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The Beatles in Hamburg

Reeperbahn & Große Freiheit


Beatles Hamburg CD

The Beatles in Hamburg CD

The Beatles in Hamburg: 1960-1962

The Beatles spent most of their early years performing in clubs along the Reeperbahn and Große Freiheit streets in Hamburg's infamous red-light district. During that period they also played at clubs in their native Liverpool. Alan Williams, a Liverpool club owner, had arranged the Hamburg gig for his fellow Liverpudlians. In August 1960, too short on money to afford the train, the Beatles hitched a ride in a van with Williams. (At that time Stuart Sutcliffe was the fifth member of the band, but he had dropped out by the summer of 1961.) The first Beatles appearances in Germany began at the Indra Club (Große Freiheit 64). By the time most of the Beatles had been deported back to England in November 1960, they had also worked their way up to the tonier Kaiserkeller (Große Freiheit 38) and the Top Ten Club (Reeperbahn 136). George Harrison was kicked out of Germany because he was underage (17) and in violation of German child protection laws. Paul McCartney and Pete Best were deported after being charged with arson. All of the Beatles' problems arose out of a contract dispute with the rather unsavory German club operator Bruno Koschmider.

After Lennon and Sutcliffe also returned to England in late 1960, the Beatles began making many appearances in England, most notably at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where they had some 300 performances. But soon they would return to Germany.

Hamburg, Bert Kaempfert, and the Polydor Recordings

The Beatles' second stay in Hamburg lasted from late March 1961 until July of that same year. It was during this second engagement in Hamburg that the Beatles made their first professional recordings. In June 1961 the Beatles (minus Stu Sutcliffe) went to Hamburg-Harburg, about 30 minutes from Hamburg's center, for a recording session in the Friedrich-Ebert-Halle (auditorium/hall). They were paid 300 marks (about $75) for the recording session as a backup band for Tony Sheridan, with no royalty rights—not a lot of money, even in the 1960s. They also recorded two songs of their own, but these Polydor recordings are the only ones that the Beatles estate still has no control over. In 2001, Germany's Bear Family Records released a CD box set of these Hamburg recordings entitled "Beatles Bop - Hamburg Days" - 38 tracks on two CDs, "The Beatles with Tony Sheridan" complete with the German version of "My Bonnie."

Hamburg-born Bert Kaempfert (1923-1980), a well-known German musician, composer, and producer was in charge of the production for Polydor Records. Kaempert is best remembered in the U.S. for his big instrumental hit "Wonderland by Night" ("Wunderland bei Nacht"), which reached number one in 1961, the same year he produced the Sheridan/Beatles recordings. Kaempfert also composed the music for the 1966 Frank Sinatra hit, "Strangers in the Night" and "Danke schoen" for Wayne Newton.

Under Kaempfert's direction, the Beatles made what most people consider the first commercial record ever made by the Beatles. The original Polydor 45 rpm singles released in Germany are true collectors items. On July 2, 1961 the Beatles returned to Liverpool, but in 1962 they would return to Hamburg for an engagement at the Star Club, their last club appearance in Germany. (The Star Club itself went out of business in 1969.) They would soon be much too big to play in any nightclub.

In 2005 a Hamburg oldies radio station began a campaign to recognize the long-neglected fact that the Beatles were once in Hamburg. An architectural competition resulted in a plan to construct a Beatles-Platz (Beatle's Square) at the intersection of the Reeperbahn and Große Freiheit street. It is hoped the square, complete with glass statues of the Beatles, can be completed in time for the World Cup soccer games in Germany in summer 2006. (See the Beatles-Platz link to right for more.)

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