It used to be a dim red-light district for sailors, then in the 1960s and 1970s a springboard for musicians such as the Beatles, and at the same time a mile for furtive, undisguised sex tourism. Since the 1990s, Hamburg's most famous party mile has been transformed into a trendy district with a special flair. Bars and music clubs are located here next to art galleries, cabaret and theater houses, musical palaces and noble restaurants. A visit to the Reeperbahn.  

On the Reeperbahn at half past twelve in the night
Whether you've got a girl or not
Are you having fun
Because that can be found
On the Reeperbahn at half past twelve in the night 

Hans Albers, On the Reeperbahn at half past midnight 1912

The Reeperbahn is the hub of Hamburg nightlife in the St. Pauli district. It is 930 meters long, lined with nightclubs and bars, discos and pubs. Especially the side street Große Freiheit, the Hans-Albers-Platz as well as the Spielbudenplatz with Panopticon and Operetta House are popular with tourists and locals alike. On the corner of Spielbudenplatz and Davidstraße is also probably the most famous police station in Hamburg, the Davidwache. The building of Hamburg's police station 15 has become famous beyond Hamburg through film and television. Although the police station, with just under one square kilometer and about 14,000 inhabitants, is the smallest station in Europe, there is no question of boredom for the officers. Especially on weekends, there is a lot going on on the adjacent Reeperbahn. 

Herbertstraße runs parallel to the Reeperbahn, a brothel street closed to young people and women. But today, most visitors tend to stream past the red-light haunts into the trendy music clubs and restaurants, theaters and musical houses. Luminous lettering is flashing all around and the later the evening, the more crowded the streets and the more exuberant the people. Whether live bands or international DJs - the musical variety in the clubs is high. Legendary scene temples are and were Golden Poodle Club and Mojo Club, the new Molotov and the Harbour Sound, Kaiserkeller and Great Freedom 36, Prince bar and Moondoo. It's hard to imagine that the historic Reeperbahn was once a place of outcasts outside the city gates of Hamburg.

Living space for craftsmen, innkeepers and prostitutes

From 1618 to 1648, Germany was at war. In order to be able to defend themselves, numerous hills in the suburbs of Hamburg were leveled to have a clear field of fire. Areas such as Eimsbüttel, Rotherbaum, St. Georg and the Hamburger Berg, today's St. Pauli, were located outside the fortifications. Here, in the middle of the firing zone, only those who were undesirable in the city settled: innkeepers, prostitutes and undesirable institutions, such as the Pesthof, a hospital for epidemics and mental disorders. In the following years, craftsmen and businesses were also added, whose work required a lot of space, polluted the water, smelled strongly or made a lot of noise.  

From the year 1630 the reep beaters and rope makers also outsourced their work to Hamburger Berg. The old railroads at Eichholz, not far from today's landing bridges, had become too small over time. For an important basic requirement for their work were long lanes on which the ropes, up to 300 meters long, were made by hand. This activity gave the Altonaer Allee, which was laid out around 1820/30, its later name - Reeperbahn. The Seilerstraße, which runs parallel to the Reeperbahn, also bears witness to this period.

Who has never in cozy night
Made a Reeperbahn stroll
Is a poor wretch
Because he does not know you
My Sankt Pauli, Sankt Pauli by night

Ralph Arthur Roberts, Song: On the Reeperbahn at half past midnight 1912

From the craft quarter to the entertainment mile

Besides craftsmen numerous amusement establishments also settled here in the 17th century. A Spielbudenplatz and a fair became established in the area. In the 18th century, the Hamburger Berg suburb became increasingly popular with city dwellers as an excursion destination. They especially enjoyed walking on and in front of the ramparts. Over the following years, the amusement district grew. There were attractions such as the camera obscura, snake charmers, animal tamers and ventriloquists. Numerous brothels were also opened. Dance halls and theaters with classicist stone facades were built. Popular were the Circus Gymnasticus, the Elysium or also the Urania Theater, founded in 1841 and still existing today. St. Pauli Theater. It is not only the oldest private theater in the city, but also one of the oldest theaters in Germany. In 1879, the Panoptikum, a wax museum, opened its doors. To this day, many of these attractions have been preserved for the Kiez, as the neighborhood is fondly called today. 

Musical enthusiasts also get their money's worth on the Reeperbahn. Musicals from all over the world are regularly performed at the Operettenhaus. Great stage art can also be found in the three probably most famous theaters in St. Pauli: the 1988 opened Schmidt Theater, the Schmidts Tivoliwhich opened in 1991, and the youngest and smallest theater in the Schmidt family - the Klubhaus St. Pauli, which opened in 2015. Schmidtchen. A perennial favorite is the play "Heiße Ecke," which was first staged at the Tivoli in 2003. In addition, Hamburg's most famous street is the setting in many films, including "Der letzte Lude" from 2003 and "St. Pauli Nacht" from 1998. The films "Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins" from 1954 and "Große Freiheit Nr. 7" from 1944 are among the classics of film history.

Come on, dear little one, be mine, don't say no
You shall be my little dearest until nine tomorrow morning
If it's okay with you, then I'll be faithful even until ten.
Hook me up, we want to go shopping together

Ralph Arthur Roberts, Song: On the Reeperbahn at half past midnight 1912
During the Reeperbahnfestival numerous live bands perform, like here in the Prinzenbar in the traditional club Docks
During the Reeperbahnfestival numerous live bands perform, like here in the Prinzenbar in the traditional club Docks © Mediaserver Hamburg / Konstantin Beck

The Reeperbahn Festival

Every year at the end of September the clubs, bars and theaters in the neighborhood go one better for four days (if that's even possible). The Reeperbahn Festival is Europe's biggest club festival. There are more than 900 program points around the Reeperbahn. It is one of the most important meeting places in the music world, with more than 35,000 guests visiting the festival every year. There is even more to discover in over 70 large and small venues and on open-air stages.  

The best thing is to take a stroll through the Kiez yourself and get into the rhythm of the night, make your own discoveries in corner pubs, backyard temples and basement bars and get your own impression of this unique mile.

Cover photo: It is probably the most famous side street of the Reeperbahn: the Große Freiheit © Mediaserver Hamburg / Konstantin Beck

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