The Beatles in Hamburg
In the matter of two years, five young lads from Liverpool transformed into the most famous pop band of the 1960s: the Beatles! It was in the live music clubs of St Pauli that the Beatles developed their distinctive style and laid the foundations for their world career.
The beginning of an unparalleled career
In 1960, the then unknown young Beatles had their first gigs in Hamburg. Over the following two years they spent a lot of time in the city, laying the foundations for their international career and creating what they swiftly became known as: the blueprint of pop. Bruno Koschmider from Hamburg had invited the boys from Liverpool to perform in his music club, the Indra on 64 Grosse Freiheit. At the time, Hamburg was already on its way to becoming Northern Europe’s hotspot for live music. Yet most of the venues in St Pauli were actually red-light establishments as well as seamen’s pubs. And the Indra was no exception to this, so the Beatles didn't arrive to a cool music club with dancing teenagers, but rather a strip club. Yet that didn't stop them from enjoying their stage time to the full and making a name for themselves with their signature style and their unique shows.
The tough working conditions on the Reeperbahn actually played a major role in shaping the Beatles' passion for music. Just like any other band trying to make a living in the pubs of St Pauli, the long working hours literally forced the Beatles to continuously grow as artists. And as club owner Bruno Koschmider urged the lads at every performance to “make a show”, the Beatles came to create wild, original interludes that would add to their unique music performance.
John Lennon once said “I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.” This quote succinctly summarises the history of the Beatles and their coming of age in Hamburg. Their first manager in Hamburg, a rigorous man, had put them up in his Bambi cinema just around the corner of the Indra – in two tiny, windowless rooms without any heating and without a shower. Today, a plaque on the house at 33 Paul-Roosen-Strasse commemorates these days.
First steps in Hamburg: from the Indra to the StarClub
After seven weeks of performing at the Indra, Bruno Koschmider decided to “relocate” the Beatles to the Kaiserkeller, another live venue on Grosse Freiheit. This turned out to be a significant step, as this is where the young musicians met their legendary drummer Ringo Starr, who had made a name for himself there with a band called Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. He was soon to replace their first drummer, Pete Best.
Thanks to their unique style and a surge in popularity the Beatles managed to leave the Kaiserkeller behind after a couple of months. In 1961 they had their longest guest appearance of their career – in the Top Ten Club just off the infamous Reeperbahn. Today, the building is home to the Moondoo, a popular venue for black music and house tracks.
Located on 39 Grosse Freiheit, the legendary Star Club opened its gates in 1962, featuring an impressive number of international greats as well as soon-to-be stars. The Star Club was relentless in poaching virtually all of the Top Ten Club’s greatest crowd pullers – including the Beatles. Shortly after they started performing at the Star Club they shot up to number 17 in the British charts with their first single, “Love Me Do”.
Following in the footsteps of the Beatles
Today, there are still numerous places in the vicinity of the Reeperbahn that played a role in the history of the Beatles, and many of these were captured in photographs of the time. This includes classic shots such as the Beatles at the Hamburger DOM funfair on Heiligengeistfeld as well as John Lennon at the entrance to the building on 1 Jägerpassage, which later became the cover of Lennon’s solo album of 1975. “Rock'n'Roll”.
Another must-see location is the legendary Beatles-Platz – a square where Reeperbahn and Grosse Freiheit intersect. Under the neon lights of the Reeperbahn entertainment district, a paved vinyl record with a width of 29 metres and five steel sculptures remind us of this great era of Hamburg’s music history.
For all those wishing to delve deeper into the places that shaped the Beatles, local music guide Stefanie Hempel and her ukulele will be happy to take you on a Beatles-themed tour of St Pauli.
Many of the locations where the Beatles played their way into their great career are still live music clubs today. Several decades later, up-and-coming artists are now continuing to perform on the very same stages, hoping to follow in the footsteps of their famous role models from Liverpool – especially during the Reeperbahn Festival, Europe's biggest club festival, which attracts some 170 international newcomers every year.