Störtebeker’s Falconer

There is a moment during the Störtebeker Festspiele that always amazes the audience, when “Laran” the eagle flows low over their heads and lands on Störtebeker’s arm.  They gasp and those directly under the flight path can feel the rush of air has he silently glides over them.

Stiwi, the bird playing Laran, and his trainer Volker Walter, have been taking part in the play for the past 20 years and travel each year in May from their home in Bavaria to Rügen for the summer season, along with a host of other birds that he trains with his wife.

Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to visit them and see their birds of prey first hand.

The Adlershow at the Störtebeker Theatre in Ralswiek
The “Adlershow” explains the birds and their ways of flying and hunting to the theatre guests

Volker Walter is very protective of his birds, and rightly so.  Before we start the interview, we have to agree to keep the location where they live secret and not to take any photographs that would reveal too many details.  We enter the enclosure and it is obvious that the birds are pleased to see him.  The first bird that he shows us is a Saker falcon, a bird that he hatched in an incubator about 20 years ago.

Walter himself has been working as a falconer since he was 15 years old, and it was him that Peter Hick, the founder of the Festspiele turned to when he was looking for someone to train a bird of prey for the theatre.

Which brings us to Stiwi/Laran.  Stiwi, now a veteran of the Festspiele who has probably been in more seasons than any of the actors except Norbert Braun, is a 36-year-old Golden Eagle.  In the wild they normally only live to around 25 years and only 10% make it to adulthood, Walter explains.  Again, this is a bird that he has had since he was an egg.

Volker Walter with Stiwi/Laran

Volker Walter with Stiwi/Laran

The other birds in his collection include a Red Kite, a Sea Eagle and a number of falcons.

The birds perform in a show called “Könige der Lüfte” (“Kings of the air”) each day during the season (except Sundays and the day of the Premiere) at 11am and 6pm, in which Volker Walter explains how the birds live and their ways of flying and hunting, assisted by his wife Lisa.  With the birds flying directly over the audience in the front rows of the theatre, it is a fascinating experience that is well worth a visit, and is something that the guests at the premiere performance and the members of the press in their preview do not get to see.

So what do they do once the season on Rügen is over in September?

Well, they return with the birds to Bavaria and continue with their normal work of training new falconers, advising bird parks and zoos, teaching schoolchildren about the birds, and continuing their breeding programme.

My thanks go to Volker Walter for giving me such an interesting insight into his work and giving me such close access to his birds of prey.

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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