When pirates descend on the Schlachte

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.

Zur Eröffnung gibt es traditionell ein kurzes Theaterstück und ein Feuerwerk

The market always opens with a short play and a fireworks display

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.

Blau in blau - auch der Weser Tower fügt sich gut ins Gesamtbild, das man an der Schlachte im Dezember vorfindet

True blue – the Weser Tower adds to the symphony of blue along the Schlachte in December

Selbst der Mond spielt das verzaubernde Spiel der Piraten mit

The moonlight adds to the enchanting atmosphere of the swashbuckling play

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!

Blauer Dunst - zusammen mit der warmen Beleuchtung der Holzbuden ergibt das eine gemütliche Stimmung

Blue mist – combined with the warm glow from the wooden huts, the blue light creates a festive atmosphere

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’.

Wo, wenn nicht an der Schlachte, sollte ein Schlachtschiff aufgebaut werden?

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

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.

Die angebotene Ware verlockt zum Einkaufsbummel

It’s hard to walk by the stalls of handmade goods without stopping to browse

Zum Warmwerden - lecker süß oder herzhaft würzig - und wenn es Trinkgeld gibt, wird laut geläutet

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!

Schießbude mal anders - hier ist man selbst das Ziel, und die Munition ist leckerer Schnaps :-)

A shooting gallery with a twist – the target is you, and the shots are of the schnapps variety :-)

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.

Ein Versuch, die freihängende Strickleiter hinauf zu klettern für zwei Euro - man kann aber auch in Golddukaten bezahlen

For two euros, you can try to scale the wobbly rope ladder – or you can pay in gold ducats if you’d rather

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!”

Grausiger Gruß - bloß nicht den Piraten auf den nicht vorhandenen Schlips treten - sonst landet man am Ende noch hier

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

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