"God's friends and the whole world's enemies" - The Pirate Klaus Störtebeker and his last battle off Heligoland

"God's friends and the whole world's enemies" (motto of the Vitalienbrüder, Victual Brothers)

22 April 1401: Today, 612 years ago, Klaus Störtebeker, one of the most prominent leaders of a companionship of pirates known as "Vitalienbrüder" or Likedeelers ("equal sharers"), fought his last battle against the Hansa off Heligoland.

Brought to bay by Captain Simon von Utrecht, one of the Hansa's most experienced war leaders in their seemingly endless wars against the Baltic coastal states, Störtebeker was hauled aboard the Hanseatic flagship "Bunte Kuh" ("Pied Cow") and brought to Hamburg for judgement.

Modern reconstruction of "Die bunte Kuh"




Klaus Störtebeker (Low German for: "down the beaker" - he allegedly could drink four litres of beer in one gulp) and the Vitalienbrüder (victual brothers, possibly because they victualled besieged Stockholm with provisions) were a group of freebooters hired by various powers in the Baltics during the conflicts at the end of the 14th century and became the sworn enemy of the Hanseatic League who could find nothing useful or heroic in the disruption of trade. When the Vitalienbrüder finally turned pirate and spread their region of operation into the North Sea along the Hansa's lifelines to Norway and England, allying themselves with Frisian chieftains, the mighty merchant league got at them with a vengeance.

Störtebeker was decapitated in Hamburg in October 1401 and legend has it, that the mayor of Hamburg granted a last wish that everyone of his captured crew he could touch after his head was cut off, might go free. Allegedly, headless Störtebeker touched eleven of his men before his corpse was tripped up. Mayor Kersten Miles then broke his word and had all 73 captured Vitalienbrüder executed.

As a late revenge, Simon von Utrecht's statue at the Kersten-Miles-Bridge in  Hamburg was decapitated in 1985. Wiki quotes the accompanying graffitis as: "Wir kriegen alle Pfeffersäcke! (We will get hold of all Pfeffersäcke! Pfeffersack is a degotery term referring to the wealthiest amongst the merchants of the Hanse) and Nicht alle Köpfe rollen erst nach 500 Jahren! (Not all heads roll off after 500 years!)".