Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2024
A Brief History of the Village Hotel
Looking through the archives recently I came across this portrait of two Albanian sex workers. I cast them for a shoot for Penthouse Magazine in 2003. My producer, Suzaan Talib introduced me to the young performers while I was staying at the Village Hotel, in Hamburg, Germany. The rooms at the hotel hadn’t changed much since the 19th century. Take note of the mirror ensconced over the bed!
Village Hotel has a long and storied past, spanning over a century of history in Germany’s second largest city. Originally built in the late 19th century, the building first served as an upscale brothel catering to wealthy businessmen and politicians who passed through the bustling port city.
At the time, prostitution was legal and regulated in Imperial Germany. The four-story brick building featured lavishly decorated rooms, a bar, restaurant, and in-house musicians to entertain guests. The brothel operated openly under the management of well-known madam Ida Schmidt, who ensured only the most beautiful and cultured women worked there. It gained a reputation among Hamburg’s elite not just for sex services, but also as a social venue for men to drink, dine, and be entertained.
Following World War I and the social changes of the Weimar Republic era, the brothel’s business declined but it remained open. During World War II, the building survived the devastating Operation Gomorrah bombing raids on Hamburg with only minor damage. Prostitution was banned after the war, forcing the brothel to close in 1949 when police crackdowns shut down Hamburg’s red-light district.
The building stood vacant for several years until a local businessman bought and renovated it in the late 1950s. In 1960, it reopened as the Village Hotel, named after the neighborhood where generations of sailors and merchants had caroused.
Today the Village Hotel is a modest but comfortable lodging destination in Hamburg’s lively St. Pauli district. The original 19th century brick facade and open staircase hints at its history. Long-time residents still refer to it by its old nickname “Hansel and Gretel’s House”, recalling the brothel era. While the rooms no longer host sensual delights, the hotel continues to thrive by catering to tourists and conference attendees. For over a hundred years, it has survived war, social upheaval, and shifting moral standards to become an integral part of Hamburg’s heritage.