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It’s amazing how many songs have been written about Hamburg – even more amazing is the fact that many of these songs are dedicated to specific places in this city. No doubt, St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn are probably the most honoured. But also less spectacular corners such as Jenfeld, Bahrenfeld or Niendorf, and even individual streets and pubs have been set musical monuments. But where exactly are these places and what are the songs all about?
TEXT: SUSANNE KRIEG
To view videos and audio material for each song, click on the numbers on the map! If you need more food, you can listen to my growing music compendium with all the Hamburg songs I have collected so far.
Mit dem Bus nach Bahrenfeld (1997)
„By bus to Bahrenfeld“: A classic Tocotronic song of the so called „Hamburger Schule“ (a Hamburg based music movement that started during 90s) – yes, you could almost call it a hymn – if this bus ride didn’t sound so melancholic, like someone rolling into the middle of a guitar storm in Bahrenfeld, a district that has always been lying in the shadows of the more bustling Altona…. Five years later, the local band Kettcar sang:“Somehow it’s better to cry in a taxi than on the HVV bus“ („HVV“ standing for Hamburg’s public transport system).
„Kauf mir ein Bier. Ich trink es dann bei mir.“
Niendorfer Gehege (2008)
Nostalgic, but by no means gloomy memories of a youth in the northeast of Hamburg, an area that is not yet suburbia but has a suburbian feel to it with its numerous single-family homes and the „Niendorf Gehege (enclosure)“ – a forest in which fox and rabbit say good night to each other – as did Niels and his teenage friends at that time.
„Und wir flippten zusammen zu ‚I was made for lovin‘ you'“
In Altona trank ich mal einen guten Kaffee
„In Altona I once had a good cup of coffee“: Actually, this titel is a bit misleading because there is neither coffee nor the Altona district mentioned in the lyrics, but instead it seems to be a kind of a round-up that probably refers to all the hipster districts of this city.
„Hier dreht sich alles schneller, Hamburg zeigt, was es kann. Wo du gestern gespielt hast, erinnert sich morgen keiner dran“
„Let’s get off at Landungsbrücken“: Dazzling rain, soaking wet, but with a smile on your face and this song in your ear – that’s how you stand at the jetties, while your eyes wander over the harbour, the ships and the cranes….
„Dieses Bild verdient Applaus und noch 200 Meter und jetzt geht der Fallschirm auf,
jetzt geht der Fallschirm auf, na dann Herzlich willkommen Zuhaus!“
Wenn Dir St. Pauli auf den Geist fällt
„If St. Pauli annoys you“: Die Sterne, who belonged to the first graduates of the „Hamburger Schule“ in the early 1990s, present a song that sometimes speaks from my soul, even if I have a big heart for St Pauli.
As a goodie here is a cover version of the wonderful Stereo Total.
„Wir waren verliebt, kam mir so vor und jetzt ist alles so lange her. Die Nacht vorbei,
der Kiez gefegt, und alles schleicht, was sich bewegt.“
Jenfeld Mädchen (2009)
„Jenfeld Girl“: When Jochen Diestelmeyer sang „Jenfeld Mädchen“, his days as a pin-up boy for thousands of female art students were probably over. But that doesn’t seem to have prevented him from singing in a youthful-romantic manner of his girl and of a part of the city that is in my head especially for his motorway access road.
„Lass uns gehen, fort von Jenfelds Ebenen. Ich reich dir meine Hand und geh den ganzen Weg mit dir.“
Two musicians from Sweden want to go on holiday in Hamburg and Berlin and find the owner of the record store Back Records in the Wohlwillstraße during their wanderings across the Kiez. He organizes a gig in his shop. They create a raging mood, and so the Stockholmers give four more concerts in Hamburg. In the end, they didn’t make it to Berlin. They paid homage to their newly won friends with the song „Wohlwill“ and now they come to the Elbe all the more often..
„And those beautiful friends invited us to stay at their place on this street that we will never forget. We want to go back to the Wohlwill love.“
In 1992, Robert Wilson directed the musical „Alice“, based on Carrolls‘ „Alice in Wonderland“, for the Hamburg Thalia Theater. The music was written by Tom Waits. Only ten years later Waits released the album, on which further songs are to be heard, which were created during his stay in Hamburg. What Tom Waits thought of Hamburg he revealed in a SPIEGEL interview:“Regen. Church bells. Pigeons. Old houses. Trains. I came to Hamburg for Wilson. I would have gone to Romania or Korea with him.“
„The memories are short but the tales are long when you’re on the Reeperbahn“
My Experience on the Reperbahn (1959)
The Calypso King Lord Invader recounts his experiences in this song in the „Blauer Peter“, a pub still existing today on Hamburger Berg, St. Pauli. There he had obviously danced with a certain „Madam Ericker“ and held her hand, only to find out that she was actually a man…
„Yes, Paris is a joke to Hamburg, Germany! My experience on St. Pauli shocked my modesty.“
DIE LIGA DER GEWÖHNLICHEN GENTLEMEN
Begrabt mich bei Planten un Blomen (2014)
„Bury me at Planten un Blomen“: An ode to Hamburg’s best-known city park – in the style of „Strawberry Fields“. Since hearing the title of the song, I know which phrase should be my last when I have to go.
