“I would say Santa Pauli is the cheekiest and most frivolous Christmas market in Hamburg and the whole of Germany,” says Christian Feder as we chat under a red, oval sign bearing the grinning face of a cartoon Father Christmas and the words “Moin Moin Santa Pauli.”
The Spielbudenplatz in St Pauli
We’re on the Spielbudenplatz, a public square with two permanent stages, in the heart of Hamburg’s St Pauli district. This was once one of Europe’s largest red light districts. You still see traces of the world’s oldest profession here. Just minutes ago, a couple of working girls tried to accost me as I waited at the pedestrian traffic lights by the Davidwache police station.
I’m told, though, that prostitution is on the decline and the area is reinventing itself as an entertainment area. These days container shipping gives sailors less time for land leave and the internet means it’s possible for people to arrange liaisons without heading into town.
On the Reeperbahn at half-past midnight?
The main draw of St Pauli today is its bars, clubs, theatres and restaurants. Three million people visit the Reeperbahn each year. Yet you’ll still see sex shops and touts promising live shows in bars on the 930-metre long thoroughfare.
Santa Pauli plays on the district’s reputation, as Christian, the market’s spokesperson explains: “We have an adult area where you can watch strip shows, featuring men and women, and burlesque. We also have porn karaoke.” This, it turns out, is an opportunity for people to perform voice-overs to screenings of adult films.
I walk with Christian over pine-scented wood chippings and past the market’s stalls. We enter a tent guarded by burly doormen. As we pass the bar he gestures towards a raised stage with a metal pole and shimmering, glitzy curtain. This is where the entertainment goes down.
Fortune telling and piercings
Back outside a dark-haired woman called Norma stands by the door of a tiny cabin with the word Wahrsagen, meaning ‘fortune teller,’ etched in wood under the cartoon figure of a bulldog with angel wings. She’s kind enough to pose for a few photos and I learn she reads palms and cards. The fact she doesn’t ask if I’d like to enter is, I suppose, testimony to her abilities.
The next stall I view is selling a selection of what, at first, appears to be jewellery. I assume the glittering pieces are earrings. A closer examination reveals they are, in fact, ornate intimate piercings. Anyone feeling game can get their private parts pierced here at Santa Pauli.
Moving on, I spot a board bearing a selection of pubic toupees in a variety of colours. “They’re made from real human hair,” Christian assures me. The parted and plaited ‘Heidi’ toupee catches my eye but I manage to walk on without being tempted into making a purchase. “You don’t find pubic toupees at other Christmas markets,” adds Christian with a wry smile. I can’t argue with that.
Hand-crafted glassware and more
Vibrators, ranging from shocking pink to shockingly large, are offered for sale at another well-lit stall. A display case shows off bobble-formed, hand-crafted glass pieces.
“This is the only market with a wide selection of ‘Gemüse Dinge,’ that’s what we call vegetarian food,” explains Christian, standing by a fast food stall called Der Vegetarier. Meat alternatives clearly abound here at Santa Pauli.
It’s a cold, crisp night and we warm ourselves with a cup of mulled wine. As we drink Christian explains that Santa Pauli is most popular on weekends, when it stays open until 1.00 am, rather than the usual closing time of 11.00 pm. People meet here before heading clubbing or on to late-night bars, as will I once my drink is finished.
Gain further impressions on the official Santa Pauli Facebook page. Live music shows on the stages of the Spielbudenplatz are free of charge.
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