The ways to see the city’s alternative side

Hamburg is perpetually on the brink of falling out with itself. On the one hand, it’s a city of convention and millionaires – Hamburg has the highest concentration in Germany – with all the associated trappings.

But Hamburg’s alternative side is in rude health and full voice too. Ranging from seediness and vice all the way to seething anti-establishment protest, here’s how to experience the full gamut of Hamburg’s edginess for yourself.


1. Take the rough with the sleaze

Your flight here was probably half-full with stag-do-goers, their sights set on the bawdy bars and brothels of the 1km-long Reeperbahn. Hamburg’s Kiez – as the red-light district is known here – has made a long career of chewing men up and spitting them out. Even the Beatles (who spent their professionally formative years in Hamburg) had their eyes opened by “Sin Mile”.

But it’s also a tourist destination for those with no interest in titillation. Come for the people-watching alone: you could fill a novel with the gritty stories and characters associated with venues such as Zum Silbersack bar and Mojo Club.

You can also ignore the sex entirely – many locals do. The St. Pauli Theater overlooks the Reeperbahn, studiously ignoring the goings-on before it, while the Kiez also boasts Cuneo, one of the city’s finest Italian restaurants.


2. Embrace the skull and crossbones in St. Pauli

The Reeperbahn may be located in the St. Pauli neighbourhood, but this area doubles as the beating heart of Hamburg’s anti-establishment identity. The local football team, with its skull and crossbones regalia, is the most visible symbol of this attitude, and FC St. Pauli’s culture of punk, tolerance and anti-establishment resistance is tremendously refreshing. Catch a game if you can.

Step off the Reeperbahn and the mood changes utterly. St. Pauli is a peaceful, leafy, village-like place down streets such as Wohlwillstrasse and Grüner Jäger. On the former you’ll find St. Pauli’s tourist office, which looks like a minimal, artfully dishevelled café-cum-art space. Its gift items include indie bands playing cards, vegan and Fairtrade products, and badges depicting a Swastika-crushing fist.