As shadows lengthen and darkness falls, the streets of Hamburg's St. Pauli neighborhood transform into another world of nighttime entertainment, some of which is not for the faint of heart. The center of this after-dark world is the Reeperbahn, one of the most famous red-light districts in the world.
St. Pauli is one of Hamburg's most crowded districts, a melting pot of all sorts of people and easily accessible from many of Hamburg's finest hotels. Many compare it to Christiania in Copenhagen. And while Hamburg allows you to drink alcohol out on the streets, you must drink it in anything other than a glass bottle from Friday night until Monday morning. Violating the ban results in a fine of up to 5,000 euros!
The district's focus on after-hours entertainment began when seamen, on leave from ships at Hamburg's docks, needed somewhere to drink beer and to let off a little steam. This is why St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn became Hamburg's prostitution district. Sailors, in fact, have more experience taking care of themselves than normal tourists, so be on your guard.
Street prostitution is legal during certain times of the day on Davidstrasse. Waiting for customers, prostitutes display themselves behind windows on Herbertstrasse, a short side street off Davidstrasse,. A large gate closes off the street — women are prohibited from entering — unlike its counterpart district in Amsterdam.
The Reeperhabn, known to Germans as "die sündige Meile" or "the sinful mile," offers everything from vaudeville to prostitutes, from bars to sex-shops. You'll find the hottest spots down a tawdry little side street called Grosse Freiheit, meaning "Great Freedom."
Many visitors go shopping for a huge variety of sex-related articles and toys. This is probably one of very few places worldwide where all shopkeepers give you serious and open advice on all kinds of sex-related articles. There's even a sex museum. Clubs with names like Las Vegas and San Francisco line the streets of the district. Although German law requires restaurant and nightclubs to display their price list, you should note the cost of your drinks before ordering at a club. If the management refuses to give you a price list, get up and leave and go to another club.
Also in the Reeperbahn area are clubs where the Beatles played at various times from 1960 to 1962, including the Indra club and Star Club. A sculpture honoring them stands at the corner of Reeperbahn and Grosse Freiheit, also called Beatles Platz. Beyond the Reeperbahn, St. Pauli is relatively safe and definitely touristy and offers a variety of nice bars, pubs, and nightclubs. While it's most active at night, during the day it's an ordinary crowded shopping district.
If you're not into all the sex and debauchery, then you might want to take in a performance at the Hansa Theater on the Steindamm. For over 100 years, it was the epitome of vaudeville in Germany. Though the curtain fell for supposedly the last time in December 2001, the Hansa Theater lives once again.
In 1894, the Grell family opened the Hansa. Brewery owner Paul Wilhelm Grell founded this vaudeville theater in the former Hansa Concert Hall. Though it has featured a never-ending stream of international stars since its opening, it was especially known for shows with performing animals including elephants, horses and big cats. The now-famous team of Siegfried & Roy appeared in Hamburg for the first in 1964 when they were complete unknowns. The motto of the Hansa Theater was "Never on TV." The theater became known for its plushy 1950s interior, the legendary "Theaterteller," the waitresses serving in aprons and little bonnets, and the ringing of bells for the waiters.
The Theatre reopened in 2007, still featuring live entertainment in a place where vaudeville began. Together with the Fischereihafen restaurant in Hamburg and in cooperation with Germany's leading vaudeville theater, the Tigerpalast in Frankfurt, the new owners have developed a modern concept of entertainment, consisting of the best of vaudeville, presented by the crème de la crème of cabaret artists and accompanied by culinary delicacies. Their intention is to address all of the senses at the highest level. And, in keeping with the tradition of the Hansa Theater, do it at a fair price.
Hamburg is the cultural center of northern Germany. So if your tastes lean more to traditional evening entertainment, you'll find plenty of that here. The Hamburg State Opera is known throughout the world. It's three symphony orchestras and several chamber groups have produced some of the finest recordings of classical works and give frequent and varied concerts year round. And the city's theaters offer everything from operetta to Shakespearean tragedies.