The Hanseatic League ...
... and pirates
Quotes of the week
“It is when pirates count their booty that they become mere thieves.”
- William Bolitho
“A good dream, is better than a shitty reality.” - Blackbeard
“Merchant and pirate were for a long period one and the same person. Even today mercantile morality is really nothing but a refinement of piratical morality.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche
Just back from a four day trip to Stralsund in northern Germany. It was organised by the ‘retirement group’ of former EU employees, the Swedish section. Very well organised with a knowledgable guide which made it very interesting. Stralsund and the area was given to Sweden in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, ending the Thirty Years’ War. It is a beautiful part of Germany along the Baltic Sea. Unfortunately, the weather was rather bad, but we managed to keep up the spirit.
The Hanseatic League
Stralsund was one of the most prosperous cities in the Hanseatic League, a medieval commercial and defensive confederation. The League was founded by the guilds and market towns in Central and Northern Europe in the 13th century to protect themselves from pirates attacking their ships. Pirates were not only seen in the Caribbean, and, as we shall see, this area has its own pirate. The League lasted until the 15th century and covered a huge area and several countries around the Baltic and the North Seas. Some of the more well-known cities are Hamburg, Amsterdam, Stralsund, Wismar, Lübeck, Rostock, Bremen, Copenhagen, Riga and Visby. During 200 years, the League was the dominating force of maritime trade around this area.
Stralsund was granted city rights already in 1234. The city is magic with its very specific, historical brick houses, with distinctive gables. Not to speak about the earthly colours. A lot of effort has gone into renovating the historical center in recent years, and it is a pleasure to walk around the old town, which takes you back centuries.
Alter Markt (Old Market) at the center of the city, has kept its historical charm. The city hall, from 1278, is from Hanseatic times, and it has a “show façade”, meaning that the upper part of it has nothing but air behind, providing a splendid front towards the square. This was a way to display the wealth of the city. Through the hall there is a beautiful gallery, held up by black pillars. On one wall a bust of the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf has been placed. He fought in the war and died in 1632 at the Battle of Lützen. It is a magnificent building. The square is lined with old traditional building, today housing hotels and restaurants.
In 1628, during the Thirty Years’ War the city came under Swedish rule. From 1720 to 1815 it was the capital of Swedish Pomerania and from 1815 to 1945 part of Prussia. After the war part of East Germany. Today the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The history of Sweden is well documented and you can follow a “Schwedenstrasse” around town, where information signs tell you the story of the past.
Pirates of the Baltic Sea
Around Stralsund today you see the name Störtebeker everywhere. He is the local pirate and very much alive. At least his name, which has been lent to a famous, and popular, beer. To remind us of the background it is served in a slightly bent glass. Maybe to visualise the sails of a ship.
Störtebeker (1360 - 1401) was a leader of a group of privateers known as the Victual Brothers (Vitalienbrüder in German). Originally the group was hired by Sweden during one of the wars with Denmark. They should not only fight the Danish, but also provide the capital with food and other necessities. Once the war was over, the mercenaries had to find another outcome. They went private, continued their business and named themselves “Likedeelers”.
After 1398 the Victual Brothers were expelled from Gotland (an island to the east of Sweden), where they had their headquarters in Visby. The following years saw him and his fellow pirates attacking ships in the Baltic Sea. Not much is known of Störtebeker, not even his first name. It seems his name means “empty the mug with one gulp” in Low German. The name probably comes from, truth, or myth, that he was able to empty a four-litre mug of beer in one gulp.
The less you know about someone, the bigger is the legend. It is said that he was executed in 1401 together with 70 of his men. Recent research has suggested that he died in 1400, based on records found in Hamburg recently. The record is a bill for digging the graves for 30 Victual Brothers. This, and other records indicates that the execution in 1401 is probably not true. As with pirates in general there are always legends and rumours that they kept a lot of gold. So is the case here as well, but so far nothing has been found. What about his drinking cup? It was stored in the town hall of Hamburg, but was destroyed in the great fire of 1842.
I am temporary at home for a few days, and have been busy with catching up on administration. On Saturday I am heading to Amsterdam for a week. Martin will meet up with the van and we go camping, more or less in the city. We are there for the Vermeer exhibition of which we are very excited. I have also booked tickets for the Van Gogh museum, which we missed last time we were there. It seems you have to book everything on-lin, in advance, these days, to get a ticket.
On the blog this week
This week is “Daphne du Maurier Reading Week, 8-15 May, 2023”. I started with her The King’s General. Review under link. I already read five novellas by her in April.
Don't Look Now takes places in Venice and that is why I entered into this challenge already now. I continued with The Apple Tree, The Birds, Not After Midnight and The Blue Lenses. She is a master of suspense, spookiness, and, like Debbie Nance at Readersbuzz commented, they are gothic in their build up of the story.