Column #38 Hamburg, Germany
June 1, 1997
Ask anyone familiar with Germany what first comes to mind when they contemplate the attractions of the old port city of Hamburg and the Reeperbahm will inevitably receive top mention. Once the area of the city where cords were made into rope (or Reeps) for use on ships, today this quarter-mile long strip claims the notorious distinction as the largest red-light district in the world. It’s literally packed with beer halls, brothels and peep shows. I have no doubt that last night I was the only soul on the street actually looking for a game of darts.
My search eventually led me through the St. Pauli district, past Alster Lake and along Monckebergstrasse, the grand daddy of all the shopping strips in Hamburg. Possibly a dozen times I crossed the famous River Elbe. I learned that Hamburg has more bridges than any other city in Europe — 2,428 in all, five times as many as Venice. Somewhere along the way I also learned that Hamburg brews ten million hectoliters (whatever the hell a hectoliter is) of beer annually, about 10% of Germany’s massive output.
From beer hall to beer hall I wandered my way to the northern industrial fringe of the city and into a nondescript pub called the Schmugler (Harkorstrasse 36), cite of what’s touted to be the first darts bar in Hamburg. The place is small, tiny in fact, with a short rail bar to the right of the door and just a handful of tables to the left. By all appearances there’s nothing to do in the joint but drink. Not that this would be have been a total loss.
But sort of hidden away in two carpeted, well lit rooms in the rear of the pub are four dart boards. Along the perimeter of both rooms, stacked in boxes due to lack of space on the walls, are hundreds of trophies and plaques won by Schmugler-sponsored darts teams over the thirteen years the place has been in business. The owner (whose name I have been unable to retain thanks to my contribution to this year’s tally of hectoliters) served me a couple of beers and directed me to another popular spot back in the center of town. Unfortunately, the Schmugler was undergoing renovations so it wasn’t possible to get a game.
The darts set up at the Irish Rover (Grobe Reichenstrabe 27) is truely strange but they take the game seriously. Indeed, I closed out my night here drinking Guinness and throwing 501 from an oche drawn on the floor behind the curtain of a stage normally reserved for the club’s band.
One of the locals, a dedicated but not particularly accurate shooter named Tom Oestmann, filled me in on the organization of the Hamburger Dartliga (HDL — which is basically a collection of neighborhood teams, but which also includes a “super” league). Tom then lectured me on the finer points of how “real” beer is brewed and regaled me with tales of how the “dastardly” British, during World War II, bombed the hell out the area where the Schmugler now is situated. Odd thing really — I always thought the bombing went the other way around.
All in all, this German city is a stop worth adding to your itinerary. The beer flows. The natives are friendly. Darts exists. And the food — well, tonight anyway, I actually ate a “hamburger” at the oche.
From the Field,
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