Claus Störtebeck and Michel Gädeke

More than five hundred fifty years have passed since a cruel group of pirates were active on the Baltic Sea. These called themselves the Victual or Vitally Brothers because they only lived off robbery and plunder, or the Likendeeler because it was claimed that they divided all loot equally among each other. The leaders of this group were Claus Störtebeck and Michael Gädeke. The former was born in the city of Barth in Pomerania. The latter, who is still called Gäß-Michel to this day, is supposed to hail from the island of Rügen, or as some claim from Michelsdorf on the Darß.

These pirates plied their trade on the entire Baltic Sea; they had a lot of defeats and secret hideouts which they could crawl into when they were pursued by overpowering forces. Thus, at times they inhabited the great cave beneath the Waschstein rock on Rügen which nobody knew about at the time, and they also had a fortified castle on the Zingst where it is still possible to see the ruins of a castle next to the Prerower Strom inlet. This is still called the “altes Schloß” (“old castle”) by the locals. This castle was razed by the people of Lübeck at the beginning of the 15th century, as they had suffered the most from the pirates. They landed on the Darß side of the Prerower Strom and made camp there. This site is still called the Lübecker Ort (“the Lübeck Place”). The treasures of the robbers supposedly were not discovered by the Lübeckan forces. Instead they are still hidden beneath the rubble of the castle, and at night, during the full moon, foreign treasure hunters can frequently seen who are searching for the treasures with all sorts of tools and approaches.

The robbers were untouchable for a long time and were fortunate in being able to escape all pursuits. This was due to the bones of a holy martyr which they once stole from a monastery on the Spanish coast, and which they always took with them. But finally, after they had spread terror for more than thirty years, the people of Hamburg gathered a great naval force and managed to capture the whole group after a very bloody encounter at sea. First they caught Claus Störtebeck with 711 comrades, and then Michel Gädeke who had only 80 people left at the time. All of them were beheaded at Hamburg. The mayor of Hamburg, Simon von Utrecht, pronounced their death sentence, and made them walk to the place of execution in their best clothing. From the plunder the people of Hamburg made at this opportunity they fashioned a golden crown and a large, gold-plated cup. The crown was shown in the St. Nicolai Tower for a long time, and the cup is still shown there.

Source: Temme, J. D. H. Die Volkssagen von Pommern und Rügen, 1840. p.194f.

Notes & commentary: Scourge of the German Seas - The Dread Pirate Störtebeker