Now or never for Hamburg′s cult clubs | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 15.04.2013
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Now or never for Hamburg's cult clubs

A big investor plans to tear down several bars along the infamous Reeperbahn and there are proposals to close three clubs beneath a dilapidated bridge. DW went to party in the Hanseatic city - while there's still time.

Is it really a good idea to invite a band called Trümmer ("Rubble") to a nightclub that a Bavarian investor wants to tear down?

Andi Schmidt, wearing white sneakers and a casual corduroy jacket, smirks. He's the owner of the Molotov club, which has been a local favorite on the Reeperbahn for a good 20 years.

Despite the calamitous situation, Schmidt hasn't lost his sense of humor. "Why's that?" he asks, before pausing. "After Trümmer the band Messer ("Knife") is playing. That's not supposed to be a bad omen either."

It's a Friday night in March, just after 9 pm. The weekend warm-up is just getting going and the people of Hamburg don't appear to feel threatened by Trümmer or Messer.

The exterior of cult Hamburg club Molotov where a banner reads No demolition!.

"No demolition!" screams the sign over the door to cult club Molotov

Dozens of club-goers are waiting in line wearing woolly hats to protect them from the icy temperatures. A white banner is stretched across the red painted door. "No demolition!" it screams, while alongside it, a small placard reassuringly reads "Culture conservation area."

Die Toten Hosen, the White Stripes, Mando Diao and Sportfreunde Stiller are just some of the bands who have taken to the stage here - many before they became big names. Schmidt's team has a knack for choosing great bands, he says. Other times it was just good luck.

The US rock band, The Killers, was barely known in Germany when he booked them in 2004, but that changed in the months leading up to their performance. The band stormed the charts and their fans stormed Molotov trying to get tickets for the band's first performance in Germany. "Long queues, people crying," Schmidt recalls. "There were real dramas."

Down the steps to a clubber's paradise

Tonight the drama is staying put outside. People shuffle slowly down the 19 narrow steps to the Molotov which is intimate, red and very cramped.

Vinyl records dangle from the ceiling. The sound mixer is caged in like a canary behind a tangle of wires. The ceiling is scarily low in places and in summer condensed sweat drips on the club-goers below.

Three young men are standing on the tiny stage. "We are Trümmer," the front man says, before the rock trio let it rip on their guitars making the beer bottles in the club vibrate.

"When everything lies in ruins and ash," frontman Paul Pötsch sings, "And everything explodes around us." It's quite fitting considering the situation.

Fans of the club are prepared to sit in chains in front of their "weekend living-room" in order to prevent its demolition, says 22-year-old Jasmin Thiele. The "cool and rancid" club is certainly one of a kind.

On stage, Trümmer singer Paul Pötsch shouts angrily that Hamburg will become just another conservative city if things carry on like they are. Then he sings about utopia and unreason.

The rock band Trümmer pictured on stage at Hamburg's Molotov club in March 2013. Bilder für den Artikel Jetzt oder nie – eine Nacht in Hamburgs bedrohten Kult-Clubs auf Deutschland entdecken. Sie wurde alle 2013 von Christoph Gunkel gemacht, er stellt sie uns zur freien Verfügung. Zulieferung : Anne Termèche Redakteurin / Producer DW Deutschland entdecken Voltastr. 6 13355 Berlin

"Cool and rancid": Rock trio Trümmer take to the stage at Molotov

The beating heart of St. Pauli

Of course the local neighborhood and the Reeperbahn are not open-air museums. But many people in the district of St. Pauli feel like the pace of development in the area means that it will soon become unrecognizable.

It's not only the Molotov that's being threatened with demolition but also an entire block of buildings which are home to other bars. The name of these buildings is taken from the legendary Esso gas station here. In actual fact the gas station is also a bar: On weekends more beer is tanked here than gas and bouncers reprimand drunkards.

