The Arty Part of Hamburg Has Its Own Allure

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Girls! Girls! . . . Shopping!

In Hamburg's St. Pauli neighborhood, one of the biggest red-light districts in Europe, the call for adult entertainment is inescapable. Yet German city dwellers and in-the-know tourists ditch the racy main drag for surrounding pockets where the boutiques, restaurants and night life are edgy, not illicit.

The downtown district's hub, 10 minutes by subway from Hamburg's central train station, is the Reeperbahn, a street named for the boat-rope makers who practiced their trade here between the 14th and late 19th centuries. Today, flashing signs tout peep shops, window-shopping caters to mature audiences and side streets teem with prostitutes after dark.

Just a 15-minute walk north of the Reeperbahn, however, the scene turns more artful. In Karolinenviertel, young artistic types create one-of-a-kind accessories, clothing and jewelry in the backs of their boutiques. And while yesteryear's punk scene is on the wane, the area retains a feisty, independent vibe.

Sabine Schaeferkordt, proprietress at Nymp henfieber (Marktstrasse 10 ), is usually found inside her long, narrow shop creating patterns for her 1960s-inspired silk and wool evening dresses ($317 to $1,253). Schaeferkordt shares her atelier with jewelry designer Kerstin Dumke, who creates elegant silver jewelry to complement Nymphenfieber's frocks.

A few doors down at Andreas Linzner (Marktstrasse 6 ), the energetic textile designer of the same name turns 1960s and '70s vintage towels into funky throw pillows, bathrobes and plush animal sculptures (from $30 for a mouse to upwards of $500 for a huge bear). A spiral staircase corkscrews down to his atelier, where shelves are stacked with colorful towels plucked from donation bins. "There is a kind of child in my work," said Linzner, who hopes to one day organize an exhibit on the history of towels.

Across the street, Anna Golightly (Marktstrasse 147) sits in a space barely bigger than a walk-in closet. Owner Anna Jakob was training to be a modern dancer in England when she took a class in stage and costume design class that changed her life's course. Her ultra-feminine line consists of unusual accessories such as leather bracelets stitched with vintage ribbons (some sourced from her grandmother's attic), pacifier leashes and bibs, all in bright, bubbly colors and prints (accessories from $9.60). "You can't open a shop like this anywhere," acknowledges the 28-year-old, who makes everything by hand inside her shop. "It has to fit in the neighborhood."

Koch Kantor (Karolinenstrasse 27), around the corner, is a cozy place for lunch. The menu's two dishes ($4.90 to $11.65) change daily and are inspired by recipes found in the hundreds of cookbooks sold at the front. Owner Martina Olufs whips up everything from Thai curry to Hamburg fish dishes in an open kitchen that feels more like a friend's home than a restaurant.

Local favorite Trattoria Cento Lire (Karolinenstrasse 12) is a low-key bistro run by Sicilian owners with a flair for hearty Italian fare. Burgundy velvet curtains open to a candlelit space with wooden tables adorned with miniature liquor bottles-cum-bud vases.The menu includes thin pizzas topped with prosciutto and arugula ($7.40 to $12.50), antipasto platters ($7.40) and pasta dishes.

A few doors down at 4Experiment Gastraum (Karolinenstrasse 32), five classically educated German chefs with rock-star looks take turns working the front and back of the house. The organic menu, presented tableside on a chalkboard, changes daily and might include Spinatsemmelknockel (a dumpling specialty from southern Germany) or kingfish with pan-fried chicory. (Main courses from $29.)

For night life, head back toward the Reeperbahn, but stick to the side streets to avoid the feisty British stag partyers who invade on weekend nights.

Newly opened on the 20th floor of the Empire Riverside Hotel, 20up (Bernhard-Nocht-Strasse 97) is a seductive place to chill, thanks to plush sofas and floor-to-ceiling glass windows that take in sweeping views of the Elbe River and the floodlit harbor. The sophisticated venue attracts a range of ages and financial brackets who cross social lines for the club's cocktails.

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