No visit to Hamburg is complete without hitting the Reeperbahn, Hamburg's legendary nightlife mile. Located within the district of rebellious St. Pauli, it is home to one of Europe's biggest red light districts and is a theme park of neon. It harbors the city's seedy (but largely safe) underbelly and is a must-see attraction in Hamburg.
What to Expect at the Reeperbahn
The Reeperbahn is the most famous street in Hamburg. The name "Reeperbahn" comes from the old German word Reep meaning "heavy rope". In the 18th century, heavy hempen ropes were produced here for sailing ships in the Hamburg harbor.
Today, the area is known for the many great bars, restaurants, theatres like the Operettenhaus, and clubs...along with sex shops, erotic theaters, and strip clubs. The place is also overrun with fervent St. Pauli soccer (Fussball) fans during home games at Millerntorstadion.
This eclectic mix makes the Reeperbahn a fascinating place to visit for travelers and locals alike. The district is the second most popular Hamburg attraction (after the harbor) and attracts all kinds of visitors, from night owls and students to theatergoers and families.
Highlights of the Reeperbahn
The lively Reeperbahn is the main thoroughfare of Hamburg's entertainment district, but there are some interesting side streets worth visiting to learn more about the history and attractions of the St. Pauli district.
In the early 1960s, the soon-to-be world famous Beatles wooed their German audiences and rose to international stardom. They performed in various music clubs along the street “Große Freiheit” (literally “Great Freedom”) and some of these clubs still exist.
If you are into the Beatles, twist and shout in the Indra Club where the the band first played. They also had regular gigs at the Kaiserkeller in the 1960s. Fans should can also visit the newly built Beatles-Platz at the street corner of Reeperbahn and Große Freiheit. John Lennon supposedly said, "I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg."
The Spielbudenplatz is the historic core of Hamburg's entertainment district. It started out in the 17th century with acrobats, jugglers, magicians, and wooden stands selling refreshments to sailors.
Today, this street is home to many great theaters and you can visit one of the oldest wax figure museums of Germany at Panoptikum.
Prostitution is legal at certain times of the day on Davidstraße so you might see the "ladies of the night" waiting for their customers here. Be polite and don't take pictures.
Perhaps not surprisingly, at the corner of Reeperbahn and Davidstraße, you can find the most famous police station in Germany. The Davidwache provides highly visible police protection 24 hours and makes the area one of the safest in Hamburg.
The most notorious and exclusive street of Hamburg's red light district is Herbertstraße. Just like Amsterdam's Red Light District, prostitutes sit in dimly lit windows and display their charms for customers.
If you are worried about your tender eyes (or those of your family), know that Herbertstraße is closed off by a wall and minors and females are generally verboten (forbidden) from entering. While they may officially enter this street, it is strongly discouraged by the police. Prostitutes here can be hostile to visitors who just want to look.
Trade is actually down from what it once was. Most business happens in the many strip clubs with fewer than 400 working women still on Herbertstraße (down 50% from a decade ago).
Tips for Your Reeperbahn Visit
- The Reeperbahn doesn't come to life before the evening hours. A good time to visit is on the weekends, begging at 20:00 and continuing until the morning hours.
- The Reeperbahn gets very crowded on the weekends. The area is fairly safe thanks to the high police presence, but you should still be cautious and beware of pickpockets. Violent crime is rare, but petty crime is fairly common.
- Most strip clubs charge a cover of €30. Be clear about what you expect to spend and know your limits.
- If you are lured into a strip club with a free entry, expect to shell out at least €20 for your first drink. Drinks usually come with a heavy surcharge.