Klaus Störtebeker was not his real name. Any self-respecting pirate of the late 14th century picked his own nom de guerre, and Klaus of Wismar gave himself a moniker that means “empties the mug in a single gulp.” According to the legend, the mug in question would be about equal to four liters today.
After a few years of wreaking havoc on the Northern European coast, Störtebeker was betrayed, captured, and brought to Hamburg for trial. He was beheaded along with 70 or so of his pirate brethren. When a Hamburg senator asked if the executioner was tired after all of this chopping, the executioner said he’d happily behead the whole senate as well. So a second executioner was brought in to behead the first. Störtebeker left a trail of blood (and gold: the core of his ship’s mast was full of it) in his wake.
Today, this Robin Hood of Germany has given his name to a theater festival, a punk song, and a brand of beer. A statue of the man has graced Hamburg’s Maritime Museum for the past three decades, and he has now been relocated—naked, hands bound, and cast in bronze—to the city’s swanky new condominium development district, HafenCity (HarborCity). The statue stands with his back turned indignantly away from the steel-and-glass constructions of HafenCity, turned toward the one neighborhood that has so far resisted gentrification: St. Pauli. Let the city keep condemning land occupied by immigrants and squatters in order to sell it off to young professionals and artists. St. Pauli, a redoubt of anarchist politics and anti-state resolve, is fighting to keep a more corporate Germany at bay. And its soccer club St. Pauli—with its supporters flying a skull-and-crossbones flag to remind them of Störtebeker—is leading the way.
Photo by: Asher Kohn
For the course of the last century, soccer in the city was dominated by Hamburg SV, known as “the dinosaur” of German football. Hamburg SV became European champions in 1983 and boasted players of the caliber of Kevin Keegan and Felix Magath. The city’s second team, FC St. Pauli was left in the shadows as their local rivals hogged the limelight.
But what St. Pauli lacked in championships, it made up for in spirit. Dockworkers have always lived in St. Pauli, and they made the area a bulwark of the far left in West Germany since World War II. Though protests, squats, and disobedience—both civil and uncivil—are popular throughout these neighborhoods, it is hardly a dangerous place to have a meal or watch a match. Especially if you are watching the team known as the “Freebooters” (pirates) of the league or wearing one of one of FC St. Pauli’s mud-brown jerseys that were unveiled with the motto “KIEZHELDEN”—Heroes of the Neighborhood—on the front in lieu of a corporate sponsor (Hamburg SV’s current shirt includes the logo of a major Dubai-based airline.)