The Golem is one of Hamburg's best clubs – because besides excellent drinks and good music, it's got attitude. Author Andra Wöllert tracked down the political side of night-life.
Photos: Katja Ruge
St. Pauli, Saturday night, we're in the Golem, the undercover all-round talent of Hamburg night-life. It's only a few minutes' walk to the party-animal mile of the Reeperbahn, but there are no bellowing roughnecks here, no mainstream pop and no bouncers on the door – and if anyone goes to the counter and orders a “Skinny Bitch” they'll have their eyes opened by the bar staff: “That's a shitty sexist name. But I can offer you vodka and soda”.
The Golem has a sophisticated choice of spirits and cocktails, enough space for readings, podium discussions and concerts, also a club and a small cinema in the basement, which can only be reached by a charming, concealed stairway behind the bookshelves. Above all, however, the Golem has attitude, which isn't exactly the norm in Clubland these days. It's left-wing and nichy, upmarket but without the big ego. “If somebody comes in and wants to give us his energy and ideas, that's super. It's an open construct,” is how manager Martin Siegmann describes the Golem's self-perception.
Through the night in the space ship Infinity
This Saturday night, tropical beats are being played upstairs in the bar. I squeeze past men in Hamburg-hip knitted caps, blondes in silk business blouses, the trans woman in the tight dress and the guys with the hippyesque wooden earrings, a tipsy forty-something woman with a Spanish accent and Abu from Gambia, who would normally have gone partying at the Golden Pudel – the other Hamburg night-life institution on the waterfront, which is just being rebuilt after a fire last summer.
I'm down the stairs, today's cinema show is “Galaxina”, with no sound-track. It's trash science fiction, made in 1980. In the film the space ship Infinity flies through the universe with a humanoid with bat's wings, a space sergeant and a female android for crew. A tastefully selected fusion of synthie, disco and house resounds from the crypt next door, and the night revellers dance.
Programmed for Hamburg's intellectual Bohemians
The Golem was opened in 2011 by Hamburg club legend Álvaro Rodrigo Piña Otey, who also co-runs Uebel & Gefährlich in the former flak bunker on Feldstraße. He put in the stylish designer decor – and a programme for Hamburg's left-wing intellectual Bohemians. However, the founder has devoted himself entirely to his Bistro Carmagnole in the Schanze district for the past two years; Martin had the guts to take over the Golem in his place – initially alongside his job as a special school teacher for children with behavioural problems. It's not long since he started working here full time.
Which doesn't mean Martin is on his own: the Golem family is large, because the network is constantly growing and the place always stays open. “We've got great premises here. Is there any reason why the cinema shouldn't be used for independent productions or by students? Or why literati shouldn't hold readings here? I can't be a universal specialist on my own, but I can offer a space to all creatives,” says Martin.
That said, it's not as intellectual now as it was in the early days. The Bohemians have moved on, they've probably grown out of night-life and switched to bistros. “Of course, you could say that standards have now slumped. But you could also say that more people can now enjoy this kind of arts programme – which doesn't mean it's been debased to a pop-culture bargain basement,” is Martin's comment on the new, but still upmarket standards. The programme includes jazz evenings every Wednesday as well as regular readings and discussion groups. Just a few days ago, the queer-feminist Hamburg collective Bubble issued an invitation to a political talk with LBGTIQ+ artists and activists from Istanbul and Berlin.
So the Golem is still out of bounds to the mainstream, but it's now opening up to more and different sub-cultures. In the long run, a clever decision aimed at keeping the Golem alive. Because Martin wouldn't give his own place's location even a “B” grade, despite being on the picturesque fish market with freshly-caught matjes herring sandwiches beckoning right outside on Saturdays after the party. “As soon as Hamburg people have to walk for more than eight minutes …,” says Martin. But they are walking.