It was getting dark as I left my hostel. A few metres from where the Beatles played their first gig abroad, a man dressed as a pirate was singing let it be and accompanying himself on a guitar. Friday night on the Reeperbahn was just getting started.
Photo: www.mediaserver.hamburg.de / Christian Spahrbier
I made my way through the crowds, looking for the turn-off for Kastanienallee. In many cities, the red light district is not the safest place for a woman to be walking at night, but this felt more like carnival. Further on I could see the “dancing towers” ahead on me, appropriately enough, they are supposed to symbolise a couple dancing tango.
I found the street where I had to turn off and the noise from the Reeperbahn faded as I walked down Kastanienallee, a dimly lit, mostly residential street, and looked for number 9. There was no one around and I was just thinking about how I’d actually felt safer when I had been walking along the Reeperbahn when I saw light and heard tango music. This was number 9. I had arrived at La Yumba. I went inside and followed the music upstairs.
Photo: La Yumba
Inside, beyond the bar, a couple was dancing and others were sitting down. It was a few minutes after nine, so the milonga had not long started. The room was lovely, decorated with chandeliers, an interesting contrast to the brightly coloured lights and a parquet dance floor surrounded by plenty of chairs and tables. I had only been sitting down for a tanda or two when I was invited to dance. Cabeceo did not seem to be used in this milonga, at least not as far as I could tell. Anytime I was invited to dance the guy simply walked up to me to ask. It had been a long time since I danced tango in Germany (although it’s actually where I started) and it was my first milonga in Hamburg. From what I could tell, I was one of the few non-Germans or even non-Hamburgers there and it had very much a “cliquey” feel to it, especially as the evening went on.
I did get invited to dance quite a bit in the earlier part of the evening, but as of about 11pm, the room really started to fill up and I found myself sitting out tanda after tanda. After a chat with two other ladies who weren’t getting any dances – it turned out they were also newcomers to the Hamburg scene – I decided to call it a night.
I was back at La Yumba again that Sunday afternoon, this time with a friend who lives close to Hamburg and occasionally dances tango. We each danced a tanda and that was it. Perhaps we should have been a bit more attentive to prospective dance partners … but this trip was more about catching up with friends. I’m nevertheless glad I was able to get a brief introduction into Hamburg’s tango scene at La Yumba. I hope to be back again soon to get to know some of the other venues!
The Friday night milonga at La Yumba starts at 9pm. There is a practica beforehand which starts at 19:00. Entrance costs 12€ (for both the practica and milonga). The Sunday afternoon milonga takes place the second and third Sunday of the month from 3 – 7pm , although it is not organised during July and August. They also organise a tango breakfast from time to time. Check their website or the calendar below for up to date information.
Like most cities in Germany, Hamburg has a very active tango scene. Make sure you check this calendar of tango events before your trip.
And finally …
What to do in Hamburg when you’re not dancing tango
While this weekend was mostly about catching up with old friends, it wasn’t my first trip to Hamburg, so I’ve included a few tips below
One of the most beautiful parts of the city and the largest warehouse district in the world, this is also where you will find several of Hamburg’s museums, including the Speicherstadt museum, the maritime museum and the spice museum.
Bonus tip for travelling tangueras: if you are looking for tango shoes, there is a shop for dance wear (including, but not exclusively for tango) right in the Speicherstadt called Dance Affairs.
Photo: www.mediaserver.hamburg.de / Christian Spahrbier
2. Landungsbrücken and Jungfernstieg
Being in Hamburg is all about being by the water. Take a walk along the pier at Landungsbrücken which is where many harbour cruises leave from. Alternatively, you can skip the guided tour and take one of the ferry lines which are part of Hamburg’s public transport system. More information and suggestions for routes to take here and here.
Another good spot for a walk or just sitting by the water (in this case the Inner Alster) is Jungfernstieg in the centre of the city. Apparently the pier got its name because it was known as a place where parents used to walk with their unmarried daughters (“Jungfern”) at the weekends…
3. Museum of Emigration in BallinStadt
If you have a free morning or afternoon, I highly recommend a trip to BallinStadt, where you can easily spend several hours. The museum is housed in the halls through emigrants passed on their way to North and South America and has recently been renovated and expanded. It now tells the story of emigrants from the 16th century to present day, through a series of interactive exhibits. It’s only about 10 minutes on the S Bahn from Hamburg’s main train station.
4. Reeperbahn & Beatles Platz
The morning after the milonga in La Yumba, I decided to take another walk along the Reeperbahn, this time in daylight. I realised that in my hurry to get from the S Bahn station to the hostel the previous evening I hadn’t noticed that I’d walked straight passed the Beatles…
This is Beatles Platz, just opposite the entrance to Grosse Freiheit, where some of the clubs where they used to play are still located. The statues seem to stand on a turntable, with the titles of some of their most famous songs along the edge. Come back here at night for the real Reeperbahn atmosphere!
Have you danced tango in Hamburg? What’s your favourite place to visit in the city? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!