The Beatles in Hamburg
Strictly speaking the following message would just be a marginal note of the music business: On August 17, 1960, a completely unknown band played in Hamburg‘s music club Indra. But as a matter of fact this was a rather unique event. It was on that night and in that club - in a neighborhood which is probably the most famous in the world - that the Beatles kicked off their career.
It all began with a shock. When The Beatles got their first engagement in Hamburg on the 17th of August 1960, they were full of anticipation. The Hanseatic City was considered to be the perfect place to make good money by gigging. Where nowadays countless cutting-edge music clubs line the neon bright streets, back in the day, the audience craved for all night entertainment. Hamburg, which is widely known nowadays as the live music capitol of all northern Europe, was just about to become the German hotspot of the international music scene. So The Beatles entered the Indra for the first time on the evening of the 17th of August – and were amazed. Today, Hamburg‘s Reeperbahn is a popular entertainment boulevard, hosting exciting live music, theatre shows, big musicals, delicious restaurants and lots of subculture, but during the Sixties it‘s offering was comprised of just sex for sale and pubs for sailors.
Back in the Sixties no cool music club awaited The Beatles, rather a seedy strip joint. Their audience did not consist of hip night owls or enthusiastic music fans but of prostitutes and their punters. A world collapsed – a world career was about to begin.
The Hamburg Sound of the Beatles
The following two and a half years laid the foundation for what this band was to become: a blueprint of pop music. The harsh working conditions on the Reeperbahn contributed essentially to the evolution of the „Hamburg Sound“. They forced The Beatles – like all the other bands grinding away on the Reeperbahn – to permanently grow artistically. And Bruno Koschmider‘s daily demand: „Macht Schau, Engländer!“ (Put on a show, Englishmen) inspired the boys to break their mold and come out of their shell.
Bruno Koschmider had put them up in his cinema Bambi Kino just around the corner of the Indra. In two tiny windowless rooms without heating and shower. Today a plaque in the Paul-Roosen-Str. 33 commemorates these days. Members of the highly praised Bands Maplewood, Nada Surf, Moby and Cat Power from New York City continue that commemoration by forming a band who will again perform the earliest of all Beatles songs on August 17th, under the moniker Bambi Kino at the Indra.
After seven weeks Bruno Koschmider uprooted and moved The Beatles to the Kaiserkeller. Today the basement club serves as a club, while the higher Große Freiheit 36 is one of the main stages of the Reeperbahn Festival, which has taken place on the last weekend of September since 2006. Germany‘s biggest club festival invites about 170 international newcomers to „Germany‘s most creative neighborhood“ St. Pauli for three exciting nights of fantastic music.
The Origin of the Beatle Haircut
That was exactly, what The Beatles offered, so the designer and musician Klaus Voormann spontaneously was enthusiastic about them. He dragged Astrid Kirchherr and Jürgen Vollmer into the Kaiserkeller. They became friends with The Beatles and styled them with their typical hairstyle, which later on became famously known as the mop top and shot the first professional photos of the Beatles, including classics like The Beatles on the Dom (fun fair) on the Heiligengeistfeld and John Lennon standing in the entrance to a brick house in Jägerpassage 1, which in 1975 became the cover of Lennon‘s solo record „Rock‘n‘Roll“.
The Jägerpassage today is one of the most beautiful destinations of countless guided Beatles tours. Stefanie Hempel for example does not only tell lots of anecdotes from that time but sweetly sings an arrangement of Beatles songs.
In the beginning of the Sixties, the band helped two more of Hamburg‘s musical institutions to hit the big time. 1961 they played their biggest continuous guest slot in the Top Ten. Where nowadays the Moondoo tempts with Black Music and House Tracks, in previous years the Hippodrome naked ladies rode horseback in the ring or played tag in the mud.
Born in Liverpool, Grown up in Hamburg
1962 saw the legendary Star-Club at Große Freiheit 39 opening. Lots of international acts, many of them soon-to-be stars or even already established, played there. This job is nowadays very well done by the tiny but very creative Molotow at Spielbudenplatz 5. The Star-Club relentlessly lured away all the attractions of the Top Ten, including The Beatles. Shortly after, there first single „Love Me Do“ reached number 17 in the British pop charts.
During those times, Hamburg made The Beatles stars and nowadays invites everybody to newly discover this magnificent legacy. The Beatles themselves never tired of stressing the importance of their apprenticeship years in the music metropolis Hamburg with John Lennon confessing: „I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg“.
Links to Beatles topics
Video: Hempel’s Beatles-Tour
Buchtipp: Beatles in Hamburg
Buchtipp: Babys in Black
Backbeat: Die Beatles in Hamburg
Article in Classic Rock: 55 years ago, the Beatles played their first concert in Hamburg