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The International Writers Magazine:
John M. Edwards digs into a hot Hamburg, Germany, trying to catch evil bankers, in town for an international conference, with their pants down around their ankles in the Red Light District.

Romance in the Euro Zone
John M. Edwards
Can't buy me love on the Reeperbahn

There has been a lingering suspicion in the world economic community that evil bankers attend multilateral gatherings more for the after-hours thrills than for the joy of listening to the setpiece speeches.


Do bankers come to the annual jamborees for the simple reason that they are usually held in international “sin cities”? To answer this question, my friend Erik D’Amato and I, both working for a magazine in Hamburg covering the annual Inter-American Development Bank meeting (World Bank/IMF stuff), followed the scent of bankers to the infamous Reeperbahn, that clogged artery of cheap and dear thrills that has been drawing randy tourists for decades.

Dangerously enough, our boss was offering us 100 bucks for each politician or banker we caught with their pants down around their ankles. We had become “investigative reporters”—a fancy eupehemism for “rat fink snitches.”

At “Crazy Sexy,” a noisy grotto housed in what appeared to be a parking garage, a poll of the staff found only one sure delegate sighting. Martina, an earnest St. Pauli Girl sparsely covered by peach silk, said that part of her evening was spent in the company of a banker in for the meeting from New York. “He was, you know, nice, but a bit strange, too,” she said. Pressed by Erik to describe the unnamed banker’s tastes and demeanor, she demurred, only suggesting that a trip upstairs would refresh her memory.

Down the street, at a 200-seat strip bar called “Show Center 66,” the head bartender, Heinz, spoke somewhat bitterly about what he considered to be a famine of free-spending bankers. “We had a small group on the weekend from Portugal, but they didn’t spend very much.” Micki, a friendly woman sitting alone at the bar, agreed, exhorting us to tell the bankers what they were missing. “Why don’t you tell them to come here!?” she demanded.

Similarly, an exhaustive search of coin-operated viewing booths at nearby “Sexy Eye Land” turned up not a single delegate.

But a more thorough canvassing of the attractive and sociable women who enjoy strolling and lingering on the infamous thoroughfare--where even the Beatles were first “discovered” (adding new meaning to their anthem “Can’t Buy Me Love”)- indicated that visiting delegates were spending their precious free time at more discreet and exclusive establishments. One especially helpful Hamburger offered the names of several clubs and cabarets in which bankers were more likely to frolic.

At one of these spots, “Maxim’s,” visitors mentioning the Inter-American Development Bank annual meeting upon their arrival were greeted enthusiastically by two overaged ladies apparently well-acquainted with the club. Offered Champagne in return for their reflections and thoughts about the city’s celebrated guests, the two seasoned denizens of Reeperbahn nightlife compared notes on the international financial royalty they had entertained in the past days.

According to one of the busty matrons, “Bankers from all countries have come here. The Americans talk too much and are very strong like this,” she said, hunching her shoulders like Arnold Schwarzenegger. “The Scandinavians just drink and smile, and the South Americans say they want to live here, but then they don’t spend very much money. But I like it when bankers come. They are more polite, and they never have problems to pay.”

Her friend, leaning in, added that they had also met bankers from Norway and Italy and had had “a lot of fun” with several visiting Mexican bankers on Sunday. “The Mexicans are kind of shy and Catholic, but they spend the most money,” she purred approvingly, offering a warm welcome to delegates with spare time—and money—on their hands.

Money, after all, is the true lingua franca of the Reeperbahn, the blood that beats in the horny hearts of all its citizens. And this is why visiting bankers, though nominally masters of financial risk management, should pay close attention. For the Reeperbahn, like the red-light district of any great port city, has more than its fair share of lures and snares for the imprudent visitor.

When the bill arrived for the two bottles of Champagne that the helpful ladies had secured as recompense for their insight into the private lives of public bankers, it totaled an eye-popping 686 Euros. Immediate servicing of the debt was vigorously urged by a distinctly unfriendly German with well-defined biceps, the grim Reeperbahn’s version of a stern bank advisory committee. The debt, needless to say, was retired - and at par value!

Note: “Reeperbahn” itself is derived from the trade practiced in the area at the turn of the century before the oldest trade in the world replaced it. The “Reeperschlager” were craftsmen who made the ties for pulling in ships; now instead of trawlers, strollers are literally hauled into the randy strip’s clubs.

© John M. Edwards December 2010

Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with misadventures ranging from surviving a ferry sinking in Thailand to being caught in a military coup in Fiji. His work has appeared in such magazines as CNN Traveller, Missouri Review,, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape, Endless Vacation, Condé Nast Traveler, International Living, Adventure Journey, Literal Latté, Coffee Journal, Lilliput Review, Poetry Motel, Artdirect, Verge, Slab, Stellar, Glimpse, Big World, BootsnAll, Trips, Travelmag, Vagabondish, Richmond Review, Borderlines, Go Nomad, World Hum, North Dakota Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review. He recently won a NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Award, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Award, a Road Junky Travel Writing Award, a Bradt Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Award, and three Solas Awards (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He lives in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen."

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