The Reeperbahn is a street and entertainment district in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district, one of the two centres of Hamburg’s nightlife (the other being Sternschanze) and also the city’s major red-light district. In German, it is also nicknamed die sndigste Meile (the most sinful mile) and Kiez. The Reeperbahn Festival is among the largest club festivals.
The name Reeperbahn means ropewalk, which is a place where ropes are made (Low German Reep = rope, the standard German word is Seil; Bahn = track). Until the 1620s Hamburg’s ropewalks had been located in the Neustadt (New Town) quarter of the inner city close to the Elbe, which then became a densely built up area. Therefore, the ropewalks “had to be relocated outside the city walls on the country road leading toward Altona — which later took on the street name ‘Reperbahn’.” The street was a ropewalk in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The street is lined with restaurants, night clubs, discotheques and bars. There are also strip clubs, sex shops, brothels and similar businesses. Between 1997 and 2007 the Erotic Art Museum was open on Nobistor, a street running between the Reeperbahn and Louise-Schroeder-Strae.
The Operettenhaus, a musical theatre, is also located at the Reeperbahn. It played Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats for many years, after that Mamma Mia!, an ABBA-musical, followed by[when?] “Ich war noch niemals in New York”, (“I have never been to New York”) featuring hit songs by Austrian singer/songwriter Udo Jrgens, then Sister Act and finally Rocky, based on the Stallone film. There are other theatres at the Reeperbahn (St. Pauli Theater, Imperial Theater, Schmidt’s Tivoli) and also several Cabarets/Variets.
A famous landmark is the Davidwache, a police station located on the South side of the Reeperbahn at the cross street Davidstrae. Street prostitution is legal during certain times of the day on Davidstrae. The Herbertstrae, a short side street off the Davidstrae, has sex workers displaying themselves behind windows, waiting for customers. Since 1933, large screens block the view into Herbertstrae from the adjacent streets. Since the 1970s, there have been signs saying that entrance to the street is prohibited for women and juveniles; however, it is a public road which anyone may enter. Many pubs, and street-based sex workers, can be found on the square of Hans-Albers-Platz south of the Reeperbahn.
The Groe Freiheit (“Great Freedom”) is a cross street on the North Side with several bars, clubs and a Catholic church. In former years, several sex theatres here (Salambo, Regina, Colibri, Safari) would show live sex acts on stage. As of 2007, until its closure in 2013, the Safari was the only live sex theatre left in Germany. The popular table dance club Dollhouse now takes the place of the Salambo. Hotel Luxor, Hamburg’s oldest brothel that had operated on this street for 60 years, was closed in 2008. The street’s name comes from the fact that Catholics were allowed to practise their religion here at a time when this district did not yet belong to Hamburg; they were forbidden from doing so in Protestant Hamburg proper.
In 1967, Europe’s largest brothel at the time, the six-floor Eros Center, was opened on the Reeperbahn. It was closed in the late 1980s amidst the AIDS scare.
At a major trial during 2006 and 2007 ten members of the “Marek Gang”, which controls brothels on and near the Reeperbahn, were charged with pimping. The judge rejected the charge of forming a criminal gang and handed out suspended sentences: the men had started relationships with young women in local discotheques in order to recruit them to work in their brothels, an illegal practice if the women are under 21 years of age; some men had also abused some of the women who worked for them.
Because of the problems with the high crime rate, in 2007 the Senate of Hamburg enacted a ban on weapons in the Reeperbahn area. The only other such area with a weapons ban in Hamburg is the Hansaplatz, St. Georg.
The St Pauli Preservation Society decries the ongoing gentrification of the area. Several old-timers blamed the decline of the Reeperbahn’s sex industry on the rise of discotheques and cheap bars that attract teenage customers. In 2013, the Dancing Towers were built at the eastern end of Reeperbahn, symbolizing a couple dancing tango. The increasing number of these and other modern buildings erected at the Reeperbahn attracted criticism by some St. Pauli inhabitants.
The Reeperbahn was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost everything had to close.