The street was named in 1610 after the fact that Count Ernest of Schaumburg and Holstein-Pinneberg had granted religious freedom to non-Lutherans such as Mennonites and Roman Catholics to practice their faith here and commercial freedom for handcrafters not enrolled in the else compelling guilds. At that time this district was part of the city of Altona within the county of Holstein-Pinneberg, and did not yet belong to Hamburg. When the Duchy of Holstein-Glückstadt annexed Holstein-Pinneberg in 1640 the comital freedoms were confirmed. Non-Lutherans were forbidden to publicly practise their religions in Lutheran Hamburg proper. The street has still a Catholic church (St. Joseph), situated among rather unholy businesses. The Mennonite church, established in 1611, moved in 1915 into another neighbourhood.
In the 1960s, The Beatles played here, e.g. in Große Freiheit 36 (Kaiserkeller), Große Freiheit 64 (today Indra-Musikclub), and in Große Freiheit 39 (the Star-Club, 1962–1969). The street still hosts music clubs like Grosse Freiheit 36 and Grünspan.
In the 1970s, several sex theatres (Salambo, Regina, Colibri, Safari) showed live sex acts on stage. As of 2007[update], until its closure in 2013, the Safari was the only live sex theatre left in Germany. The popular table dance club Dollhouse now takes the place of the Salambo.
In 1975, the German rock band Randy Pie used two views of Grosse Freiheit for their album Kitsch: the front cover is a picture of the street at night, while the back cover is the same view but at day time.
In 2008, the Beatles-Platz square was built.
Houses at the "Grenzgang" of Altona, between Große Freiheit and Talstraße
- Uwe Heimowski: Brunos Dankeschön - Geschichten von der Reeperbahn, Neufeld Verlag, Schwarzenfeld 2005, ISBN 3-937896-12-0
- Greater Hamburg Act text (German)
- "Death of the Reeperbahn: Hamburg's streets of shame - Europe - World". The Independent. 2008-03-21. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
- A Randy Pie fansite, with the album "Kitsch" featuring a picture of Große Freiheit. Retrieved on June 5, 2008
- Media related to Große Freiheit at Wikimedia Commons
- Media related to Reeperbahn at Wikimedia Commons
- Images from the road, Grosse Freiheit (German)
- City of Hamburg about Reeperbahn (German)
- History Reeperbahn (German)
- Beatles Hamburg 1966 on Youtube