We are standing on the Reeperbahn on a day of different weathers that chop and change from minute to minute between sheets of rain and rays of sun, gusts of wind and dark clouds swapping places with bright blue skies. We are on the way from the airbnb to the harbour, looking for breakfast between the sex shops and the tacky souvenir stores, crossing this most renowned strip that has been selling “entertainment” since the rope makers moved outside the city (Reeperbahn = ropewalk).
Prostitution is legal in Germany and the sex industry is big and the word “sex” becomes a magnet for visitors to town. There’s tourists and spruikers, bikers and locals, a strange mix of troubled and happy faces and a terrible selection of places to eat, designed for bad diets and night time revellers. One can only imagine the previous night’s events – one doesn’t want to but the secrets this area (St. Pauli) holds, might astound, disgust or even inspire – the Reeperbahn’s reputation tells of light-hearted fun to dark and dastardly crimes that have left their mark on history.
It’s a rather unwelcoming place in the daylight where the myths don’t quite run true and the aftermath often reveals sorry tales, headaches and wiped memories from the night before. But as John Lennon said “I was born in Liverpool, but Hamburg was where I grew up” and The Beatles’ legacy can be seen through this historical spot and it doesn’t take too much imagination to consider what the beat groups that played here in the early sixties might have been getting up to.
The famous Herbert Strasse, which has prostitutes in window displays, has been closed off from the side street since 1933 and in the seventies signs were erected (sorry), banning women and under 18s from walking down the street – it isn’t legally binding and anyone can walk down there as a public road but beware of your reception if you do.
Leaving the strip and heading down to the harbour, you can see the connection with Liverpool, the River Elbe like the Mersey in its heyday is lined with cranes and container ships, although these days Hamburg is a much bigger port perhaps due to its location at the top of Northern Europe whereas Liverpool on the western side of England might have had more trade in times gone by and has no access to all the countries of the European Union – next year will be even less.
Heading past the ferries, skittish as they jump in and out of the landing bays in the wind, past the entrance to the tunnel under the Elbe, opened by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1911, connecting the two sides of the river and on to the Portuguese quarter for dinner to celebrate Olivia’s sister Sanna’s birthday with friends and others from Olivia’s family that live in Hamburg. Spain are playing against Iran tonight as the whole of Germany is watching the World Cup on screens in every bar and restaurant and so the days move on.
In the early eighties living in Bondi Beach, I started messing about with a Teac 4-Track tape machine, a Casio keyboard, a drum machine and a couple of guitars. This is one late-night instrumental piece that I recorded, appropriately called – Hamburg.