The investor argues that the "Esso buildings," as they are known locally, are in danger of collapsing and so can't be renovated. Tenants believe that it all comes down to money. "If this block is missing, then very soon the Reeperbahn won't be the Reeperbahn any more," says Andi Schmidt.

But for now, the heart of St. Pauli is still beating - and hard. Just 20 meters from the Molotov is a bar called The Heart of St. Pauli. It's just gone midnight and the AC/DC hit "You Shook Me All Night Long" is blaring from the speakers. The dance floor is full, there are puddles of beer on the ground and the ceiling glitters with disco balls.

On average, the people here are about ten years older than in Molotov; their hair is fairer and their stomachs a little rounder. This isn't the place for cutting-edge music, but rather Astra bee, and a good flirt to the sounds of the party hits of the past few decades. This is also part of the Reeperbahn.

Corinna is a blond-haired 41-year-old. "On you," says a man wearing a black St. Pauli jersey complete with a skull and crossbones and places a beer on her head. Everyone's in the mood to party. "Did you see, Pauli scored in the last minute!" exclaims a clearly exhilarated Corinna. She's also wearing a fan jersey.

Maybe there will be a last minute rescue for the Esso buildings, too - a final decision hasn't yet been made by the local district council. The DJ plays a wild mix of songs from AC/DC to Manfred Mann's "Blinded by the Light," and men in threatening skull and crossbones pullovers bop away to saccharine classics.

The exterior of the Astra Stube, a club in Hamburg.

Parts of Fatih Akin's cult film "Soul Kitchen" were filmed at the Astra Stube

So many clubs, so little time

It's 1:30 in the morning now, but there's not a lot going on outside. Inside, however, just one door down from The Heart of St. Pauli is yet another packed club, Hörsaal, or Lecture Hall.

Under a canopy of 21 disco balls, there are surely a few students - probably studying business administration judging by their appearance - dancing along to funk. The walls are decorated with record sleeves from the 1960s, though nobody seems to know why there's a long rocket swinging from the ceiling.

Especially, not the man at the table football game wearing a suit. He's so drunk that no one wants to play with him. It's impossible to do a bar crawl here without coming across characters like this. It's all part of the Reeperbahn's charm.

"Hey curly head, come on, we're taking this loser out," shouts a pimped-up bouncer, pointing to the man at the football table. It's time to go - also because there are more endangered clubs to visit.

A good 20 minutes walk from the Esso houses there's an old railway bridge which doubles as the musically most popular crossing in the city. Intercity and regional trains rattle above the corner of Stresemannstrasse and Max Brauer Allee, while dance floors quake in the three clubs down below.

The last big birthday bash?

The minuscule Astra Stube could almost be the little sister of Molotov, but only on the surface: There's a lot of red; it's intimate and, frustratingly, often sold-out.

It's 2 o'clock in the morning and the Astra Stube is still full, even though no live bands are playing, just the DJs "nord amused" entertaining the crowd with electro beats.

An interior view of Hamburg's Waagenbau club.

For tonight at least, the party will go on at Waagenbau

There's even more going on at the Waagenbau club next door where people are lining up to get in. Three girls are arguing loudly about where various scenes from Fatih Akin's cult film "Soul Kitchen" were actually filmed: In Waagenbau (Editor's note: Not true!), or in Astra Stube (Ed: True!)? In the end, they decide they'll just have to watch the film again, but right now it's time to party.

But for how long? The Deutsche Bahn, Germany's national railway service, announced plans in 2009 to renovate the railroad bridge and issued eviction notices to the clubs at the time. The move sparked a series of protests and the clubs' leases were eventually extended to the end of 2013.

And so, Waagenbau might be celebrating its last birthday on this icy weekend in March. Inside the club, where gloomy arches and casemates lead to two large dance floors, a mixture of techno, house and drum 'n' bass provides the beats.

A cloud of smoke hangs over the dance floor and shreds of aluminium foil rain down on the heaving mass of revelers below. There's no end to this party in sight, at least not tonight.

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