HAMBURG WITH RELISH
Berlin might be Germany’s most famous party town but the hedonistic Hanseatic city of Hamburg is giving it a run for its money…
It’s only 7.30pm but there’s swaying on the dancefloor already. Lurching from side to side, people crash into one another, arms akimbo, drinks tumbling everywhere…
None of these are people are drunk. Yet. Instead, they’re all passengers on Frau Hedi’s Tanzkaffee (frauhedi.de), possibly the world’s only indie nightclub cruise. Chugging around Hamburg’s harbour and down the city’s canals, the barge is a glitterball-and-kitsch-fairy-light-festooned affair with music veering from early-1990s hip hop one minute to Balkan brass and ‘Russian Children’s Songs’ the next. Some punters wear Frau Hedi-emblazoned dressing-gowns, others wear the vessel’s lifebelts around their necks, while most guzzle €25 crates of Jever beer, continuing their port-and-starboard to-and-fro-ing until 1am.
Frau Hedi’s seafaring shenanigans might seem strange. But as far as Hamburg nightlife goes, they’re pretty standard. Having long lived in Berlin’s shadow in Europe’s-party-capital stakes, the city now bursts with more decadent bars that you can fling a currywurst at, especially in the districts of St Pauli (which includes the Reeperbahn red-light area) and grungy Schanze.
As in Berlin, squat bars are big in Hamburg. Or, at least bars pretending to be squats. Sardined between SEX! KINO! SEX! flea-pit cinemas and dodgy DVD-selling shops, is 3-Zimmer Wohnung (‘Three Room Flat’, drei-zimmer-wohnung.de). A former dildo factory, its titular three rooms include: a lounge with granny-chic furniture, a bedroom with teen-boy bedsheets and PlayStation, plus an open-plan kitchen with cooker, fridge and washing machine. Like all house parties, the kitchen is the place to be, possibly because the bar’s there.
Hamburg’s squat-club-meister is Schanze’s Rote Flora. A graffiti-splattered institution that reeks of wee from the outside, Rote Flora is an alternative cultural centre run by peaceniks with its own ‘Dub Bar’ and skatebowl. Some of its constituents might look like Levellers’ fans circa 1992, but don’t let that deter you.
For more conventional clubbing, try perma-buzzing Uebel & Gefährlich (uebelundgefaehrlich.com). Located high up in an ugly concrete WWII bunker, it’s situated next-door to St Pauli’s Millerntor Stadium, and hosts everything from nosebleed techno to acoustic gigs.
When Metro arrives, around 1am, we step into an elevator adorned with paper plates and plastic cutlery and glance up to find a frizzy-haired, beatboxing lift operator snapping us with a Polaroid camera. She then takes a plastic fork from the wall and sticks it in our hair. She is, quite clearly, maaaaaad. When we leave the club three hours later, she’s attempting to sellotape the elevator floor.
Earlier, Metro visited Hasenschaukel (‘Bunny Swing’, hasenschaukel.de), a G-string’s throw away from the Reeperbahn. Imagine, if you will, an Alice in Wonderland-themed crèche designed by Freddie Krueger. Add a miserabilist Morrissey soundtrack. Garland the place with sinister doll lampshades, chuck in 80 geometric-fringed Teutonic hipsters, sell a special ‘pirate’ beer (Stӧrtebeker) and you get the idea.
Indeed, most Hamburg niteries seem to have their own signature drink. Over at Grüner Jäger (‘Green Hunter’, greener-jaeger-stpauli.de), an indie club in an old forester’s house, kids knock back Mexikaner – a Bloody Mary-style mix. Meanwhile, at old men’s boozer, Na Und?! (‘So What?!’) they serve something called ‘Grüne-Scheiße-Mix’ (literally, ‘Green-S***-Mix’). The owner, Klaus, who chain-smokes despite having a voice that sounds like he’s gargled with razorblades, spends all night unearthing bottles of his homemade elixir, tutting whenever a new group of hipsters piles in and orders a round. Despite its faecal moniker, Grüne-Scheiße-Mix actually tastes like absinthe. Spending an evening inside Na Und?! might be akin to hanging out inside a nicotine-stained lung, but ironic trendsters love it. If you’re slumped at the bar come 5am with Klaus showing you pics of his parrot, don’t be surprised.
Seeking something more swanky? Try 20up (empire-riverside.de), a chichi cocktail bar on the 20th floor of the Empire Riverside Hotel, where you can swing on your barstool while gawking at majestic harbour views from floor-to-ceiling windows. Meanwhile, the maritime-themed 14th-floor Tower Bar at Hotel Hafen (hotel-hafen-hamburg.de) boasts cocktails such as ‘St Pauli Killer’ (trust us, it does) while the curving contours of Yakshi’s Bar at Hotel East (east-hotel.de) exudes Manhattan glam.
You’d never think Europe’s sleaziest street is five minutes away. Once a priapic party-place for salty sailors (and The Beatles), today the Reeperbahn is a mishmash of blinking neon, tacky discount shops, rip-off sex clubs, a billion dodgy eateries and an Esso petrol station (which Germans find hilarious: “We have a petrol station! Here! On Reeperbahn!”). Nearby is Herbertstrasse. Blockaded by 12ft-high barricades, narrow dog-legs and a red sign starkly stating, “Juveniles under-18 and women forbidden”, it’s a 60-metre alleyway where lingerie-clad hookers flaunt their wares, Amsterdam-style, in windows. And ladies really are persona-non-grata. Unless they want torrents of verbal abuse (Mrs Metro got a severe ticking-off from one harlot) or reputedly, buckets of urine thrown on their heads, they should keep out.
We leave one of Hamburg’s most legendary venues until last. Golden Pudel (‘Golden Poodle’, pudel.com) is a nightclub in a rickety wooden fisherman’s hut down by the harbour. Rammed-to-the-rafters with hip locals, it’s got an illicit squat party ambience (the bar is a fridge), and we’re still there when dawn approaches.
We then stagger to the adjacent Fischmarkt, where we find ourselves sitting at trestle tables, sandwiched between eel-scoffing German pensioners and spaced-out-clubbers. Everybody clinks huge steins of beer, while an AC/DC covers band cacophonises with the squawking seagulls outside. It’s eight-o-clock on Sunday morning and the swaying is starting all over again…