Internet fame is a black hole

Today is a special dispatch from Germany!

Hi there! Last night’s Garbage Day meetup in Brooklyn was amazing. Thank you all for attending. It was super cool to match faces with screen names and email addresses. Let me know if Garbage Day should come to your city next!

Today, I have a guest writer taking over the email. Gregor Schmalzried is a journalist from Germany who reached out to me a few months ago asking if he could use Garbage Day to teach Americans about his country’s wildest internet celebrity — Drachenlord, a Chris-Chan-like figure who amassed a rabid and unhinged internet following that has become increasingly scary over the years. I’ve been so excited to publish this so I hope you enjoy it!

The Bizarre Story Of Germany’s Most Infamous Internet Celebrity

Would you like to know what Germany’s strangest celebrity looks like?

His name is Rainer Winkler and he is the main character of what is arguably the most fascinating story of the German-speaking internet, perhaps of all time.

However, for many, his story is probably best told via that of another infamous internet person: Christine Weston Chandler aka Chris-Chan — a vlogger from Virginia who has become known as a trolling target for thousands of users on the internet. Chris-Chan obsessives have created entire Wikis on her life history, mental state, and personal information. Chandler is arguably the best-documented person in the internet age and one of the most extreme examples of how online fame can bring out the worst in not just internet trolls, but also their victims (last year, Chris-Chan was criminally charged after admitting to an incestuous relationship with her own mother).

The Chris-Chan story is quite famous in the English-speaking internet. But far less is known about her German equivalent, “Drachenlord”. Which makes sense: He’s German. But, also, his story is arguably even more nuts. Partly because, unlike Chris-Chan, Drachenlord is not just a niche internet phenomenon anymore. He has morphed into a mainstream news story. Every major German news outlet at this point has covered him multiple times, and during the peak of his infamy in October 2021, Drachenlord was a more popular Google Trends topic than “Marvel” or “Star Wars”.

Rainer Winkler, better known by his online moniker “Drachenlord” (which, yes, translates to “dragon lord”) is a 32-year-old metalhead from Bavaria. His online presence is closely tied to his home town of Altschauerberg, a tiny village of about two dozen people and now an off-beat tourist destination, where he spent most of his life in a decaying single-family home known as “Drachenschanze” — the last decade of it living on his own.

The beginnings of the Drachenlord story are fuzzy. He was somewhat of a niche celebrity years before he became the phenomenon he is today. In the early 2010s, he made a name for himself in the online and local metal scene, carving out his status as a meme-able guy through catchphrases, a wacky demeanor, and occasional angry outbursts.

He then became a popular trolling target on German message boards like Krautchan and Lachschon. But most people recognize one particular video as a cornerstone in his narrative. In 2014, in an unhinged response to a trolling attack, he dared his haters to fight him in person, and visit him at his home address, which he then publicly named. Since then, a continuously-growing number of people have engaged in the “Drachengame,” the collaborative, decentralized, and incredibly complex effort of trolling Drachenlord both online and offline.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Why this guy?” Honestly, that’s what we’re all trying to figure out. On the one hand, Drachenlord is an easy target. He is the spitting image of a stereotypical internet loner: an overweight gamer who is rarely in control of his emotions. He is also notoriously sexist and has made his fair share of inexcusable comments (although so have most of his trolls). And, also, he’s just a bizarre character to watch. For instance, most people would not post a video of themselves having sex with a blowup doll. Drachenlord did. And, most people, after receiving a huge amount of money, would not waste all their new liquidity on a useless Ford pick-up truck and expensive VR gear. Drachenlord did. [Ed. note: Honestly, I might.]

The main thing about Drachenlord though, is this: He really, really wants to be internet-famous. But the only audience he ever managed to attract are people who actively despise him. And since those people are all he’s got, he’s stuck feeding their toxic engagement, which usually manifests in one of three ways.

First, there is the digital-only side of the Drachengame — Telegram groups, Twitter communities and Discord channels with tens of thousands of active users, who document and comment on everything Drachenlord says and does. Drachenlord has been an active vlogger and streamer for almost the entire time that he’s been a viral superstar, creating so much material for his anti-fans that it could fill entire online newspapers and wikis. Which it does. There are several online newspapers and wikis dedicated to him. For many of his anti-fans, Drachenlord has become a pop-cultural obsession. There are experts on Drachenlord lore in the same way that there are on Star Wars lore.

