Bargain Hounds In the Cockpit


Bargain Hounds

In the Cockpit

Slide, Reeperbahn

Anger, blood and death. A quiet night out in Germany

Hamburg, Germany
June, 2002

"Of course, I don't agree with violence normally..."

"Good for you."

"... and so my mates held him down while I stuck the boot into him outside the pub. Well," A triumphant finish. "What else could I do?"

Another geezer on the Reeperbahn, the street of shame, the pathway of excess. The bars never close, the brothel-keepers work in shifts, and the drink flows in, and out, like a fountain. So what was I doing here? I glanced at Richard, who was gamely keeping the geezer jolly while I checked for exits. Jolly is always better than angry and resentful, but you never know. It pays to have an escape route handy, just in case. I glanced at the geezer again. The geezer was describing how he was personally responsible for all the fighter jets in the RAF. "Fifth biggest airforce in the world, and who keeps it in the air? That's right, me..."

I had popped over to Hamburg to visit Richard, and have a couple of quiet drinks in his pub, the Shamrock Bar, so what was I doing sitting in listening to a straight-up, bang-out-of-order English geezer describe how he invented the internet and then went on to found dance sensation Prodigy? "...well, I worked my way up, started by cleaning the wheels of jumbo jets, and look at me, two years on and I'm a director of the company..." But mostly he liked to talk about how violent he wasn't. Every sentence began "I hate fighting, me..." and would end "... and then I picked up that bottle and shoved it in his face. Well, what else could I do?"

Men and Plumbing

He was trying to impress us: so far he had succeeded in giving the impression of a compulsive liar with a penchant for sudden, unpredictable violence. Fortunately Richard was the master of talking to people, keeping them happy, no matter the subject. And I could play my part too. I could run faster than Richard. Especially if I threw down stools behind me, to block the way.

Conversation among men is always a competition amongst equals. Women can spend the rest of measurable time discussing the endless details of their relationships, other people's relationships, the relationships of fictitious TV characters and how they secretly dislike an absent friend. Men, however, must talk about solid things, and must be on a level. If a chap talks cars, or football, or plumbing, I must talk cars, or football, or plumbing, or suffer for it. I once spent an entertaining two hours in a pub giving my views on heavy lifting machinery. That I didn't have views on heavy lifting gear before those two hours, and don't now, is irrelevant. That was the topic.

So, now, we were talking about fighting. As a man must, I began searching for fight stories of my own to tell. I thought about the time when I was 13 and someone threw my homework in the mud: I tried to fell him in a single blow with a karate chop I had seen on TV. I hurt my hand. He thought I was trying to pick his pocket. I thought about the time we were set on in Holyhead by Welsh youths who thought one of us looked a bit like someone else who might have stabbed his mate: good enough reason to beat us all up, just in case. I hit one of them on the shoulder: I hurt my hand.

I decided not to say anything.

The Shamrock

We moved on. The Reeperbahn exists outside the normal laws of physics or human biology. No matter that anywhere else I feel tanked out and ready for the scratcher after four pints and midnight, in the Reeperbahn there is always another drink you could just about fit in, and another five hours that you could somehow find to do it. I had arrived in Hamburg exhausted from a full day's travel... when? Half eight last night, and now it was four o'clock in the morning and carried away with the joy of life I was pogo-dancing alone on the dance floor as Richard tried to hide behind a barstool.

It all started, as all Hamburg nights must, in the Shamrock Bar. The Shamrock Bar was Irish twenty years ago before "Irish" became a pre-packaged marketing theme. There isn't a road sign to Lisdoonvarna, or a bicycle, or a lobster pot tied to the ceiling, the music isn't turned up too loud, and you won't be crushed by throngs of gabbling morons. Just wood panelling, candles and small groups of people telling quiet lies throughout the night.

We sat at the bar, finding new stories in the dark spaces, in the warm half-light, in the gentle amber glow of the collected whiskeys of the upper shelves. I remember a Scotsman telling us about oil rigs, another barman telling about fights the night before (conclusion: some people shouldn't drink), the German barman with the neon beer sign around his neck ('till he could find a better place'). Bar workers from all over the city would drop into the Shamrock. It is a rest from the drunks and tourists on the main drag.

Wifebeaters Weekly

We drank beer. We held forth on whatever the important topics might be. I talked football. I know no football. We re-invented the world again and again. Paddy, an Irish carpenter showed up with his girlfriend Ilke. Two days ago she had suffered a black eye in a basketball accident. Already half the bars in Hamburg had printed out a picture of them both under the headline "Wifebeaters Weekly".

Richard looked as cunning as the day he told me that his success in life was due to his choice of shoes ('show them only the best will do') and suggested we look down the street for a 'quick jaegermeister' or two. There was music somewhere, a roving band from the US pulled in to play in Hamburg for a couple of weeks. There was slurring. There was wandering around. Confused.

Five hours later, as we evaded the girls of the red light district, who came out to grab us playfully, hoping to finish their quota for the night and go home to their families, and headed to the 24-hour chip van, I wondered what we should do next.

"Well, firstly finish that sausage before it wakes up, then let's go get a drink." He eyed me carefully. "You can't throw up yet, you know. It's your round."

Physics and biology have no power over you in the Reeperbahn. I took a deep breath. "Okay."




Die Iren


Rocket Reeperbahn



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The Facts

Where I stayed

How I got around:
Easyjet to Amsterdam, then four hours by train to Hamburg. This was an expensive route.