Reeperbahn: Trapped Within Hamburg’s Red Light District

Hamburg’s infamous red light district, Reeperbahn, garners the curious, the bored, the excited, the wild and the conservative.


At midnight, Reeperbahn has transformed from its cultural and relatively harmless daytime demeanor of restaurants and shops into party central. Neon lit figures objectify women; flashing arrows and enticing doormen bid the passerby to enter such sinful realms, where alcohol flows, drugs are found and prostitutes roam.

I found myself in Reeperbahn at 1:30 Sunday morning. Sacrilegious, I know. To be in Hamburg and not see the Reeperbahn would greatly skew one’s perspective of the lovely city brimming with water canals, modernity and antiquity. The Reeperbahn highlights the city’s youth and European culture while also proposing questions of morality and ethics.

As I walked (sober) down Reeperbahn, people stumbled, jostled, and eagerly laughed around me. However, beneath all of the hype and excitement, do people stop and wonder what is fueling red light industries?  I did. Who are these women hidden beneath their thick mascaras and rouge lipsticks? Have they chosen this career or was it coerced? Where do they come from and where will they go?  Such unanswered questions emphasize all that is unknown about this particular social class. Consumers come and go; the providers stay. What keeps them there?

Some women may have chosen the trade; others, I am certain, were trafficked and are currently trapped within the industry. Yet, many are ignorant that their actions maintain human trafficking enterprises. Others may be aware but seek only self-gratification and consequently neglect basic morality and ethics. Everything is a matter of cause and effect. Is your self-gratification a worthy cause for its potential effect on yourself and others?

Written by Lucy Ma.

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