Fishnet Stockings and Lonely Tissues Boxes. The Reeperbahn in Hamburg and Candy’s Caravan

(c) Jane Burton, The Other Side #2, 2002

My single ‘Candy’s Caravan’ was released in December 2010 (Moontraxx) and since then, one of the most interesting bits of feedback I have received is that listeners seem to really connect with the character Candy. In retrospect, it’s interesting to me, how Candy and the story of her metaphorical caravan evolved. I do feel that the song has got a strong narrative and vivid imagery, its atmosphere is almost like a short and dark Burlesque piece staged by David Lynch. It features two characters with different perspectives, myself as the narrator and the hooker Candy. You can listen to a full-length recording here:

I had completed the lyrics long before I had even started on the music which fell into place when I was experimenting on the piano along with a simple trip-hop loop. The structure and arrangement for the piece I then further developed on live gigs. Musically the song is a blend of Nu-Jazz, electronica and pop – reminiscent perhaps of artists like Portishead and Annie Lennox – reflecting my experience in the field of experimentation and electronica. The lyrics mirror my theatre background in two ways: Most obviously by the usage of dialogue but I also worked for two small theatres on the famous Reeperbahn in St. Pauli, Hamburg and made a couple of interesting experiences when I was living in Hamburg mainly during my student years:

Like most students, I was often quite broke and took on a variety of jobs and gigs to get myself through college. I think my most hated job (apart from working in a tile factory and later in an office translating technical terms where I barely survived three weeks) was being an extra for TV productions: During those years, in the nineties, Hamburg was a huge media metropolis before a lot of production companies moved to Boomtown Berlin so there were lots of well paid jobs. Unluckily working on or in an actual TV or movie set has always bored me to tears! All this waiting! This “hurry up and wait!”. Anyway, for two episodes of a German evening TV series I played (or rather posed as) a prostitute which turned out to be a very interesting experience.

One of the gigs was quite well paid because a.) it was in the middle of the night b.) it was absolutely freezing cold and c.) we were dressed in the most awful clothes you can imagine. Although in retrospect, it would be fun to have a few photos! My friend and I were hardly able to stand in the patent leather boots we were strapped into, the fishnet stocking were cutting into my flesh and strangling my little toe and the layers of make-up seemed to be the only form of insulation we had against the cold and moreover, against the gazes of the techies. We had to stand under this dark and eerie bridge in an industrial area in Altona for hours, pretending to chat up the drivers cruising by, until finally, the lead actress got her lines right. Daylight was already lingering on the horizon as we fled home with numb toes, chattering teeth and blue lips. I realized what a terrible and humiliating profession this must be: exposed to the cold, to investigative stares, like being live stock on a meat market. I had never really seriously thought about these women before. But I needed to pay my rent too.

© Jane Burton, The Other Side, 2002.

So the next little gig I took on was playing a hooker in a bar. The most interesting part was the location: The scene was actually shot in a real bordello in Sankt Georg, a seedy area close to the central train station. After receiving our skimpy costumes the production assistant showed us our dressing rooms: They were the actual bordello “bedrooms” (in lack of a better term) and we were each supplied with one: Mine was a fair sized room with gold-framed, mirrored and red padded walls, a gigantic king sized bed dominated the centre, stripped bare of bedclothes revealing a smooth red plastic sheet by which it was covered. The huge bed was flanked by two night stands, each crowned with a lonely tissue box. It was extremely weird to get undressed and changed in that room. There was a bed – but nobody ever slept here. Was anyone watching? What was behind the mirrors? I panicked for a second thinking, any moment some John will be arriving. There was even a small extra room you first entered before proceeding to the “bedroom”. It had a window and was sparsely furnished with two chairs and another tissue box…I think anyone’s imagination would have been triggered by this situation.

It was around this time I got a job at the St. Pauli Theatre which is located on the famous Reeperbahn. The Reeperbahn (also known as the “sinful mile”) is absolutely unique. To someone who has never visited, it could be described as a hybrid of the old strip in Las Vegas, London’s Soho on Fridays, the red light district in Amsterdam and the sex-tourist’s strip in Bangkok. It has certainly influenced some of my writing (and many others before me) and coined reflections on topics like prostitution. The crooner and actor Hans Albers is strongly associated with St. Pauli, and wrote the neighbourhood’s unofficial anthem, “Auf der Reeperbahn Nachts um Halb Eins” in the 1940s. The Beatles had stints on the Reeperbahn early in their careers. And in the first lines of his song “Down The ReeperbahnTom Waits’ captures an a-typical scene:

Around the curve of The Parrot Bar
a broken-down old movie star
Hustling and Easterner
Bringing out the beast in her