Secondly, there are people who actively engage with Drachenlord on the internet. This is where the trolling gets a lot more messy, as it’s not just mean comments on livestreams. Drachenlord has been the victim of multiple hacking and phishing attempts, as well as the first German case of Swatting. Drachenlord, who until recently did not have a very active social life and has been open about sacrificing real-life relationships in pursuit of online success, is also continuously targeted by women baiting him into revealing personal details about himself under the guise of interest in a relationship. One of these women even managed to bait him into engaging to her live on camera.

Finally, there are the “visits”. These refer to people taking up Drachenlord on his infamous “come at me” video, and driving to his well-known address. Due to the small size of Germany when compared to the US, it’s possible to drive to Altschauerberg and back in a day from almost any major German and Austrian city. And people did. Constantly. They engaged in everything from loitering to property damage to active provocations in the hopes of him “breaking” and physically attacking the trolls in front of his doorstep. Usually, these “visits” were recorded or livestreamed to one of the many online channels covering the Drachengame.

This is also what made the Drachenlord story into a major news phenomenon. The first time when the mainstream media really caught on to it was in 2018, when hundreds of young people descended onto the village at once. This was followed by Drachenlord’s various legal issues, mostly related to physical altercations on or near his property. A handful of Drachenlord trolls have gone to jail, some for many years. But since Drachenlord has acted as an aggressor as well, he has also been convicted of violent crimes twice, the latter sentence (which was pronounced last October) carrying two years of jail time.

But Drachenlord’s home is no more. After selling his home to the municipality, Drachenlord has finally moved out of Altschauerberg earlier this year, marking the end of an almost decade-long assault of disturbances and trespassing in the village. And, following the sale of his house, Drachenlord’s most recent appeal before the courts went well and Drachenlord’s prison sentence was reduced to a year of probation (it should be noted that he was on probation already before, which he violated multiple times).

Since then, Drachenlord has spent much of his time on the road, and recently also with a female companion who he is apparently engaged to. She, like many other people involved in the Drachengame, was immediately doxxed by Drachenlord haters and will likely be subjected to similar harassment as Drachenlord himself. Drachenlord has also expressed no interest in reducing his posting activities. And most people who have been watching him over the last couple of years consider it only a matter of time before his next criminal trial.

So why doesn’t he just stop? Nothing is forcing Drachenlord to spend all his days picking fights on- and offline. In fact, it seems that during one of his legal altercations, he was explicitly offered probation on the condition that he move and stop streaming. Drachenlord declined.

On the one hand, it should be noted that Drachenlord has monetized his infamy really efficiently, and has done so for years. He makes money from subscriptions like “normal” creators, and even started out his strange career by selling autographs on his front yard. But there is likely something more sinister going on here as well. Drachenlord is absolutely a victim of abuse by his trolls, but he is also himself at fault — constantly fanning the flames of this clusterfuck of a story, when there would’ve been other alternatives available. During his earlier years on YouTube, Drachenlord saw his haters as a means to an end, a stepping stone towards greater reach, eventually leading to a situation where fans-in-honest would outweigh the trolls. This, of course, never happened, and by now it must be clear even to him that it never will happen.

Recognizing what exactly makes Drachenlord tick is probably best left to psychologists, though it’s hard not to compare his urge to broadcast to that of everybody else on the internet. Rainer Winkler, the person behind Drachenlord, has, at this point, merged with his online persona, and should he be forced to leave his online presence behind, there would likely be nothing left for him to do. In a way, his story is saying the quiet part about the internet out loud. That our online communication channels have become so devoid of humanity that it forces some us to cling to even the most toxic connections available. And this increasingly has consequences that reach far beyond the digital space.

One final note about Drachenlord. Gregor emailed me last night to give me one last update: in the last 24 hours, Drachenlord’s pickup truck was towed and his license was taken away. Never a dull moment!

Are you a Garbage Day reader outside of the US? Got a crazy internet thing you’d love to tell Americans about? Shoot me and message and let’s talk!

***Any typos in this email are only on purpose if they’re in the parts that I wrote***

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