Tuesday, August 04, 2009
HAMBURG is the third busiest port in the world. But that’s not all this city in northern Germany is famous for. The culture and arts scene is thriving here, as is classical and contemporary music. In fact, not many people know that it is here in Hamburg that The Beatles first earned their stripes as a performing group, way before they hit the big time.
Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best first arrived in the red light district of Saint Pauli on Reeparbahn in 1960. Their booking agent Allan Williams sent them here after an earlier group he managed became successful. There were initial hesitations from the group about accepting the overseas gig, but the opportunity to hone their performance skills in front of a lively and international audience, plus the substantial income convinced them to pack their bags and move here.
The Beatles played in bars like the Indra Club and Kaiserkeller, steadily gaining an audience with their brand of music. They lived in squalid conditions in the beginning; sleeping in a room behind the screen of a cinema and right next to the ladies’ restroom. But the group persisted. There are many stories of barroom brawls and various hi-jinks that the band members got themselves into, but undoubtedly, it was their musical skills that earned them increasingly good reviews from Reeperbahn regulars. All in all they played about 800 hours of live music in Hamburg from 1960 to December 1962. Lennon famously said, “I might have been born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.”
Today there is a Beatles memorial that stands in the Reeperbahn district, almost unobtrusive amidst all the flashing neon lights and scores of people that frequent the place. There are five figures in the memorial that represents the members: Stuart Sutcliffe stands to one side, and the drummer figure is a hybrid of Pete Best (who played with the band during most of the Hamburg years) and Ringo Starr. A new Beatles Museum also opened earlier this year, collecting various memorabilia and informing visitors the story of arguably the greatest rock and roll bands in history. A giant inflatable yellow submarine sticks out in front of the museum.
I went down to see the memorial this weekend and am planning to check out the museum soon. For any Beatles fanatic, a stop here in Hamburg to pay tribute to the band is definitely a must.