In late September, when the kids were just back at school, I spent a long weekend in Hamburg. The trip coincided with the city’s Reeperbahn music festival, where industry players meet for conferences and up and coming bands play at various venues. I’ve not visited Germany since I was a teenager, and I don’t remember it being so exciting.
In June 2016, Monocle magazine rated the city of Hamburg 15th in its annual Quality of Life survey. In fact, of the 25 most rated cities, Germany has 4 entries. Some of Lou’s own favourites also feature: Barcelona, Amsterdam and Melbourne place at 19th, 21st and 6th – so you can see the sort of company Hamburg sits with. There are no UK cities in the list.
The festival was inspired by South by South West in the US and uses the wide Reeperbahn street in St Pauli as its base.
The ‘Dancing Towers’ sit on the site of the former Electro Jazz club, Mojo, which was apparently a place of musical revolution for the city in the 1990s. The club is now subterranean and completely invisible by day. By night, doors recessed in to the pavement lift open, revealing stairs to the club downstairs. Its not all new bands that play at the festival. We used our Press passes to squeeze in to to see Craig David, moments before the gig started. Yes, I know… and I’m fairly sure some of the group I was with were under 5 years old when 7 Days first came out.
On Friday night we hopped from venue to venue, checking out the acts on offer. We missed Boy playing in an enormous church, but we did see an amazing secret set by Biffy Clyro in Docks (Thanks again, Press Pass!). To be honest, I can remember only a handful of names of the new bands that we saw, but the quality of all the bands was impressive.
The streets were teaming with Reeperbahn delegates, each wearing their lanyard displaying their name, business name and position. Contrast this with the wild drinking, cheesy music and lurid neon of some of the lap dancing clubs on the surrounding streets and you get an idea of the variety on offer.
Friday evening’s “Cooking Con Concert” in a restored brick built industrial building, was an artistic mashup of cookery and music. We enjoyed four courses of fine food, inspired by and prepared alongside live music. The pork belly was delicious and Rhonda played a fresh and intimate set.
The docks in Hamburg are huge. Across the river, container ships are unloaded 24hrs a day, while the historic docks house offices, museums and theatres. The new Opera house is still being fitted out, but from the outside it already looks world class. The old cast iron elevated rail line forms part of the modern transport system and wouldn’t look out of place in New York.
Our tour guide explained how this part of the docks was settled by Portuguese immigrants 100+ years ago and now around 50 Portuguese restaurants and cafes continue to trade. 10 minutes walk further up the river, the sailors would disembark the ships and visit the red light district, which coincidentally seems to have been where the teenage members of the Beatles honed their craft, and where Ringo Starr joined the band. I must admit I was initially non-plussed at the thought of a Beetles tour, but the presentation, knowledge and enthusiasm of the singer/tour guide was compelling and it was handy seeing the music venues in the daylight.
It wasn’t all music and beer. On Saturday morning we toured the shop and design studio of a local fashion designer. She rents an incredible space that houses her shop, light-filled design & making studio on the middle floor, and apartment upstairs. Her life appears to tick all the boxes of anyone wanting to create an independent fashion brand in the centre of a lively city. We stopped by a record store down the street that was playing host to a hip hop act and then on to a regular Saturday morning flea market. Sellers specialising in vintage, vinyl, bikes, clothing and shoes. Our guide is quick to highlight that the market is held on a site owned by the council that makes office space available for media startups. The council is fighting pressure from private developers in an attempt to ensure property remains affordable in this part of town. No ones ever told me anything like that about an area Bristol, so I can’t help but feel impressed by that.
Did I mention public transport yet? Bristol is currently having a Metro Bus installed in the city, and the road works are causing mayhem. Hamburg’s underground and overground services links easily to the airport, galleries and stadiums – and the bike lanes in the area seem excellent. I hope Bristol’s Metro Bus is even a fraction as useful.
Special thanks to Hamburg Marketing GmbH for their excellent hospitality and genuine enthusiasm for their remarkable city and sharing Reeperbahn with us.
Dan stayed at:
Collaboration Note: We were invited to attend the Reeperbahn Festival, Hamburg. Words, opinions and photography by Dan Taylor. Thank you for supporting the posts that make this blog possible.