Part 1 - Hamburg
The Beatles Anthology
book was released today. As I stood in line to pay for my copy, another customer gingerly leafed through hers and sighed: “It's for my son. He loves The Beatles ... but it's so expensive!” “But this is the ultimate,” I answered. “If he only has one Beatle book, this is the one.”
This is the one, the ULTIMATE. As I leaf through the pages of never-before-seen photographs, I find myself thinking I've been there... I've seen that... I've touched that wall... I've recorded in that studio. As I ogle a photograph of John wearing a grey black-collared suit on the set of A Hard Day's Night, I find myself wondering Is that the jacket I tried on? Is that the piano whose ivory I tickled? I ask of a picture of Paul behind a piano during the Revolver sessions?
You see, I went on the ULTIMATE Beatle trip this summer, the only way to go for die-hard Beatle fans... or for those looking for a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. This one lets you into places you've only dreamed of. It's organized BY fans FOR fans and taps into the annual phenomenon known as Beatle Week in Liverpool, the one that attracted over 300,000 fans last August. It introduces you to people who knew the Fab 4 personally - like Tony Sheridan, Klaus Voormann, Bob Wooler, Hunter Davies, Alf Bicknell, Alistair Taylor, Julia Baird, Gordon Millings. It gives you a glimpse into what it was like all those years ago. It immerses you into the music of the best rock band the world has ever seen. It makes you nostalgic for what was and privileged to be part of the growing family of Beatle fans all over the world.
In the afternoon of Saturday, August 19th over one hundred such fans gathered at five airports throughout the United States - New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Miami. People journeyed from all over the country, with two of us traveling to JFK International Airport from Canadian cities. The 17th Annual Magical History Tour had begun. The five contingencies met at London's Heathrow Airport and flew as a group to Germany's sin city, Hamburg.
Hamburg's Reeperbahn was a new experience for most of us... and what an experience it was! Hamburg was so instrumental in developing The Beatles' career, musical skills and image that visiting the city was crucial to take in the big picture. John Lennon was to say that he was born in Liverpool, but grew up in Hamburg. Though the Reeperbahn has changed over the years, the sex trade and the music industry are still paramount. Walking along the 43-mile quay, or strolling
through St. Pauli, it's easy to see why The Beatles felt somewhat at home in this seaport city, enough to return for five tours from 1960-1962 despite their harsh baptism at the Indra Club and the Bambi Kino. It's also easy to realize what part of the attraction was. They first tasted stardom here, with all its trappings: drugs, women, screaming fans, admiring Exis like Astrid Kirchherr, Klaus Voormann and Jurgen Vollmer. They collaborated with stars like Tony Sheridan and Bert Kaempfert while finding comfort in the growing kinship with aspiring artists like Cass & the Cassanovas and Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, whose drummer Ringo Starr would frequently take to the stage with them. Of course they were popular in Liverpool, but that was their home-town ... and now that they had ventured out into the international scene, they were hungry for more.
The Beatles' presence enveloped us as we strolled around St. Pauli during our first night in Hamburg. From our Hotel Monopol on the Reeperbahn, we were led by host René van Haarlem, publisher of Beatles Unlimited. René was a wealth of information, having lived in Hamburg for a number of years and researched The Beatles' Hamburg days for an upcoming book. Every site that we visited during our two-day stay in Hamburg was peppered with a touch of history and lots of enthusiasm.
No visit to St. Pauli would be complete for a Beatle fan without experiencing
the Red Light District OK, “experiencing” may be a bit inaccurate, but our brisk walk down this short street certainly WAS an experience. I'm not sure that any of us were quite prepared for it, until René instructed the women to walk in the middle, flanked by the men, and to walk with a purpose. Still, not until half-way down the block of scantily-clad storefront hookers did we start to feel the water bombs hit us, and see the cursing on their mouths as some of them hurled cups of coffee at us. How many of us would have been brave (or was it foolish?) enough to do this had we known we would have to walk by their pimps guarding the exit? Still, when else would we ever have the chance to repeat this? When in Hamburg...
Our full-day in Hamburg on the 21st was jam-packed with a 7-hour bus/walking tour of all the Beatle haunts imaginable - several of them from the inside - and culminated in a dinner and dance at the Kaiserkeller. And what a party it was! But first, the tour.
Our tour started along the River Elbe and wandered through many of the city's 294² miles of roads. Hamburg has more bridges than any other city in Europe; the harbor celebrated its 800th birthday in 1989. It was impossible not to take in some of the beautiful scenery along the way. As The Beatles became more familiar with the city and friendlier with Astrid and her friends, they started to wander farther away from the St. Pauli district. René pointed out sites near and far, from the Polizei on Spielbudenplatz, a block from our hotel - where Paul and Pete were taken following the condom incident at the Bambi Kino and their subsequent deportation in December 1960 - to the photographic studio where Astrid apprenticed. We saw the Sailor's Mission, where British sailors and bandmates would stretch their measly wages on familiar food and congregate for companionship. The music shop where Paul purchased his trademark Hoffner bass is now the Blumengeschäft Rosenkavalier, but nevertheless we dutifully posed for pictures in front of the flower shop.
