Archive for April, 2012

Hunting Beatles in Hamburg

10 April, 2012

Star Club Memorial, Große Freiheit 39

It’s the 50th anniversary of the Beatles seminal gig at the fabled Starr Club in Hamburg, which was the seminal point during a two-year run Germany’s second-largest city that transformed them from a bunch of lads from England into superstars. Looking for traces of their Hamburg legacy, I found a few addresses with links to the boys. Mostly, though, I found sun-faded dildos.

The Star Club is most closely associated with the Beatles in Hamburg but it’s long gone. There’s only this sad plaque [above] on the shabby apartment complex that replaced the 2000-seat venue after it burnt down in 1987. However the Beatles didn’t play the Star until it opened on 13 April 1962 by which time they were well on their way to fame and fortune. Their Hamburg gigs began in August 1960, when John, Paul and George plus bass player Stuart Sutcliffe and drummer Pete Best arrived from England in a busted up old van and began their transformation into sensations.

Indra Club, 64 Grosse Freiheit

The first gigs were in the small Indra Club, which actually survives and once again has live music some nights. They were paid next-to-nothing and played at least four sets a day for what must have seemed eight days a week. Their quarters were an unheated room at a nearby movie theatre (now an apartment house) where they were awakened each day by the sounds of budget-matinee-attending housewives pissing in the adjoining toilets.

Kaiserkeller, Grosse Freiheit 36

In October 1960, the Indra was closed due to noise complaints (I lived in Germany, Germans hate noise.) The boys moved just up the block to the Kaiserkeller, a basement venue of a larger theatre. This place also survives, although in much-altered form.

Gretel & Alfons, Grosse Freiheit 29

As you wander about the Grosse Freiheit, the short and straight road that was the center of the Beatles time in Hamburg, you realize just how small their world was: their venues and scuzzy rooms were all within a few hundred meters of each other. Their favourite cafe and bar durimg their few off-hours, the barely changed Gretel & Alfons, was almost next to the Star Club.

Former Top 10 Club, Reeperbahn 136

In late October 1960, the Beatles broke with their promoter at the Kaiserkeller and went for slightly more money and marginally better living quarters at the Top Ten Club just around the corner. Things quickly fell apart as the old promoter reported George Harrison to immigration authorities (he was 17) and McCartney and Best retaliated by setting fire to a condom in their old daggy living quarters. This added “attempted arson” to their legal woes and the boys went back to Liverpool. The Top 10 Club building survives but has had many incarnations over the years, most recently a now-closed gay disco.

How much for that ducky - or dildo - in the window?

Unlike the early 1960s, the infamous Reeperbahn, the main drag of Hamburg’s renowned St Pauli district, is no longer an edgy strip of cutting edge clubs and bars. Today neon-bedecked strip joints and live sex clubs are as common as bars with shot specials aimed at tourists and weekend warriors from nearby farm towns. Even the goods in the plethora of sex shops look deflated. You won’t find the Beatles of today playing anywhere here. On weekends, prostitutes with so much makeup that they look like grotesquely animated blow-up dolls prowl the streets, chatting with the mobs of cops.

Where the Grosse Freiheit meets the Reeperbahn, the city has created “Beatlesplatz,” a desolate open-space with the outlines of the Beatles formed from stainless steel. You can decide if the drummer is Best or Ringo Starr (who had replaced Best for a Starr Club appearance in November 1962). By 1963, the Beatles were gone from Hamburg. John Lennon later said: “I might have been born in Liverpool – but I grew up in Hamburg.”