Updated: Feb 5, 2021
August 17, 2020. Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Beatle’s arrival in Hamburg Germany to begin, what would become, a roughly two-year stretch playing clubs around the city, including at The Indra, Kaiserkeller, Star and Top Ten clubs. The two-year residency lasted from August 17th, 1960 to December 31, 1962 and alternated between performances in Hamburg, Germany and Liverpool, England. This period proved pivotal in their musical development. The Beatles arrived early morning August 17th, 1960 with a formative, loosely organized, undisciplined sound and ended their stint in Hamburg with a tight, disciplined, hard driving portfolio. The first performance at the Indra Club found them playing in front of a sparse crowd of sailors and prostitutes. This area, after all, was the St. Pauli or red-light district of Hamburg. Prior to their Hamburg period, the Beatles, as multiple incarnations, including the Quarryman, Johnny and the Moondogs and The Silver Beatles had performed roughly thirty times together – the three primary members, John, Paul and George – not including Ringo. Remember, the group had started as teenagers. No member of the group was over the age of twenty when they arrived that summer. However, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had been writing songs for years – since their July 6, 1957 meeting at a performance of the Quarrymen at St. Peter’s Church. The band served an incredible apprenticeship over the course of the next two years which arguably made them into the world’s transcendent Rock N’ Roll band.
9 Things you might not know about the Beatle’s time in Hamburg
1. Hamburg Period. We think of this time as the Hamburg Period. Rightly so. However, from August 1960 to December 1962 they performed more gigs in Liverpool. If you keep track, courtesy of the Beatlesbible.com, I counted ~269 Hamburg v. ~603 Liverpool performances. Still, John Lennon famously quipped: “I didn’t grow up in Liverpool. I grew up in Hamburg.”
2. Seventeen-year-old George Harrison arrived in Hamburg under the legal age for a valid work permit. The government deported George on November 21, 1960. It happened after Bruno Koschmider, the owner of the Indra and Kaiserkeller Clubs, for whom the Beatles formed the contract reported them to the police -- after a contract dispute!
3. The Bambi Kino. They initially lived in sleazy room on the second floor of the Bambi Kino, a cinema across the street from the Indra Club -- another building owned by Bruno Koschmider.
4. Paul and Pete Best burned a condom against a brick wall for light (it was dark) as they moved their belongings out of the Bambi Kino on their way to new lodgings. Shockingly, the flame enraged the owner, Bruno Koschmider. Paul and Pete were also deported – for arson after spending the night in jail!
5. First Professional Recording. May 1961, the group backed up Tony Sheridan on a recording in Harburg, a suburb of Hamburg at Friedrich-Ebert Hall.
6. The Beatles set list was varied and underscored a broad musical curiosity. The Hamburg performance, which can be found on YouTube, and came out as the album, “Live! At the Star Club, Hamburg” included such hits as “Roll Over Beethoven, “Besame Mucho,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “Twist & Shout.” Only two Lennon McCartney originals are listed: “I Saw Her Standing There”, which opened the performance and “Ask Me Why.” They played thirty songs on the setlist.
7. The Beatles arrived in Hamburg as a five-member band, including bass player Stuart Sutcliffe, John’s classmate from the Liverpool College of Art and Pete Best, the drummer Ringo Starr would famously replace.
8. Pete Best’s mother, Mona, owned the Casbah Club -- Pete Best’s mother, Mona, owned the Casbah Club in Liverpool where the Beatles would often play during this period, even before their Hamburg residency. The breakup with Pete was not a particularly welcome event in the Best household. The Beatles legendary producer, George Martin precipitated the split after the group auditioned for Parlophone, EMI records on June 6, 1962.
9. The lads did not want to fulfill their last contracted Hamburg stretch in December 1962. The group was tired. But Brian Epstein, their manager, prevailed upon them to fulfill the dates. Their last performance was New Year’s Eve, 1962. They returned in March 1966, world famous, and staying under different conditions at the Tremsbuttel Castle. Forgive me, but I don’t know how to get the umlaut over the letter u in Tremsbuttel!
An enormous array of much more detailed information about the Beatles’ time in Hamburg exists in print and on the web. The list below includes a sampling of the sources I used. August 17th, 1960, for my money, is an incredible date of arrival for the band. In my presentation titled “Hamburg” which chronicles some of this period and intersects with modern research on reaching high performance, we take a look at a period which inarguably produced one of the most incredible musical apprenticeships in history (I don’t think that is an overstatement.) The bigger question may be for anyone interested in combining an interest in performance -- musical, business or otherwise -- and the Beatles might just be: in your various endeavors, pursuits, missions: what is your Hamburg?
Tune In. Mark Lewisohn. Crown Publishing. 2013.
What Goes On. Walter Everett and Tim Riley. Oxford University Press. 2019
Shout! Philip Norman. Fireside. Simon and Schuster. 2003.
The Beatles in Hamburg. Ian Inglis. Reaktion Books Ltd. 2012