Stoertebeker's Ghost by Phil Canning
Carola and I were on the long drive from Dunkirk to Marianhafe which is near the North German coast in Ostfriesland, last June to visit family when she turned to me and asked if I'd ever heard of the legend of the Pirate Klaus Stoertebeker. I replied that I hadn't but since I was bored senseless by the endless motorways I would love to hear all about him. She then launched into a tale straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean!!.... well not quite that exotic....she explained that although born in the Baltic Stoertebeker had made Marianhafe his stronghold and from there he'd raided along the North Sea Coast.
In 1401 it would appear that his luck had ran out as he and his crew were captured, taken to Hamburg where they were tried and sentenced to death!!!....Well I was hooked, anything to do with History is right up my strasse!!...I wanted to know more and now couldn't wait to get there so I could investigate further. Carola told me that Hans Jurgen, who we were visiting would probably be able to tell me more when we arrived.
The sun was beginning to dip across the Ostfriesen countryside as we drove into Marianhafe but in the distance I could see a large tower rising above the surrounding buildings.
“What's that?”.. I asked pointing the tower out to Carola....
“Oh that!!....that's the Stoertebekerturm” she replied matter of factly.
“Really!!!...there's a tower named after him”
Now I was really impressed and just a few minutes later we drove into Hans Jurgen's driveway......I had questions....lots of questions.
We settled down for something to eat....a hearty Pork stew accompanied by several bottles of Jever Pils, a local brew and most welcome it was too. I was bursting to ask about my new favourite pirate and patiently waited all of five minutes before butting into the conversation.....
”So Hans Jurgen what do you know about the pirate Stoertebeker?”....
He started to tell me what he knew, much of which I'd already heard on the way up, but then he started to tell me one of the legends regarding his execution....that he was sentenced to be beheaded, but before sentence was carried out he pleaded with the Mayor of Hamburg that all of his men be lined up and any he could pass after being beheaded could go free..... his wish was apparently granted and he managed to pass several before dropping dead at the feet of his son..... all of which though sounding a bit far fetched to say the very least only added to the glamour of it all for me. As I was so interested it was decided that tomorrow after breakfast we would visit the Stoertebekertower and museum in the town square.
So like the big kid that I am I was up at the crack of dawn, once showered and dressed I bounded down the stairs, looked across the kitchen at Carola and Hans Jurgen and shouted gruffly,
“Aha me hearties I be off to the bakery to plunder some bread rolls....aha!!!!”
Before either could reply I swept out the door.
After a wonderful breakfast it was decided that we'd go for a walk around the town before arriving at the Mariankirche which houses the museum. Its always nice to stroll around somewhere unfamiliar as there are many things to see and discover but today I was on a mission....like a dog straining on a leash.... I just wanted to get there. We took a turn towards the town centre and there in front of me towering above all else was the Stoertebekerturm.... it really dominates the skyline in all of its red brick magnificence. The church, which dates back to the 13th century is the
centrepiece of the town...it has a very well kept graveyard to the rear with the very pleasant town square to the front. There is a large statue of the hero of our story which takes pride of place in the middle of the square.
As we waited to enter the tower Hans Jurgen leaned towards me and said,
“Maybe you'll get to see his ghost today.... some people say he haunts the tower”....his eyes twinkled mischievously.
“I think you're having me over” I replied....
He grinned at me. We entered the tower and began to climb the very narrow staircase which spiralled towards the top....it was quite claustrophobic to be honest and there was distinct lack of fresh air. I was praying I wouldn't bump into any big guys on their way down. I literally squeezed through the doorway out onto the viewing area, very relieved to be back in the fresh air. The land around Marianhafe is typically Ostfriesen.... very flat and you could see why this would have been a tremendous advantage to Stoertebeker and his men.... you would see enemies arriving from miles away.
It started to rain quite heavily and everybody made a bolt for the staircase. As I was the last to leave the top of the tower I glanced around and tried to visualise Stoertebeker standing up here all those years ago. I ducked into the doorway and started to head back down the winding narrow staircase with its stale air when about half way down there was a sudden rush of air as if someone or something has brushed past me....it was a very strange sensation.....I remembered Han Jurgens words from earlier......No surely not I said to myself.....its just my mind playing tricks on me in the confined space..........but wait is that faint laughter I hear from above!!!
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