Al Quds

When you climb out of the metro station, the first thing in front of you is a Hoffner bass sitting in the window of a music store, a guitar pretty much like the one Paul McCartney played at the Star Club almost fifty years ago. If you head east down the Reeperbahn, the North Sea winds biting into your skin, everything still looks pretty seedy, a mess of porn kinos, table dancing bars, and live sex shows.

It’s very difficult to walk around St. Pauli without being confronted by a sex shop. Curiosity may well have killed the cat, but it’s the essence of human nature.  The range of DVDs on offer brings home the huge diversity in human taste (or lack of it). I always wonder who buys the really wierd stuff, and more specifically how it would be if you could identify those people in a restaurant, or perhaps a subway carriage. I suspect it would be a bit like radio DJs, I’ve never even been close to matching the imagined face to the voice I hear.

A side street off the Reeperbahn, Western Europe's most famous red light district

Of course technology has made its mark. Radio controlled devices have found their way into the sexual gratification arena, with apparently yet another remote control to add to the domino set decorating your living room. Do stop for a minute and speculate on how that could go badly wrong. For instance you innocently push a button to play a CD, and due to a frequency conflict a mini-vibrator forgotten under a cushion starts leaping up and down in gay abandon. Your guests are stunned. Or worse, the remote triggers a similar device in the purse of one of your guests, who vainly attempts to dispose of the issue in an elevated manner.

The five star award goes to the ultimate IPod or IPhone app, which also works with any MP3 player, vibrating to the rhythm of your favorite tunes. I don’t recall the brand name, but I suppose IProd or IMoan would be perfectly appropriate.

Immigration has also made major inroads into the sex industry. Many of the ladies are from Eastern Europe, trading their bodies for the mighty euro. My friends were concerned I might have trouble finding a cab late at night. I wasn’t. Where there are prostitutes there are taxis.

Hamburg has a number of areas named after saints, rather like the African bays of The India Road. St. Georg may be just five stops away from St. Pauli, but culturally it is galaxies away. On the south side of the main train station, the center of any German city, we find ourselves heading northeast up Steindamm. After a smattering of sex establishments, drawn like moths to the flame of the Hauptbahnhof, but even more seedy than the ones in the red light district,  the street becomes progressively darker. A lonely looking whore tries to convince me to join her for some “schon sex”. My German is of the schoolboy variety, but I understand schon means both nice and fast – perhaps she is thinking of both.

The smattering of pimps is clearly from the mid-east, in some cases from Pakistan or Afghanistan. Soon the landscape shifts into Asian supermarkets, selling twenty-five pound sacks of rice, pulses, Halal meat, and even travel  packages. Behind the vegetable racks a small room with two desks and chairs, hidden off the back of the store. Bizarre. Beirut and Kabul are  prominent destinations. Down on the left is a gymnasium, and a stranger looking in from the cold is treated to the sight of a bunch of Arab guys pumping iron.

The building that houses the Al Quds, or noble, sacred place.

Nothing can be seen in the floors above, but this building is home to the Al Quds, or Jerusalem, mosque. It was here, at number 103 Steindamm, that Mohammed Atta and his terrorist cell developed the plan that resulted in 9/11. Everything starts somewhere, but it’s hard to imagine how a few men in this nondescript place started a ball rolling that led to two major wars,  toppled world leaders, and plunged various countries into recession and unemployment.

This legacy of fear is consuming the west, with a new threat from booby-trapped packages, circulated courtesy of DHL or UPS. I guess suicide bombers are getting harder to come by, so we’re back to the seventies, when explosive mail was all the rage. Making bombs out of laser printer cartridges is nothing short of brilliant, the explosive indistinguishable from ink powder on the x-ray, the supporting electronics easily replaced by a cellphone detonator.

And this new wave brings home the same sad message, intimately tied to the freedoms we hold so dear. Terrorists only need to get lucky once – western nations must be lucky all the time.

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