In German Hearts, a Pirate Spreads the Plunder Again

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STRALSUND, Germany — Filthy, bearded actors with broadswords and cellphones milled outside the 14th-century brick Gothic gabled house at dusk here last week, smoking cigarettes and sipping coffee from plastic cups to stay warm as the sun set. Inside the house, a landmark, a film crew was preparing to start rolling again on “13 Paces Without a Head,” the story of a peculiarly German hero, the egalitarian pirate Klaus Störtebeker.

The feature-film production is just the latest sign of a Störtebeker renaissance. A documentary about the pirate was shown on German television last Christmas, and a two-part television miniseries the year before.

At the national celebration of the German reunification holiday, which rotates among cities and took place in Hamburg in September, representatives from Wismar, Schwerin, Hamburg and elsewhere staged a theatrical production called “Störtebeker, a North German Pirate.”

Pirates of the Baltic may sound like a frigid satire of their warmer Caribbean cousins (and to which some of the recent success can no doubt be attributed), but the legend has been rejuvenated in part as a response to the growing sense of economic injustice.

“I think that he has become so popular again today because of the Robin Hood urge in all of us,” said Geerd Dahms, a historian and publisher of Dahms Audio Books, an organizer of the holiday event. “With the current economic crisis, with the widening gap between rich and poor, many find themselves wishing they had a Störtebeker on their side.”

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