I have always found the Reeperbahn an extremely interesting and seducing place and I’ve been to some of the best parties at great clubs (like the legendary Mojo Club) when the European Electronica movement first started. Because indeed, like Waits writes, “the memories are short but the tales are long, down there in the reeperbahn”. It is also a fantasy-world full of false promises and illusions – like a theatre. It’s downright fascinating to watch the gaudy but also desolate nocturnal activities of the crowds and their “entertainers”, the run-down prostitutes. But working almost daily at the theatre at night and sometimes also in the daytime, is slightly different.

tom-waits

After the curtain had fallen and we had wrapped up the show, I would sometimes step out onto the Reeperbahn and it would take me a while to adjust. Especially when you actually work there the contrasts can sometimes feel very strange. You have been enveloped in the safe and abstract world of a theatre and are then confronted with crowds of testosterone driven guys seeking sleazy sex, drugged twenty-somethings on their way the next hip party, crazed to dance, to drink and flirt.

So after the show at the theatre was over, we would often have drinks at the house bar. But on one of these slightly insane evenings the bar was so crowded that some of the crew members and I decided to go somewhere else. I have always been quite a street wise person and am also respectful of people’s “space” but this one time I did almost get beaten up by a hooker, whose territory I almost hadn’t respected:

We went around the corner into a dark alleyway to a small, unknown (well, unknown to the tourists) bar. I had my bike with me that I pushed along side while we all chatted and then absent-mindedly decided to chain to a lamp post (yes, literally, Unter der Laterne…). Suddenly this raging fury shot out of the dark, hobbling towards me on her neck-breakingly high heels, violently swinging her handbag and yelling at me: Du Schlampe…! Du… I understood immediately. I fiddled with the lock as fast as I could, muttering Schuldigung! Schuldigung! under my breath and then humbly entered the bar with my bike. That was the image that coined Candy’s wig and the high heels. The lesbian couple who owned the bar were gracious and let me park my bike in their dingy back yard where once a week, boxes of liquor and the large barrels of beer were delivered.

© Scott Sothern, Patsy 2013

© Scott Sothern, Patsy 2013

Especially at the weekends the energy on the Reeperbahn can almost be explosive. Depending on how much the crowds drink, which football team has lost or won, on how warm and humid it is (the colder, the calmer) and, I suppose, how business in general is going for the hookers. There’s a strong feeling of hierarchy. As a “normal” working woman you stay out of their way, mind your own business. The street girls are at the bottom of the ladder: Sometimes they’re heartbreakingly young girls, barely the age of eighteen, runaways, drop-outs, lining up in their neon-coloured hot pants, snow boots and make-up hustling the men and boys in front of Burger King. Street prostitution is only legal during certain times of the day on the Davidstraße. It’s the most curios sight at 8pm to see them suddenly all pop out of their rabbit holes to then later suddenly vanish again. But it is also very absurd to see them lined up exactly opposite the historical Davidwache, the district’s main police-station located on the South side of the Reeperbahn, on the Spielbudenplatz.

What was also quite fascinating to me was that despite the chaos, there is a certain rhythm on the Reeperbahn. I sometimes had to go to the theatre during the day to hang up washing, repair costumes or attend rehearsals and often noticed, yes, I could almost hear a big and long sigh, a feeling of general relief when the tourists and party animals had left during the daytime – in order to nurse hangovers and guilty consciences. The rhythm of the street then elapses into slow motion. What lingers in the air is the stale odor of beer, bad breath, sweat, fried onions, cigarettes and vodka – like the trail of cheap perfume tacky women leave behind. Yet the closer it gets to dawn the more the pace speeds up again: Having barely recovered, the cobbled streets and the musty bars are swept, and synthetic wigs and nylon tights are the subjects of emergency cosmetic surgery. Once the revealing daylight has vanished the illusions are born again – luring and seducing, like Candy…

(c) Frances Livings. All Rights Reserved.

© Vee Speers, Bordell Dame (from the Bordello series)

© Weegee, Bed with Heart

© Vee Speers, Mask (from the Bordello series)

© Richard Kalvar, Women in Bubble Wrap

Ziv-Ish_Untitled-2008-blonde

© Ziv Ish, Untitled 2008

© Ziv Ish, Untitled 2008

© Ziv Ish, Untitled 2008

© Ziv Ish, Untitled 2008

© Ziv Ish, Untitled 2008

 

Print Friendly
  1. Frances Livings

    This essay was featured on the 31st of January 2012 on the website Stormsage http://paper.li/stormsage/sound

Leave a Comment

NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>