50 years on, Hamburg recalls the fab lads from Liverpool
By Andreas Heimann May 11, 2010, 12:40 GMT
Hamburg - On Beatles Platz (square) in Hamburg's entertainment district St Pauli, the scene is throbbing on a Saturday night. Crowds of visitors pass by the silhouettes made of stainless steel which stand on the edge of the square.
The figures recall a group of young rock musicians, who in obscurity, began their career on the periphery of St Pauli's red-light Reeperbahn area. It was 50 years ago this summer that the lads from Liverpool first arrived in northern Germany's port city. Hardly anybody knew them then, but it was in Hamburg - during stays in 1960 and again in 1962 - where they really got their act together.
Today, everyone knows their story - and in Hamburg visitors can follow a trail to trace the rise of the lads who wrote music history as The Beatles.
Beatles Platz, located directly at the entrance of the Grosse Freiheit, the most famous side street of the Reeperbahn, was first established in 2008. Off to the left is the Cafe Moeller where the Beatles were often guests. But one can search in vain for many other famous locations where they performed: for example the legendary 'Star Club' burned down in the mid-1980s. Still, there is a great deal to see and be shown.
Taking over this latter task falls largely to Stefanie Hempel. 'I myself am a huge Beatles fan,' the singer and songwriter admits. For six years now she has been offering tours under the theme 'Time travel back to the 60s when many bands from Liverpool came to St Pauli and learned here how to perform live.'
Since 2008 she has hosted her 'Magical History Tour' which takes visitors by bus through the city. At the end, Hempel performs Beatles songs for her guests on a ukulele or guitar and tells about Ringo, George, Paul and John.
For The Beatles, St Pauli was the most important way-station at the outset of their career. They rocked and rolled for a total of some 1,500 hours on Hamburg music stages, in places like 'Kaiserkeller,' 'Star Club,' 'Indra' or 'Top Ten.'
'They gave 281 concerts and back then played almost every night,' Hempel notes. 'More than they did in Liverpool.'
But above all, it was in Hamburg where the Beatles found their own musical voice. It was in Hamburg that Ringo Starr first joined the group, called in to replace original drummer Pete Best, and Hempel is convinced of one thing: 'Without Hamburg there would have really been no Beatles.'
John Lennon put it this way: He did grow up in Liverpool, but it was in Hamburg that he became an adult. When the lads from England arrived in Hamburg in August, 1960, they were still just youngsters. 'In Liverpool back then, you couldn't earn much money with live music,' Hempel says. And so many bands came to Hamburg. 'The Beatles were only fourth-choice. They only got the gig after three other bands turned the offer down.'
The early history of the Beatles is above all related in 'Beatlemania' - a Beatles Museum on the Reeperbahn and located directly next to Beatles Platz. Many black-and-white photos from the 60s are on display, as well as the group's first recording contract - signed by John Lennon.
There are even two postcards, which Ringo Starr wrote to his grandma back home. The first one from 1960 reads 'Arrived and having a great time in Hamburg. The weather here is not too bad. We are playing in a big new club. The people here are ok.' The second from early 1962, says 'Having a fab time. The club is great, better than the dance halls in Liverpool.' Both cards were signed 'Love, Richy'- Ringo's real name having been Richard Starkey.
Located directly on the Reeperbahn is arguably Germany's most famous police station, the red-brick Davidwache building. Paul McCartney once spent a night in a cell there in December 1960 after a complaint of arson was filed against him. There wasn't much to the accusation, but Paul was expelled from the country because he lacked valid residency papers. George Harrison also had his brush with the police. On his first stay in Hamburg, he was sent back to England because he was not yet 18-years-old.
In the Grosse Freiheit street which starts at Beatles Platz, a number of important music clubs are still open - the 'Grosse Freiheit 36' and in the cellar beneath, the 'Kaiserkeller,' where the Beatles entertained their followers. A bit further on are yet two further important club names, the 'Gruenspan' and the 'Indra.' It was here that the Beatles made their debut performance in Hamburg on August 17, 1960.
For those who love music, the Reeperbahn to this day is the right address: there are around 30 clubs.
If the night turns out to be a really long one, then a rewarding diversion is a dawn visit to the St Pauli fish market at water's edge on the Elbe River, which the Beatles also visited quite often - and often after having had a few beers too many.