Mallorca is getting a makover. All over the Spanish island, jokingly referred to as the “17th federal German state,” new high-end hotels are opening, even on the infamous S’Arenal nightlife strip
It’s two in the morning, and in the Megarena, a party basement of the size its name suggests, the bass beats are pounding, the go-go girls are strutting their stuff, and the crowd is going wild. “Uncle Jürgen,” the man at the mike, tears open his white ruffle shirt and sings the ever-popular hit “…no panic on the Titanic.” Mondays are Drews day on Ballermann, the German-dominated booze and clubbing strip on Mallorca. Veteran pop singer Jürgen Drews has been putting tourists into party mode since 1976. At 70, Drews is often the oldest person in the room, an eternal symbol of Ballermann tourism: that phenomenon both cringe-inducing and very popular – most all of the time.
“I am a therapist, a dispenser of feel-good hormones,” the pop old-timer explains later, adding that he has never even considered retiring from the stage. “I’ll carry on performing for as long as it gives me pleasure.“ But that doesn’t mean Drews has failed to notice certain changes taking place inside his “kingdom.” “There’s so much happening, it’s incredible,” he says. In a small area of woodland once frequented by prostitutes and their clients not far from his stage in the Megarena, the Hipotels chain is currently building a five-star design hotel called Playa de Palma Palace. In fact, the entire Playa de Palma beach, including S’Arenal, the top German party strip, will be getting a makeover in the next few years: It’s been slated for a chic new, updated and more upmarket image.
Codes of behavior have already been tightened up on Palma’s city beach since last May, including a ban on the consumption of alcohol in public – and especially the binge drinking of beer and sangria from buckets that was, until recently, part and parcel of the Ballermann experience. Also, anyone caught spitting out chewing gum, urinating in public or flicking a cigarette butt onto the ground can look forward to paying a 50 euro fine. Even excessively loud music is no longer allowed in the streets. The new code of conduct is part of a ten-year master plan under which the city aims to invest 496 million euros in refurbishing the hotel tower blocks and giving the balneario resort complexes a makeover (The name “Ballermann” is a German corruption of “balneario” based on the slang word “ballern” for “boozing”). There are 15 balnearios at regular intervals along the 4-kilometer stretch of the Ballermann promenade. This past spring already saw the opening of the Garonda, the first five-star hotel on Schinkenstraße, a Mallorcan street with a telling German name.
For a long time, no classy establishment even considered opening in S’Arenal, but the Garonda’s hotel manager, Miguel Amengual Delgado, 34, feels well equipped for the future here. He explains his business philosophy as we follow him through the minimalist lobby: to attract discerning, well-heeled tourists, the type of people who see Playa de Palma as a kind of Las Vegas complete with sunshine and seaside, a colorful den of iniquity, gaudy, crazy and on the seamy side. A strip where vanities are rife and embarrassments non-existent. “We may be seeing a very different Playa in a few years’ time,” Amengual says. Numbers like this make him feel optimistic: The junior suites with a sea view costing roughly 300 euros a night were already booked up by early June.
How do the traditional German “Ballermen” and “Ballerwomen” feel about the changes taking place? Tim, 28, a local league soccer player from Breisgau says: “People come here to let their hair down.” Denise, 24, a bank clerk from Oldenburg, puts it like this: “The great thing is that here you can leave all your worries behind you.” Claudia, 34, a clerk from Stuttgart responds: “It’s okay for things to get really wild here – much wilder than at home in Swabia in southern Germany.” Claudia has been coming here every summer to spend a week clubbing with the girls on “Malle” (the German nickname for Mallorca) – to take a break from their husbands, as she puts it. But she, too, has noticed that “it’s already much quieter than it used to be.” So will she soon be saying adios to the magic of Schinkenstraße? Claudia certainly isn’t enamored of the five-star visions of the hotel trade: “It could just all stay the way it is as far as I’m concerned.”
It’s already much quieter here than it used to be
The stylish (and affluent) classes of tourists which the Garonda would like to attract are already getting together at the Puroeach, a beach club a few kilometers down the coast. It’s the haunt of jetsetters and business nomads, and world champion soccer players Manuel Neuer and Mario Götze reputedly party here. A similar set also strolls the trendy Portixol neighborhood at the western end of Playa de Palma. Gentrification has rapidly transformed Portixol, which was once a sleepy fishing village – driving up real estate prices and turning rank tavernas into smart-looking bars. The stench of a fabric and leather factory once hung over the neighborhood; now the combined scents of barbecued prawn, perfume and cigars fill the air. Allison, a 23-year-old student from South America, is also hoping that the Playa de Palma will soon change because she dreams of running her own hotel there. Stylish, young, hip is how she envisions it – just like the trendy Cocco bar, where she works as a waitress. Allison’s mother is from Ecuador, and she also works on the island, as a chamber maid. “Not a great job, but we have a better life here than we did at home,” says Allison, who has been studying hotel management since October. “There are plenty of opportunities at the Playa for anyone willing to work hard.”
Back on Ballermann: Breakfast for the hungover is sizzling at the sausage stall outside the Megarena. Basement discos are regurgitating their last remaining revelers, and the neon lights of the strip joints are still mirrored in puddles of pee, but the show will soon be over, even in the topless bars. Then, for a couple of hours, everyone can catch their breath before the madness starts up all over again. Ballermann has often been declared dead, but it never really died. “S’Arenal should always be a clubbers’ eldorado,” says Jürgen Drews, as he climbs into his vintage convertible and drives off into the rising sun. No panic on the Titanic.
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Reinhard Keck was born in Freudenstadt, Germany, in 1981. He currently lives and works as a journalist and author in London. Reinhard studied literature and communications in Erfurt, and journalism and photography at the University of Westminster in England. After that, he worked as an editor for the Abendzeitung newspaper in Munich and eventually became a foreign correspondent for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, reporting on crises, conflicts and international politics. His reports from around the world have been published in German and British media, including Der Tagesspiegel, Mail on Sunday, The Times, GalaMen and various G+J Corporate Editors publications.
Malte Jäger is a Berlin, Germany based professional photographer. In his work, he is mainly searching for human nature. What drives people to live their life the way they do? That’s what he tries to find out, understand and share with others. He started taking photos neither for technical reasons, nor because photography was his hobby ever since: He’s been using the medium photography to get the chance to look behind curtains which wouldn’t be opened for him if he wasn’t using his camera. And of course, he loves to meet and learn to know people. Since human behavior is what he is interested in, you will certainly find faces in almost all of his images.