Sex no longer sells in St. Pauli
Hamburg's oldest bordello might be closing, but the city’s bawdy neighbourhood St. Pauli is still thriving. Campbell Jefferys takes a closer look at a red light district in flux and the demise of its sex industry.
The family-run Hotel Luxor on Hamburg’s famous Grosse Freiheit has offered love for sale through many highs and lows over the past six decades.
There was the boom of the 1970s when every second building in St. Pauli was a brothel and the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s that saw most of them close. Then came the modernization of the harbour in the 1990s that resulted in a vast reduction of sailors and dockworkers looking for a good time. But come April, the Luxor will fornicate no more.
The oldest brothel in Hamburg’s notorious red light district is closing at the end of the month due to a lack of business. The owner says the area’s transformation into a tourist attraction is to blame.
“It’s time to stop,” Luxor’s madam Waltraud Mehrer recently told the Welt am Sonntag. In the brothel’s heyday, she rented rooms to 12 prostitutes. Now, that number is down to four.
The Luxor used to be open seven days and the working girls there earned upward of €2,000 a night. Now open just four days a week, they struggle to make €200. Mehrer says that in the past, customers spent more time and money in the bordellos of St. Pauli. But like everything else these days, sex has to be cheaper and faster.
“You can’t earn any money selling sex today,” she said.
The Luxor's demise is symptomatic of the changes to Hamburg’s sin district St. Pauli and its notorious Reeperbahn in recent years.
The city’s once profitable sex industry is giving way to upscale residential development and more sanitized forms of entertainment just as happened to New York’s Times Square in the 1990s. Reputable theatres and venues for musicals are now crowding out the remaining bordellos, sex shops, strip clubs and the area’s last live sex theatre the Safari. And that’s drawing a far different crowd to the Reeperbahn than before.
On any given Friday night, there are not just stag parties and groups of young men looking for largely free action, but also street tours, families, busloads of pensioners, and middle-class villagers on a night out.
A perfect example of such recent developments is Hopfen Strasse, which runs parallel to the Reeperbahn. The Astra Brewery formerly took up this notorious block and the ground level windows along Hopfen Strasse were filled with scantily clad girls. They liked to lean out of the windows in summer making it possible to look at all they had to offer. But the brewery was recently torn down, replaced by a vast expanse of modern apartments, office buildings and a five-star hotel. The Hopfen girls are gone and a swath of media companies and urban professionals – those who can afford the rents – have moved in.
Local St. Pauli authorities have at the same time tried to curb a rise in violent crime by introducing a ban on all kinds of weapons in and around the Reeperbahn. For many, the Waffen Verboten rule has been a positive development, as club bouncers often had to wear bullet-proof vests and pools of blood were sometimes washed into the gutters on Sunday mornings. But it also means people unlikely to be draw to the red light action alone are willing to venture into the area.
According to Mehrer, the atmosphere along the Reeperbahn changed when big discotheques began opening their doors and the smaller, more intimate brothels moved to the city outskirts.
Along the sanitized Reeperbahn, Mehrer said rules and regulations have destroyed the hedonistic atmosphere for good. Pleasure-seekers can no longer smoke nor can they carry weapons, and in some clubs, as many as five bouncers are in place to keep unwanted guests away.
“That has nothing to do with pleasure,” she said.
A new investor has already been found to take over the Luxor, which will open for the last time on April 4.