Not so long ago, if you'd suggested opening a hip upmarket hotel just off Hamburg's Reeperbahn, quite a lot of Germans would have thought you were mad. However, locals have always known that this notorious street is more than just the centre of Hamburg's lurid red light trade. It's also the hub of its thriving entertainment scene – and since it opened in 2004, East has been a leading player in the Reeperbahn's revival. Today, the surrounding area of St Pauli is Hamburg's liveliest district, and East has played a big part in its success.
East is the creation of the Chicago-based architect Jordan Mozer. Mozer calls East "a surreal mix of East and West, old and new". It's a pretty good description. The core of the building is a former iron foundry, built of ornate brick, and the decor is a bizarre blend of faux oriental and European retro-chic. The playful plastic furniture recalls Seventies sci-fi classics such as Space: 1999, while the languid drapes and fabrics feel like curios from an Asian backpacking trip.
Yet East's biggest selling-point is its atmosphere. On a Saturday night, the funky bar and restaurant feel like the best spots in town. The suave communal spaces are full of trendy young professionals, and the house style is more like a fashionable nightclub than a conventional hotel. Somewhere to be seen, as much as somewhere to stay, East has set the standard for Germany's new generation of design hotels.
East Hotel Hamburg, Simon-von-Utrecht-Strasse 31, Hamburg, Germany (00 49 40 309 930; www.east-hamburg.de). Only a few minutes' walk from St Pauli U-Bahn station and just a few minutes more from Reeperbahn S-Bahn, East is hard-wired into Hamburg's cheap and efficient public transport network. By bus or tube, most city-centre locations are barely 10 minutes away. Besides its infamous sex industry, the Reeperbahn boasts several good theatres, and lots of colourful restaurants and bars. The hotel is only several minutes' walk from the stadium of FC St Pauli, Hamburg's gloriously grungy football team, and a short walk from Hamburg's historic harbour, which hosts its annual regatta from 9-12 May this year.
Time from international airport: Hamburg's Fuhlsbüttel airport is only 12 kilometres from the heart of town, with direct scheduled flights to half a dozen British airports. A taxi to the airport should take you less than half an hour, but you can also easily get there in well under an hour by bus or underground.
The standard bedrooms are stylish but compact, decorated in bright, bold colours, with walk-in showers and en suite toilets, and desk space ingeniously built into the headrest of the bed. The futuristic metal washbasins are great to look at, but are not quite so enjoyable to use. There's not a lot of space for much else in the bedrooms, but the best thing about East is the recreational facilities: a state-of-the-art gym and spa, a proper, full-sized pool table, a private cinema, even a computerised driving range.
Freebies: The usual complimentary toiletries. The greatest treat by far is hanging out in the ultra-cool lounge and bar.
Keeping in touch: Direct-dial phones, complimentary Wi-Fi connection in almost all rooms, and free internet access in the lobby.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Doubles start at €175 (£145) including a coffee and croissant breakfast. A full buffet breakfast costs €17 (£14) per person.
I'm not paying that: Try the Hotel Imperial (00 49 40 311 720; www.hotel-imperial-hamburg.de) just across the road. It's far more basic and traditional than East, but if you just need somewhere to rest your head, it's absolutely fine. Doubles start at €82 (£68) including breakfast.