occult aficionados who disrespect Dopiječ. After all this time, he has not yet been invited to join the Vampires Union, and Prague still does not even have a local chapter.
Olšany Cemetery was established in 1680, when the area was outside of the city limits. It originally served as a plague burial site. It served the same purpose again in 1787. The cemetery, actually 12 cemeteries together, had the city’s first crematorium. One section is the largest Jewish cemetery in the Czech Republic and has the grave of Franz Kafka.
Other sections have soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars and both World Wars, among other conflicts. Numerous famous Czechs are buried there including Jan Palach, who died protesting the 1968 Soviet invasion, and actors Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich.
Some 230,000 people have been buried there in 65,000 graves.
Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, as well as Hungary, have a rich tradition of vampire legends. Montague Summers devotes a chapter in his 1929 study Vampires in Europe to what he calls Czecho-Slovakia and Hungary. But Prague itself is disappointing. Proper legends take place in the Silesia region and in Olomouc, one of the largest cities in Moravia.
He lists a vampire in Bohemia in the village of Blau near Kodon, which seems to be the modern village of Blov near Kadaň in the Ústí nad Labem region of north Bohemia, and he vaguely cites similar incidents in other unnamed villages. There is also a famous vampire in Trutnov in the Hradec Králové region. He also mentions a woman who gnawed on her own flesh after death in a town called Levin, also in the Ústí nad Labem region.
Summers considers former Yugoslavia part of Hungary, and lists many incidents in Belgrade and other major cities in that area.
In fiction films, vampires make an appearance in Prague in the 1935 MGM film called Mark of the Vampire (aka Vampire Over Prague), from Dracula director Tod Browning, and starring Bela Lugosi. In the 1998 film John Carpenter’s Vampires, the plot claims that the first vampire of the bloodline in the story was named Valek and came from Prague as a result of an exorcism gone wrong.
Prague also served as a film set for vampire movies such as Blade II (2002), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Van Helsing (2004) and Underworld: Blood Wars (2017). Part of the 1922 classic film Nosferatu was shot in Slovakia, with the High Tatras standing in for the Carpathian Mountains and a castle ruin near the town of Varín also being featured prominently.
Vampire graves were discovered in July 1966 in the Prague-East district in the village of Čelákovice, some 25 kilometers from the city. About a dozen graves date from the 11th century. A report from the time said the graves showed the “tell-tale signs” of vampire burials. “Some were weighted down, others had a nail driven through their temple, were tied down or variously debilitated and their heads cut off and faced downward so that they should not find their way back to the world of the living,” a report stated.