HOP TO HAMBURG; Fifty Years since the Beatles First Played Here -- the City Is Ready to Rock and Roll

Article excerpt

Byline: by Robert Gore-Langton

This is a multi-anniversary year for The Beatles. John Lennon was killed 30 years ago. The band split 40 years ago. And it was 50 years ago -- before their first recording -- that the boys first played in hamburg, a city in which they lived on and off for two years.

it was a band called Derry And The seniors who started the trend for Merseybeat groups to head for the great hanseatic port on the Elbe. The Beatles, then a five-man band who included Pete Best and stuart sutcliffe, were among the first.

in five separate visits to hamburg from 1960-62, The Beatles learnt to become a professional live band. George harrison, the youngest in the group, was barely 17 -- he was deported for being under age.

Liverpool and hamburg weren't so different back in 1960. The two cities were both badly bombed ports, both were rough. For The Beatles, their workload meant it was one long hard day's night.

in hamburg, they clocked up 281 concerts in total, playing 12-hour stints with half-hour breaks between sets. handfuls of pep pills kept them going. On one visit to hamburg, they played a shattering 98 nights in a row.

Their tiny audiences were made up of art students and drunken sailors chucking tables at each other. Girls chucked themselves at them.

hamburgians loved their music (they still do) and The Beatles loved the city's vibe. They lived and worked in the st Pauli district, still the city's most creative area. The band's footprints are everywhere.

'Beatles-land' is at the heart of st Pauli, adjacent to Germany's most infamous street, the Reeperbahn, once commonly known as the 'Wicked Mile'. The sailors who frequented this strip in the old days have long gone. Today tourists pour into its lurid strip clubs, bars, music venues and sex shops. it attracts 30 million people a year.

The street called Grosse Freiheit (just off the Reeperbahn) had three clubs -- the indra, the Kaiserkeller and the star Club -- all of which the Beatles played at.

The indra is still a lively music venue -- where the band Bambi Kino recently played the original Beatles set from 50 years ago.

Also on the street is the 18thcentury church of st Joseph, today used by mostly Catholic Poles (hamburg has always been full of migrants) in an otherwise historically Protestant city. Even this quiet sanctum is associated with the band. They were accused of urinating from the pulpit.

There are various guided Beatles tours, but the most eccentric is led by Stephanie Hempel. At each landmark, she whips out a ukulele to sing a quick Beatles song. …