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3 December 2015 - Rike Oehlerking

When pirates descend on the Schlachte

Pirate market at Schlachte
© Rike Oehlerking

Once a year, part of the Schlachte Embankment is transformed into a swashbuckling pirate market. During the run-up to Christmas, market stallholders here wholeheartedly embrace Bremen’s heritage of seafaring and trade. I strolled around the market on opening night and have gathered my impressions in picture and word form here – hopefully they convey the festive spirit of the place.

It’s the opening night of the Schlachte-Zauber Christmas market and it’s bitterly cold, which instantly makes it feel festive. And there’s this enchanting light in the trees that casts a blue glow over the whole market – it’s enough to get me into the Christmas spirit.

Open-air theatre and fireworks

As tradition dictates, the evening kicks off with an open-air performance from the Bremen Shakespeare Company. It’s a play about Vikings, the abduction of a certain ‘bride of the wind’, and Roland the knight. Crowds of curious onlookers gather along the Schlachte Embankment and on Teerhofbrücke bridge to watch the drama unfold on one of the floating jetties on the banks of the Weser. It’s so busy on the edge of the promenade that it’s difficult to find a good spot for taking photos. This 15-minute production is immediately followed by another Schlachte-Zauber tradition – a fireworks display. For a good ten minutes or so, colourful rockets light up the riverbank and the sea of smiling faces, while the sound bounces off the buildings on the Teerhof peninsula.

Collage: Opening of the pirate market
The market always opens with a short play and a fireworks display © Rike Oehlerking

When the final bang sounds, the Schlachte-Zauber Christmas market is officially open! Hundreds of visitors then stream up the steps from the riverside promenade and down from Teerhofbrücke bridge in search of their Christmas market favourites. Since I wanted to get a few long-range photos of the icy blue glow, I found myself – armed with a camera and tripod – struggling against the flow of traffic on the bridge. In recent years, this view has become an integral part of the Christmas build-up for the locals who regularly cross the Weser of an evening. When the eastern river banks by the city centre take on a blue hue, it’s a clear sign that Christmas is coming.

Violet lights along the Schlachte
True blue – the Weser Tower adds to the symphony of blue along the Schlachte in December © Rike Oehlerking
The Moonlight adds to the violet lights along the Schlachte
The moonlight adds to the enchanting atmosphere of the swashbuckling play © Rike Oehlerking

Moonlight and merriment

Having taken my photos, I head into the thick of it. To my left, towards Am Brill, there’s a traditional Christmas market with mulled wine stands and doughnut kiosks, but I turn right as I leave Teerhofbrücke bridge. Every stall is crafted from wood, and olde worlde lanterns flicker in the icy breeze to cast a warm, natural light all around. By now, lots of people have already gathered in front of the little huts. They clink mugs of hot mead, delicious cider and other tipples, munch on kebabs and chestnuts, and sip warming soup. It all smells amazing!

Collage: Blue mist
Blue mist – combined with the warm glow from the wooden huts, the blue light creates a festive atmosphere © Rike Oehlerking

Every stall has a pirate twist. You pay in talers or golden ducats – at least, many stallholders advertise their prices in these ancient currencies. (Don’t worry, the pirates take euros too!) Whenever a customer leaves a tip, a huge bell is rung in true pirate fashion! The stallholders, dressed as buccaneers, are not short of old turns of phrase, and are often heard calling customers ‘me hearties’.

The Schlachtschiff
The Schlachtschiff, selling bratwurst and other meaty snacks, adds another maritime flourish to the market © Rike Oehlerking

Handmade crafts and culinary creations

Besides food and drink, the pirates can also be found ‘hawking’ all manner of wonderful handmade wares. Their wooden huts are filled with charming little figurines, jewellery, wooden toys, unique birdhouses, candles, and clothes made from wool and other natural textiles. The eclectic mix of stalls means you are guaranteed to find a Christmas gift or two, whether for yourself or someone else. Dressmakers, ceramicists and a blacksmith are hard at work crafting their wares for festive shoppers. I even come across a basket weaver and a hat maker.

Collage: Stalls
It’s hard to walk by the stalls of handmade goods without stopping to browse © Rike Oehlerking
Hot drinks
Warm up with a delicious hot drink – sweet or spicy, it’s up to you. And if you give a tip, brace yourself for some loud bell-ringing! © Rike Oehlerking
Shooting gallery
A shooting gallery with a twist – the target is you, and the shots are of the schnapps variety :-) © Rike Oehlerking

The hustle and bustle and the atmospheric lighting are beginning to work their magic on me, too, and my pace slows. I wander around the stands, stopping here and there to browse the goods and admire the displays. There’s one particular stall that catches my eye. It’s a game that tests your skill and balance. A rope ladder is suspended from a freely turning hook in a wooden wall, dangling above a safety net. Children and grown-ups alike take it in turns to try and climb up the rungs of the ladder and ring the bell at the top. One by one they abandon their wobbly quest, usually from halfway up the ladder – much to the amusement of the onlookers.

Collage: Schlachtezauber
For two euros, you can try to scale the wobbly rope ladder – or you can pay in gold ducats if you’d rather. © Rike Oehlerking

Once I’ve finished my rounds, I make a rather gruesome discovery: at the edge of the market nearest Schlachtpforte, there’s a set of gallows complete with noose. I take it as a warning to be on my best behaviour – after all, we’re dealing with pirates here, and they make their own rules. I shiver slightly – but that could just be the cold. Perhaps I should have had a mug of something hot to warm my cockles, after all. Oh well, there’s always next time. “Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!”

A foreboding welcome – don’t get on the wrong side of the pirates, or you’ll meet a gory end. © Rike Oehlerking

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