Störtebeker 2016: Matters of Life and Death

It is the year 1397.  Around the Baltic Sea a number of big players are preparing to invade Visby on the the island of Gotland off the coast of Sweden, where are group known as the “Victual Brothers” – who earn a living from piracy – have taken refuge.  Among those preparing to act are the knights of the Teutonic Order, based in Marienburg (now known as Malbork and located in Poland).

With Visby on the left of the stage and the Marienburg on the right, this is the setting for the 2016 edition of the Störtebeker Festspiele on the Island of Rügen.

Visby - Herzog Johann's ArrivalVisby

The story continues pretty much where it left off at the end of last year, with Klaus Störtebeker and his men now settled is Visby and the town fortified ready for the attack.  The play deals with the events in both towns, as the battle draws closer, with some outsiders trying to find a peaceful solutions, and others spying on the groups and selling the information back to the others.

Whilst it may all be a play, albeit an elaborate one involving boats, birds of prey, horses, stunts and pyrotechnics, there is a historical background to it all.  The Teutonic Knights really did conquer Gotland in 1398 and expel the pirates, and the names of the main figures on stage are the same as those in the history books.

However the visitors, and last year there were 357,000 of them, are not necessarily there for a history lesson.  They are there to see the eagle, Laran, fly over the heads of the audience and land on Klaus Störtebeker’s (Bastian Semm) arm.  They are there to see swordfights, burning stuntmen and fireworks, and possibly to find out whether Fronica (Karin Hartmann) will get to marry her Goedecke Michels (Andreas Euler) before the final canon ball is fired.  And a lot will be there to hear Wolfgang Lippert narrate the events with a collection of songs, some well known, others specially for the play.

Some of them may be in for a shock.  Bastian Semm’s new hair style certainly came in for some discussion at the preview performance and in the local press.  Others may be interested to know that two of the actors, Euler and Lippert, have taken up residence on Rügen.  In a statement reminiscent of “Moonfleet”, Euler freely admits that he fell in love with someone on the island, but also says that he has the “loveliest job” that he ever had with no intention of ever giving it up.

Wolfgang LippertWolfgang Lippert

But what do the the visitors who travel all the way to the north eastern tip of Germany to see the play and the spectacular scenery really want to know?

Apparently the most frequently asked questions are: Where are the toilets? Does the play take place even if it is raining? Where does one park?

With up to 8,000 visitors per performance, it is not surprising that parking is very limited in the streets next to the theatre.  There are spaces for coaches and disabled badge holders, but otherwise the village is placed within a security ring from mid-afternoon before the performance and car drivers are directed to one of two large free car parks outside the village itself.  From one it is a slightly longer walk and there is a shuttle train, the other car park is nearer and a short walk along a lit path through the woods.  Needless to see that both walks back to the car park are uphill!

The toilets in the village cost 50 cents to use, unless you eat something in one of the restaurants where they are free to patrons.  Once inside the theatre there are plenty of free toilets available, located on both sides of the audience seating.  But obviously these buildings are not something you usually see on the publicity photos.

And yes, I can personally confirm that the play takes place even if it is raining, although capes are then the order of the day.  Don’t even think about putting up an umbrella!  The capes can be purchased at the theatre.  If it is particularly bad weather and the performance is cancelled before it starts, tickets can be exchanged for a different day or refunded.  Once the performance starts, no refund or exchange is given, although I am told that this very rarely happens.

Of course, whether Fronica and Goedecke’s wedding takes place, is something that is only revealed in the final act, as is whether Klaus is successful in defending the island against the Teutonic Order.  But history tells us that he moved on to the area known as East Frisia on the North Sea coast.  Perhaps he should avoid Heligoland when he gets there.

My thanks go to the Störtebeker Festspiele GmbH & Co. KG for inviting me to the press preview performance and allowing me to publish photos of the performance on this site.

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About Graham

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Germany as a placement student in 1993, returning in 1995 to live there permanently. He has been writing for AllThingsGerman.net since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche and other publications he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.

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