Liverpool wasn’t the city that made The Beatles, Hamburg was. It was the city that hardened their fingers, much as it was the city that allowed them to express themselves vigorously, and with great attention to detail. The Beatles were pushed to play their best work through a gruelling setlist that asked much more of them than the usual hook, chorus, riff, outro, harmony schtick that had been their outre in Liverpool. They left England boys, they returned from Germany men.
Fittingly, The Beatles recorded two songs in German as a means of paying tribute to the many good times they held in Germany. They were translations of ‘She Loves You’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, and although they didn’t quite match the ferocity of the English language recordings, they were spirited enough to bolster another form of energy of their own. Moreover, it was the band’s way of celebrating the country that had helped them on their chosen path to the “Topular of the Populars”. The band treasured their time in Hamburg, leading John Lennon to state that the band performed their best music there.
Hamburg treasured the band as much as they did it, as Klaus Voorman and Astrid Kirchherr maintained a longstanding friendship with members of the band. Voorman wound up designing the cover for Revolver, arguably the band’s most astonishing image, and most reputable album cover. The band remembered Germany in the decades afterwards, singling their time as one of personal, as well as artistic, growth.
The band wound up performing in Germany, and Paul McCartney recalled the memories he enjoyed there when he returned to the spot in later years. Plugging into his bass, he felt like he was being transported to his younger days, where the scent of a potential lover could wrap its legs around his ever-rising face.
Hamburg in the footsteps of The Beatles:
5. Indra Club
The Indra Club was one of the tentpole areas of the band’s personal trajectory and growth. It was crackling with energy and infectious abandon, and the club was located in the heart of the red-light district area, which no doubt intrigued the then five-piece from Liverpool. “We lived backstage in the Bambi Kino, next to the toilets, and you could always smell them,” McCartney recalled. “The room had been an old storeroom, and there were just concrete walls and nothing else. No heat, no wallpaper, not a lick of paint; and two sets of bunk beds, with not very much covers—Union Jack flags—we were frozen.”
During that period, the band were joined by bassist Stuart Sutcliffe. Contrary to popular belief, Sutcliffe wasn’t the terrible musician posterity has painted him as, which drummer Pete Best was keen to point out during his interview with this writer.
4. Kaiserkeller Club
Painter and Manfred Mann bassist Klaus Voorman saw The Beatles at this venue, stunned by their propensity and swagger, particularly in the way they commanded a crowd. Voorman invited photographer Astrid Kirchherr and friend Jürgen Vollmer to watch the performances the next day. Voorman enjoyed a firm friendship with Lennon and played bass guitar on his first and best solo album, Plastic Ono Band.
The Kaiserkeller was also the scene of another notorious event. The stage of the Kaiserkeller was built on wooden planks balanced on the top of beer crates, and when vocalist Rory Storm jumped on the boards, they finally cracked open. Ringo Starr – then playing with The Hurricanes – was unfortunate enough to watch his cymbals fall through the cracks. No drummer jokes in the comments section, please.
3. The Top Ten Club
Club number three is the club where The Beatles went to get work, as they felt the PA and money were superior to what they were being offered at Koschmider’s club. They were also offered sleeping conditions that made their life easier to get around, and the band were understandably anxious to get there. The venue was under the purview of Peter Eckhorn, but by going to his venue, the band were breaking a contract with Bruno Koschmider. When McCartney and Best returned to Bambi Kino to get their belongings they found it in total darkness. The duo retaliated by pinning a condom to a wall and setting it ablaze.
Koschmider didn’t take kindly to the action and reported them for attempted arson. The two men spent an evening in jail, before being deported back to Liverpool. George Harrison was also sent back, for being underage, and eventually, John Lennon returned home. This left Stuart Sutcliffe as the only Beatle living in Hamburg, where he stayed to paint.
2. The Star Club
By the time the band performed in The Star Club in 1962, the Beatles were reduced down to a four-piece. By the time they performed there for the second time in 1962, Ringo Starr had replaced Best, thereby creating the classic lineup of The Beatles. The band were going up in the world, as was clear from the accommodation they were granted. “We came back to play the Star Club,” Harrison remembered, “A big place and fantastic because it had a great sound system. This time we had a hotel. I remember it was quite a long walk from the club, at the top of the Reeperbahn going back towards the city.”
Vignettes of their performances were released as The Beatles: Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962. Judging by the sound quality and the bravado that comes from the recordings, it’s clear that the band weren’t a bunch of pretty boys who charmed their way to the top, but a band of exciting musicians who were capable of entertaining an audience of non-English speaking attendees.
This plaza in the St. Pauli quarter in Hamburg,situated between Reeperbahn and Große Freiheit. Fittingly, The Beatles are presented by five statues, honouring the Pete Best lineup, as well as the classic group that went on to record Please Please Me. The memorials initally came with engravings “Drive me car, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and Can’t Buy Melove”, which could not be corrected before they were unveiled to the public at large. The street remains the second most notable avenue in Beatle lore, second only to Abbey Road, the pathway the band walked across in an effort to honour their studio of choice.
It helped that the band were one of rock’s greatest exports, which makes it a point of pride for those in Hamburg to know that one of the greatest acts in the world harnessed their sound in their city. As we pointed out at the beginning of the article, it wasn’t Liverpool that made the Fabs, but it was Hamburg.