They arrived in Hamburg as amateurs in August 1960. They left two years and five visits later as a fledgling Fab Four. The Beatles have always acknowledged the debt they owe Hamburg. As John Lennon put it: “It was Hamburg that did it. We would never have developed so much if we’d stayed at home.” Its red-light district area was also an eye-opener for the teenagers: “I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg,” Lennon quipped.
Many of the shrines are still there to make St Pauli as holy as Liverpool for Beatles pilgrims. The boys’ first address in the city was a squalid cell in a cinema, Bambi Kino (Paul-Roosen-Str. 33), that was convenient for gigs in the grimy Indra club (Grosse Freiheit 64). Here they earned thirty Marks a day each by entertaining sailors and strippers for up to six hours a day. The venue’s manager, Bruno Koschminder, was unimpressed after their first lame performance and demanded they “Mach shau!” (put on a show). Lennon duly hung a toilet seat around his neck and George Harrison played in his Y-fronts. They transferred to nearby Kaiserkeller (Grosse Freiheit 64) and found haircuts from Hamburg’s hip Existentialists, and a new drummer, Ringo Starr, then playing for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
This stint was truncated when Paul McCartney and former drummer Pete Best hung a lit condom outside their room then spent a night in the Spielbudenplatz police station accused of arson before being deported. In truth, the tour was at a close anyway because 17-year-old George Harrison had been deported for being underage and the boys returned to Liverpool, billed as “The Beatles: Direct From Hamburg”. In 1961 the band returned to Germany for a 98-day run at the epicentre of all things beat, the Top Ten Club (Reeperbahn 136), and afterwards a seven-week stint at the Star Club (Grosse Freiheit 39), also host to Jimi Hendrix circa the release of Hey Joe. A short way along the Reeperbahn from a sculpture of the Fab Four at the entrance to the Grosse Freiheit (renamed Beatles-Platz), museum Beatlemania (daily 10am–10pm; €12;
beatlemania-hamburg.de) celebrates The Beatles’ formative years with exhibits and features such as a karaoke booth that allows recording. Incidentally, true Beatles devotees can follow in the boys’ footsteps and buy their first cowboy boots from Paul Hundertmark Western Store (Spielbudenplatz 27–28).