„Weißt Du noch, wie wir Cornetto Nuss aßen und eng umschlungen auf der Parkbank saßen?“
SAMY DELUXE FEAT. ILLO77
Yo, this is a revenge on the „Rich Kids“ of Eppendorf, one of the more distinguished corners of the city. It is also the hood, in which rapper Samy Deluxe grew up and where it obviously wasn’t very easy made for a boy with an African father and a German mother.
„Heute hat keiner Zeit und das auch noch jeden Tag.“
Hamburger Berg (2010)
Shortly after Nils Koppruch died unexpectedly of myocardial inflammation in 2012, a journalist friend of his wrote about him:“He was a corner man, a people’s observer, a big-city cowboy; a real original, as one would say in Hamburg“. Koppruch had lived on St. Pauli for a long time as a painter and musician, where he ran a small gallery. This song might be meant as a nostalgic homage to this time.
„Der Himmel voll Nichts und die Sterne verloren im Hamburger Berg, Schneeregen draußen und Scherben, vormittags 13. März.“
Fine electronic dance music of the Hamburg band Wareika, which was founded in 2008 after a concert of the Havana Boys at the old Mojo Club in St. Pauli. The piece remains without words, but was obviously inspired by the bridge in Othmarschen, which stretches between a ferry pier and the Jenischpark.
Zum Goldenen Handschuh (2009)
Oliver Huntemann is a Hamburg based DJ who has made a name for himself with remixes for Underworld, Chemical Brothers or Depeche Mode. The St. Pauli pub „Zum Goldenen Handschuh“, to which the title of this piece refers, however, has made a name for itself above all through the serial killer Fritz Honka, whose life Heinz Strunk wrote a highly acclaimed novel about in 2016.
Findus are five guys from Schleswig-Holstein, who founded a band in 2005 and moved to Hamburg. The band was split up in 2016, but it certainly performed at the Hafenklang, a club on the Große Elbstraße, to which they dedicated this song.
„Wir sind dabei, uns zu erzählen, was wir verstehen. Ich nichts und du viel.“
GEORG PHILIPP TELEMANN
I wonder if Telemann ever suffered a burnout. The workload that the man put down after he became cantor of the Johanneum in 1721, the Scholars‘ School of Hamburg, at least gives the impression. He was also appointed music director of the five main churches at the same time, and one year later he also became director of the opera at the Gänsemarkt. In addition to teaching, he had to compose cantatas for every Sunday and festivals such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, as well as composing a Passion Music every year. In addition, the wrote operas (20 in total!). Telemann also composed music for the annual feast of the officers of the Hamburg Bürgerwache. But that’s not all. His plays were also requested for the entertainment of high visitors as well as for occasions such as the centenary of the Admiralty. His water music „Hamburger Ebb und Flut“ and the overture over Hamburg’s famous inner city lake linked here are of course among the most popular works of the incredible baroque composing machine called Telemann.
ELEMENT OF CRIME
Vier Stunden vor Elbe 1 (1991)
In 1968, the first television film in which Helga Feddersen appeared was called „Four Hours Before Elbe 1“. The song, whose lyrics are probably the words of a sailor, is supposed to be a homage to the Hamburg actress, who in the film mimics the head of a seaman’s women’s home, in which the wives of seamen waited for the return of their husbands. The Elbe 1 is a lightship that can still be seen today at Baumwall.
„Ein Ritt auf tausend Tonnen Stahl fordert seinen Preis. Und alt wie der Mensch ist die Sehnsucht nach der Ferne. Diesmal, mein Herz, diesmal fährst du mit.“
Not to be missed, of course. I used to dance to this on my first children’s birthday parties with my friends… Blankenese is a beautiful part of the city, far out with many amazing villas overlooking the Elbe.
„Die Post geht ab, wir machen jetzt ’ne Sause. Der Bär ist los, heut‘ wackelt hier die Wand.“
The singer-songwriter Werner Pfeifer has found his niche: He lives in the midst of industrial plants on the converted HADAG ferry „Kleiner Ozean“ in the Harburg harbour and sings exclusively about Harburg, a former working class district in the south of the Hanseatic city. Harburg has always been declared to be the next big thing. But the south has never really got rid of its filthy image. But that’s what makes this district so likeable.
„Harburger Hafen versteck dich nicht. Du bist eine Perle mit Öl im Gesicht.“
Another song of the five guys from Northern Germany, whose music is something between indie and punk, sometimes euphoric, sometimes angry. The song „Hafencity“ should be one of the angry ones. Whether the grudge really refers to Hamburg’s most modern giant construction site called Hafencity is not entirely clear. At the end of the day, the spirits come and wait for the good night, as is sung in the song…
„Lass uns über alles reden, nur nicht den Verlust“
La Playa (2002)
A summer night dream from the early years of Deichkind: tropical feeling on the Elbe beach, yeah. The longdrinks are good, the bass is deep and the chicks wear hot strings … Deichkind have always been great – unfortunately, I haven’t made it to any concert of them until now…….
„Ich bin beflügelt und hab getankt, das Befinden is topp und die Nacht ist lang“
☞ Don’t forget to also listen to my growing music compendium with all the Hamburg songs I have collected so far!