Antonia Zennaro, Down There, from PRIVATE 51 – Global Report 2, pp. 36-39
The Reeperbahn, the red-light district of Hamburg, is a mile famous for its sin. Basic human drives that were considered primitive in Western Society at the time laid the foundation of this place. Sex-for-cash, alcohol, violence and freedom were precisely the elements that once gave the Reeperbahn its unique, dreamlike mood, turning it into an alternative society within the society at large. Although titillating and glorious in the past, what is the Reeperbahn today?
The sailors become a dying breed, the money does not lie anymore on the streets, the famous Bars and Clubs are slowly closing, the “millionaires of yesterday” are struggling and working hard for their beers and cigarettes and the freedom achieves a different taste and dimension. The tourists who still return to the Reeperbahn in search of an old myth, are transforming the district and its residents into a living attraction. It appears that the dream itself that once made the Reeperbahn into a forbidden adventure has become the very source of its decay.
The “Safari-Club”, oldest and last sex cabaret in town, is exactly where it was 50 years ago, but more the curious than the lonely voyeurs come for a striptease and a pick of live sex.
If you stay long enough in one corner of the “Hongkong Hotel” and “Bar zum Anker” you will still meet the locals who will tell you an incredible story about “the good old times” of “not so long ago”. These storytellers guarding the sacred space between the Reeperbahn’s imagined past, and its rival, the present.
A world in between times, accessible for everyone but dedicated only to a few. However, behind these stories and between these shadows exist real individuals. Highly present and very fragile, abused and used, they are coated by pride and reputation of the district. The disappearing Reeperbahn however subdued, is still a valid part of the identity of Hamburg.