Thursday, December 27, 2018

Visiting Beatles sites in Hamburg, Germany

My wife was raised in Hamburg, Germany and so, in a way, were the Beatles. Between 1960 and 1962, the band came there for five engagements, some spanning months. Hamburg was the first place they played outside of the UK, and it was there where they began their climb to international fame. 

I've been a Beatles fan since high school and I've come to Hamburg at least once most years since 1998, but it was not until this year when I cobbled together a tour of the Beatles sites of Hamburg (similar to what I did with another '60s watershed, the Vietnam War, in Ho Chi Minh City). As far as I know, and oddly, no guided tour exists; if it did, it would be a walking tour, and it would be short but fascinating. 

My self-created tour under the misty, overcast sky of 12/26/18 consisted of six sites: four clubs, one plaza, and one residence (or, as the Beatles might say, "residence"). Of course there is so much written elsewhere on this topic so I won't dive deep on each site but rather let the images do most of the conjuring. I'm listing them in the order I came upon them, not in the order the Beatles played at them. (The stops are along what is essentially a Z-shaped path, starting at the bottom right of the letter.)

For the 1960 and 1961 shows, the lineup was John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Pete Best (the latter two of whom are regular candidates for "the Fifth Beatle"). Stucliffe left the band to study painting in July 1961 (and died from a brain hemorrhage the following April). Ringo Starr replaced Best in August 1962.

The Fifth Beatle no one talks about.

The tour:

Top Ten Club; Hamburg gig #3

136 Reeperbahn

The Beatles played there April 1-July 1, 1961 and roomed upstairs. The club had opened the year before and closed in 1994. (The entrance was between the green walls to the right of the Pizza Hut.)

Beatles-Platz (Beatles Plaza)
corner of Reeperbahn/Grosse Freiheit

This installation was created and dedicated in 2008. It depicts the metallic outlines of five Beatles. One is apparently a composite of Best and Starr and the one set apart represents Sutcliffe because he had quit. They are standing on what is meant to resemble a vinyl record. Names of Beatles songs follow one after 909 within the silver rings on the ground.

Kaiserkeller; Hamburg gig #2
38 Grosse Freiheit

The Beatles played there July 31 and October 4-November 30, 1960; it had opened in 1959. It's on a (big) side street off the main drag (the Reeperbahn), about a five-minute walk around the corner from the former Top Ten. Many other notables from Duran Duran to Prince to Hamburg's own Nena have since performed there. It's still going.

Yes, there is a church across the street
(not only spitting distance from the rock and roll
rowdiness but also mere steps away from strip clubs).

Star-Club; Hamburg gig #4
39 Grosse Freiheit

Star-Club stood across the street from Kaiserkeller. The Beatles played there April 13-May 31, November 1-14, and December 18-31, 1962. Upon arriving at the airport in Hamburg for their first Star-Club appearance (which was also the club's opening night), the group learned that their former bandmate Sutcliffe had passed away. 

At that time, with its 2,000-seat capacity, this was the area's largest club. The November and December dates were the first in Hamburg with Ringo Starr. The Beatles were not keen to play those dates because their first single, "Love Me Do," was already charting in the UK, but did so to fulfill their contract. December 31 would mark the group's final pre-Beatlemania show in Hamburg. This is the only venue on this list whose original structure is no longer there; it ceased being a club in 1969 and burned down in 1987. The commemorative marker is in a side commercial courtyard accessed under an archway.

Indra Club; Hamburg gig #1
64 Grosse Freiheit

The Beatles' Hamburg debut took place here; the gig ran August 17-October 3, 1960. The Indra was a block outside the liveliest section of the street, which allegedly frustrated the band. They wanted to be at the center of the scene.

 In a brotherly nod, the Indra displays a poster 
for the now-defunct Star-Club's opening night.

When this photo is enlarged, you can see in the near distance
the blue "36" of the sign for Kaiserkeller; 
the Beatles felt that due to its "outlier" locale, 
this club was not cool enough.

Bambi Kino
33 Paul-Roosen Strasse

The Beatles stayed here while playing at the Indra. It was the dirty, unpainted, windowless former storeroom (or perhaps two) of a small cinema, and though half of their time there was during summer, it was nonetheless cold. The cinema is gone but the cartoon deer painted on the garage door indicates where it was.

 I'm pointing to Bambi Kino. Note the street sign...

...seen here again, where it meets the street home to the Indra.
(I didn't point this time, but it's the slightly taller 
brick building a ways down on the left.)
I loved visualizing the way the Beatles would've walked to work...

I was surprised to learn that a museum called Beatlemania Hamburg opened near the club district in 2009, and more surprised to learn that it closed in 2012 due to underwhelming attendance.

"Underwhelming" is rarely a word you hear in connection with the Beatles. 

No matter the museum; it was a blast to get back to where they once belonged.

11/3/19 addendum: visiting Beatles sites in Liverpool.

9/28/21 addendum: visiting Beatles sites in London.

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