Words by: Kayceman
Reeperbahn Festival :: 09.24 - 09.26 :: Hamburg, Germany
When the big German dude wrapped his bear arms around me, his beer trickling down my back, I knew I had made the right decision. Hamburg had just defeated Munich in the biggest soccer match of the year and all 60,000 of the faithful were freaking out. The game was right in the middle of the Reeperbahn Festival, the reason I was in Hamburg, and not only was I missing music while bouncing up and down at the pristine HSH Nordbank Arena but the two nights previous were long and glorious full of indie rock (Swedish, German, Irish and American), distorted pop, psychedelic punk, dirty soul, deep blues, a string section, a couple DJs, one really bad English band, a whole lot of pilsner, and well, I was beat.
| Spielbudenplatz :: Reeperbahn 2009 by Zimmermann|
I almost didn't go to the match. But when my guide, on loan from the city of Hamburg and one hell of a great local to hang with who had also been out drinking and rocking all weekend, gave me that look – you know, the one your boys give you when they aren't particularly impressed – I knew I had to man up and go. And then it hit me! This is what the Reeperbahn Fest is all about. Sure, it's centered around the music but you're in one of the coolest cities in Europe and you have to go with the flow – of which there are many currents.
Like drinking till morning with new pals at the bar and taking a boat trip through the canals that line the city, going to the soccer match was definitely the right choice. Firing off high-fives with locals covered in team jerseys, hats and scarves, the soccer game was a quintessential German moment and proved every bit as crucial to my Reeperbahn experience as the smoking Dinosaur Jr. set, Beatles tour, and discovery of new favorite band, Friska Viljor.
| Hamburg vs. Munich by Kayceman|
160 bands from 20 countries on 20 stages brought more than 18,000 music fans from around the world to Hamburg. Reeperbahn Festival, now in its fourth year, is named after and located in the heart of Hamburg's nightlife hot spot, the Reeperbahn. Actually the name of the street that runs through the area, the Reeperbahn contains one of the most famous red-light districts in the world and prostitution is still legal, loud, and proud.
Hamburg is a port city built around beautiful waterways and charming architecture. Years ago it would take cargo boats days to unload and re-load, so sailors would flood the nearby Reeperbahn, which lays just steps from the docks. Seeking women and booze they found plenty of both and this is the seed from which the Reeperbahn has blossomed.
Nowadays it takes boats a few hours to deal with cargo, and because of this you will no longer find any sailors up on the Reeperbahn. You will, however, still find a plethora of bars and women selling their wares, as well as windows offering a mind-blowing array of possibilities, including, but in no way limited to: "Real Texas BBQ," ancient cell phones, paraphernalia of all sorts, karaoke, some really nice guitars, guns and swords, sausage, shawarma, giant dildos, designer handbags, real live women (don't make eye contact unless you're ready), trendy t-shirts, and naked wrestling.
| Reeperbahn by Kummer|
The Reeperbahn has pulled off a rather incredible transformation. Retaining the right remnants of her seedy past and still very much a red-light district, the Reeperbahn is now one of the most happening streets in Europe. There are brothels, trannies, drug dealers and street girls, but they don't run the place anymore. Right next to the blocked off Herbertstraße, the restricted street (men 18+ only) with half naked chicks for sale in the windows, is one of the city's most popular restaurants, several four and five star hotels, and down the block is the city's biggest police station. There are high-brow socialite bars, fancy eateries, really good falafel stands, street musicians, painters, frat boys (they were probably here when it was only hookers, too), dance clubs, rock rooms, sex shops, art galleries, strip shows, museums, and an endless parade of people from all walks of life looking for everything life has to offer. And because everyone is there it never feels dirty (well, never gross) or out-of-bounds, just exciting and definitely different. It's because of this intoxicating mix that the Reeperbahn is so totally unique. Somehow all of these elements mix and while it feels a bit like Bourbon Street (what with the public drinking, debauchery, noise and neon), there's a striking sense of freedom set to an electric pulse that borders on addictive.
Modeled after Austin's South by Southwest, Reeperbahn Festival utilizes about 15 clubs and bars in the area and two large outdoor stages in the center square know as the Spielbudenplatz. Patrons receive wristbands, which only cost 55 euros (roughly 82 dollars) for a three-day pass, which also includes public transportation (sweet bonus), and like SXSW the wristband gets you into any of the participating clubs (assuming they weren't at capacity, which was rare). Unlike SXSW, where every nook and cranny of Austin is taken over by the festival, only a fraction of the storefronts at Reeperbahn are part of the event. This allows fans to still fully experience Hamburg, not just the fest. You're not standing in a nameless field or packed in with thousands of industry folks drowning out whatever culture might exist. Walk out from a festival set and you're rubbing shoulders with families eating dinner, locals out drinking, the upper crust crowd hitting the theater, streetwalkers looking for a "date," and lots of tourists staring at the lights. It's a sensory overload smorgasbord, and if you're looking for something you can probably find it along the Reeperbahn.
The festival permeates the area with daily panels, a Flatstock exhibit, and central campus lounge, but it's not about schmoozing and boozing. It's the complete package with music all night and days full of whatever suits your fancy. With boat trips, the newly opened Beatlemania museum (the city is going to great lengths to accurately document the Beatles' foundational, speed-fueled days in Hamburg), various hip shopping districts, flea markets, coffee joints, gastronomic delights, historic bars with historic beers, beautiful public parks and heaps more, there's plenty to see and do.
| Deichkind :: Reeperbahn 2009 by Evers|
It would be easy to get swept up in Hamburg, maybe take a short trip to Munich or Berlin, or perhaps a five hour train ride to Amsterdam, or even head out to Prague or Italy, but that would have to come before or after Reeperbahn Festival, because for music fans, at the end of September there's nowhere else you wanna be.
Reeperbahn Festival's motto is "New International Music," and for the fourth year in a row they held true to form. From Thursday through Saturday music ran from around 8:00 p.m. till 1:30 a.m. And with late night parties and bars that never close, there was always something going down. Staring at the schedule, even the most seasoned music fan would be hard pressed to recognize half the acts other than notable headliners like Dino Jr., Jazzanova, Jose Gonzalez, Iceland's Emiliana Torrini, and Editors. The lineup leaned heavily on European bands as it always has and, one assumes, always will. Following another season of U.S. festivals boasting strikingly similar lineups, this was incredibly refreshing. What follows are a few highlights from the rowdy nights at Reeperbahn.
Continue reading for highlights from Reeperbahn Festival...