Germany Holidays: Hamburg – where the Beatles cut their teeth

In 1960 a young band from Liverpool came to play a series of nights in the St Pauli area of Hamburg, which was best known for its dockers’ pubs, nightclubs and strip bars. The Beatles, then comprising five members and all in their teens, were sent across by their manager to earn some money and hone their skills. It undoubtedly worked!

Living in what they described as a store cupboard, with no hot water and limited hygiene facilities, they played for four hours daily (six at weekends) at the Indra Club on Große Freiheit in the city’s Reeperbahn district, probably Europe’s best-known red-light zone after Amsterdam.

For that they received the princely sum of 30 Deutschmarks (£2.50 per person) a day, but it allowed them to practice their technique and develop as live performers. “We had to learn millions of songs because we’d be on for hours,” George Harrison later said. “Hamburg was really like our apprenticeship, learning how to play in front of people”.

Over the next couple of years they moved to play in other bigger venues in the area: the Kaiserkeller (where they met future drummer Ringo Starr), the Top Ten Club and the Star Club. Their last appearance in the city was on New Year’s Eve 1962, by which time they had already made their entry into the British charts.

As young men dropped into a strange city with temptation on every doorstep, it’s fair to say they made the most of their time in St Pauli. As John Lennon once said “I was born in Liverpool but I grew up in Hamburg.”

Fab Five landmarks

In recognition of the city’s role in helping shape the most famous band of all time, the square where the Reeperbahn meets Große Freiheit has been renamed Beatles Platz and features a 29 metre image of a record in the paving, together with five steel hollow sculptures. There are numerous plaques in the area indicating where the Beatles played and lived.

A spotlight on the group’s early years doesn’t exactly showcase Germany’s second biggest city in the most favourable light, as the St Pauli area is still fairly seedy. It hasn’t changed too much in the last 60 years and still features a variety of late night venues along the Reeperbahn.

There are a couple of ways to follow the Beatles experience in Hamburg. The Beatles Tour runs for three hours daily every Thursday-Sunday, with a tour guide who grew up in the area in the 50s and 60s giving his own personal recollections of what it was like for the Beatles to perform back then.

For a more individual experience self confessed Beatles super-fan Stefanie Hempel has been showing tourists around the local sites for over 15 years. Her tour is interwoven with Beatles tunes knocked out on her ukulele and finishes with a selection of their greatest hits on the Beatles Platz.  Her tour comes highly recommended by Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn and head of the Beatles fan club Freda Kelly.

The role the city played in the formative years of a band that went on and conquered the world gives Hamburg an important part in rock n roll history





Looking for more? See other destinations in Northern Germany

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