The Bambi Kino, their first home in Hamburg, is now a renovated apartment building, but the hole in the ground behind it is testament to earlier days. The Pacific Hotel, four I and newly built in 1962, was where Brian Epstein lodged The Beatles during the final two weeks of that year when they last performed at the Top Ten Club. They stayed on the 4th floor, and some on the tour members couldn't resist running up the stairs to check out their living quarters, or lining up at the bar for ein beir. René pointed out the western store where they bought their first pair of Beatle-style boots, the tailor where they ordered their leather suits and the DOM Amusement Park where Astrid took many of their early pictures.
Stops included the Staatliche Schule, with its basement recording studio in which The Beat Brothers backed Tony Sheridan during several recording sessions with A & R man Bert Kaempfert in May 1961. Another hike from the bus took us into the suburb of Altona to the attic flat shared by Stu and Astrid, and frequented by John, Paul and George. The current owner was taken by surprise when a busload of tourists watched him mow the lawn; the whole family soon came out to check us out!
Another stop brought us to the State High School of Art Instruction, better known as the School of Design by the locals. Here Stu worked in Gustaf Seitz's Sculpture Department until authorized to study under internationally renowned Scots-born sculptor, Eduardo Paolozzi in June 1961. Much later, Paul was to include one of Paolozzi's works on the cover of Red Rose Speedway. What a treat it was for us to be allowed to wander through the school, climb the stone staircase to the top floor and admire the two-story stained-glass windows. How inspirational it must have been for Stu to study in these surroundings. His
year-long course came to a sudden stop on 10 April 1962 when he died at the age of twenty-one.
One of my favorite pictures of John is the one that adorns the cover of his 1975 album, Rock and Roll. In this classic 1961 shot, he is dressed in his leathers and leaning against a brick doorway, with the other Beatles streaking by. It's a very prophetic pose, as if time were standing still for John, as if he were watching the world go by. Time stood still for us as we stood on the same spot where this picture was taken. Leave it to René to find this doorway! And what a photo-op it was, with our own John look-alike travel-mate (a.k.a. Mark Delanoy) standing in patiently while we clicked away with our cameras. One comedic resident of the apartment building held the album cover through an open window, so we could get the pose just right.
Back in St. Pauli, more treats were awaiting us. Our walking tour took us past the spot where the Bambi Kino once stood, and the clubs in which The Beatles
performed: the Indra, where they played their first 200 hours of music in Germany, beginning 17 August 1960; the Kaiserkeller, where they relocated after the Polizei closed down the Indra; the Top Ten Club, where they performed during their 2nd tour, 27 March to 14 April 1961; and the Star Club, their venue during their 3rd and 4th tour of Hamburg when they were already under Brian's management.
At the Top Ten Club, now known as La Cage, Franz the manager welcomed us and entertained us with a history of the club, recounting how Peter Eckhorn transformed it from a jazz club into the top rock venue in the city during the early 60's. We toured the club, seeing where The Beatles performed 98 times and lived in the upstairs dormitory. In the basement, where the floor is now covered with sand and the metal gates that originally guarded the entrance now stand, the rooms were reserved for private bookings. Long ago, circus acts waited there for their turn to perform.
Our visit to La Cage wrapped up in style with drinks and dancing to the CD provided by tour-person Michele Augustinovich, Last Night in Hamburg: Early Recordings of The Beatles at the Top Ten and Star Club... and the evening had not yet begun.
Leaving La Cage at 136 Reeperbahn, we strolled back to Grosse Freiheit. This strip at night is dazzling, with all the fluorescent lights buzzing and doormen enticing customers into their bierhaus. Disco and go-go dancing are still alive and well in St. Pauli, and #36 Grosse Freiheit is no exception. It's the home of the Kaiserkeller, and that night it became party central for the Magical Mystery Tour.
The group congregated in the basement, which is currently a metal-studded DJ dance hall. When Bruno Koschmider ran the club in the late 50's and early 60's, it sported a nautical theme. The Beatles did 58 gigs there from 4 October to 30 November 1960, before being deported in December of that year. By the time the Star Club opened across the street in the early 60's, the Kaiserkeller could not compete with the other rock clubs; it had been renamed Colibri and reverted back to a cabaret/strip joint.
Yes we're going to a party, party...
We made out way upstairs to the dinner/dance section of the club. Normally closed on Mondays, the Kaiserkeller opened its doors exclusively for our group. We feasted on steak or vegan dinners and spent the evening singing and dancing to the Beatle tunes of our tour band, A Hard Night's Day. Robert Cummins, Danny DeLaMatyr, Mark Ehmann and Doug Cox escorted the Dallas leg of the tour, and this was the first chance that we had to see them in action, although it would certainly not be the last. And what a wonderful job they did of keeping us listenin'
to that rock 'n roll music all night long. Around 11:00 p.m., up to the microphone strolled non other than legendary Tony Sheridan, with guitar in hand, ready to perform the final three sets with the band. 'The Teacher', as The Beatles dubbed him, rocked to such tunes as Long Tall Sally, My Bonnie, Johnny B. Goode, All Right Now, Some Other Guy, Three Cool Cats and I Saw Her Standing There. Before hitting the stage, Tony had cordially spent over an hour signing autographs for anyone interested. He was a real charmer and a superb entertainer, and it was easy to see why The Beatles would have been so impressed by him. This was same room where Tony Sheridan met The Beatles!
Next: London (Abbey Road Studio)