Green Light For Red Light Fest

Hamburg-based promoter Karsten Jahnke has been given the green light to stage a festival in a part of the city that’s known as one of the world’s biggest red light districts.

Apart from housing the offices of the few remaining locals who practice what’s often termed “the oldest profession,” the square mile around the city’s docks has a dozen or so music clubs including Grosse Freiheit 36, Docks, Gruenspan, Mandarin Kasino, Indra, Knust and Molotow as well as such theatres as the St. Pauli, the Schmidt, the Imperial and Fliegende Bauten.

Christian Gerlach from Jahnke’s office will be booking about 200 acts for a three-day festival that he hopes to spread across 20 stages all within a mile of each other.

“Obviously, the festival is very much inspired by the one at SXSW in Austin, Texas. We realized that the Reeperbahn is the only place in Germany where so many unique music clubs are so close together. On top of this, the Reeperbahn is widely known all over the world,” Gerlach told Pollstar.

The event’s September 21st starting date is still six months away and Gerlach’s not naming any bands yet. But he said the main idea is “to present acts that will be bigger and maybe headline the big festivals in the next year.”

“Nevertheless, we’re obviously aware that we need to announce some bands that are already well known and can represent the flavour of the Reeperbahn Festival,” he added.

He’s hoping to get 50,000 punters across the three-day.

A February 21st story in the U.K.’s The Independent suggests that any activity bringing a little more life to the area won’t go amiss.

The legendary red light quarter, which is world-renowned for its brothels, live sex shows and an early ’60s Star Club residency from The Beatles, has been through tough times and some say it no longer lives up to its image.

In a bid to revive the area, the local Oldie 95 radio station has raised euro 80,000 in donations to give the district an open square to commemorate the Fab Four’s stay and market them as part of local heritage. It would have an architectural centrepiece with a life-sized glass statue of each member.

An architect’s mock-up has 200 flashing strobe lights to create an impression of a revolving record deck, and grander plans include a Beatles museum.

It has taken 40 years for the city to do anything about capitalizing on the group’s legacy, but now it seems the radio station has suddenly remembered to remind everyone that John Lennon once said: “I didn’t grow up in Liverpool. I grew up in Hamburg.”

City authorities back the idea and see the square becoming a major tourist attraction, although plans to have something in place by this summer’s World Cup look ambitious.

The demise of the Reeperbahn is a simple tale of how the advance of technology can upset the socio-economic balance.

A massive growth in container shipping and the development of cranes that can unload them in hours (rather than days) means that visiting merchant seamen no longer spend a week in port. Neither is there any need to have so many dockers working shore-side. Consequently, the area has hit an economic slump.

Many of the sex shows have closed down and the brothel business that rode on their backs has been decimated.

In the early 1990s, the city government attempted to gentrify the Reeperbahn’s St. Pauli district by building scores of apartments for high-income earners. It seems the new residents showed scant interest in strip shows and brothels.

Whatever the changes, the area still hangs on to that old red light district image and it seems city officials have no intention of changing that.

“We shouldn’t tinker with it,” St. Pauli councillor Markus Schreiber told The Independent. “The Reeperbahn is more famous than Hamburg itself.”

–John Gammon