Hamburg's red-light district revived by 'Fab Four'

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The Independent Online

The project is the brainchild of a Hamburg radio station, which has amassed €80,000 (£55,000) in donations for an architectural showpiece commemorating the days in the early 1960s when the Beatles wowed young German fans at the Reeperbahn's equally famous Star Club.

An architect's mock up of "Beatles Square", which its backers hope will be completed in time for this year's football World Cup, which is to be hosted by Germany, shows a wide tree-flanked black stone circle shaped in the form of an LP with four life sized glass statues of the Beatles standing nonchalantly in its centre.

The city government, which is also supporting the project, plans to surround the square with 200 flashing strobe lights to create an impression of a revolving record deck. Other ideas, borrowed from Liverpool, include plans to open a Beatles museum and tours of the band's former haunts in the historic city.

The Reeperbahn's "Beatles Square" is Hamburg's first attempt in 40 years to capitalise on the well-documented Beatles legacy in a city of which John Lennon once said: " I didn't grow up in Liverpool. I grew up in Hamburg."

Martina Mueller, of the "Oldie 95" radio station which is behind the project told Germany's Der Spiegel online web site: "Liverpool has an airport named after John Lennon, but Hamburg, where they played for so long has had nothing to commemorate the group. The Star Club was their cradle - the Beatles are the best way to adorn this town," she added.

The Reeperbahn's "Beatles Square" is part of a broader attempt by Hamburg to revive a red-light district that has been in a state of gradual decline for three decades. Blighted by the effects of Germany's economic stagnation and record unemployment, several Reeperbahn brothels have shut down in recent years.

Clubs, that in the 1960s offered spectacular and bizarre live acts including naked women wrestling in mud, have given way to cut- priced supermarkets and fast-food restaurants. The Star Club, which in its heyday attracted, not only the Beatles, but other big-name acts including Cream, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles and Bill Haley, closed its doors for the last time in 1969.

The Reeperbahn's prostitutes continue to ply their trade in streets cordoned off to ensure that only adult males can enter, but many complain that they are not pulling enough clients to make a living. An upsurge in mugging, drug dealing and alcohol-induced violence has compounded the district's problems.

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. The area is now home to a resident population with scant interest in brothels and strip shows.

Hamburgers say the Reeperbahn's demise has also been hastened by a massive growth in container shipping which means that visiting merchant vessels now unload their cargoes in the city's nearby port within hours rather than days, leaving no time for their crews to have an extended run ashore.

Horst Fascher, the 70-year old former manager of the Star Club during its Beatles heyday recalled yesterday how ships used to spend an average of two to three weeks in Hamburg's port. "The sailors don't spend long in Hamburg now and the club doormen tell me the discount shops are ruining the whole scene," he added.

Mr Fascher, who has joined the Beatles nostalgia wave by publishing a book about the band's time in Hamburg, would like to see the Reeperbahn restored as one of Germany's leading music club venues. "When the Star Club closed in 1969 a light went out in St Pauli," he said.

In the meantime, Hamburg's city authorities are hoping that a combination of the "Beatles Square", newly planted trees along the main Reeperbahn concourse and police video cameras to discourage mugging and violence, will boost the district as a tourist attraction during this summer's World Cup, when the city will host several matches.

City officials insist that they will do nothing to tamper with the Reeperbahn's "sin-bin" image. "We shouldn't tinker with it," said Markus Schreiber a St Pauli councillor, "The Reeperbahn is more famous than Hamburg itself," he added.