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The part of the city surrounding the Reeperbahn, St. Pauli’s most notorious street, is widely regarded as Europe’s largest red-light district – what a reputation! While it used to be wild, dirty and dangerous, these days are long gone. It is safe now to wander the streets during the night, though it’s not entirely pleasant as huge and sometimes rowdy crowds fill the most popular streets, the Reeperbahn and the “Grosse Freiheit”. The feature sex shops, sex museums, erotic theatres, and strip clubs. Here are a few tips to give you that red-light-district experience without getting lost between stereotypes.
When you don’t want to explore the red-light district independently, you should book a tour with everybody’s favourite Drag Queen, Olivia Jones. The (very) tall blonde has a few clubs in the area and knows the “Kiez” (hood) best. She and her eclectic partners will take you on a rather entertaining tour (sometimes in English) to every aspect of the St. Pauli nightlife. She is well-liked and always recognized and greeted by the locals. It is a unique experience to walk the streets with her. She knows every corner and will show you where the Beatles had their first (and last) live performance and where the pimps of the good old days were having their Schnapps. You will meet famous bouncers, club owners, the occasional policeman and ex-pimps.
With an always flashy and “behind-the-scenes” appeal, this tour will give you good insight and a bunch of great stories about the neighbourhood. Inevitably, those tours will end in front of one of Olivia’s clubs which will extend that red-light-feeling a bit. They are always crowded and loud and… well, for adults only. But by the end of the tour you may very well have seen a bar or club that you liked – trust your gut! Book tour tickets in advance.
The most notorious of all the notorious streets of the St. Pauli red-light-district is the famous Herbertstrasse. This tiny street – between Davidstrasse and Gerhardstrasse – is closed off by a wall and minors and female visitors have to wait outside. They actually have bouncers on both ends of the street to check IDs if necessary. Behind those walls, a couple of dozen women sit in the windows both upstairs and downstairs, giving a red-light display for visitors – or, potential “customers”. This is a real-life tourist attraction which is relatively harmless and a unique experience all by itself. The women will try to make contact with the visitors. The exchanges are quite entertaining and you are not forced to do anything. But you should (always) behave like a gentlemen. No photos allowed.
At the end of the loud and heavily-crowded Grosse Freiheit, with all its new table dance and striptease bars, there sits a small bar for the music lover: a Karaoke haven amidst the reddest of red-lights. This place is truly original and has a cult fan base – on weekends the bar is always full, the drinks are delicious and the mood is extraordinary. The waiting list for getting up on that small stage gets longer and longer by the minute. It is hard to not have a good time here… unless you are on stage and not performing your best. The competition is fierce; most regulars are beyond good and so, a good interpretation of any given David Bowie or Adele song will bring the roof down. You can witness marvellous performances by an array of performers, which is more than most shows around the corner can say. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Fab Four performed their first live concerts just a few steps away from that stage, but its guaranteed good time. It’s your stage if you dare!