The Beatles’ unique career took off in Hamburg in 1960 — it’s where the band from Liverpool became the magical Fab Four.
On August 17, 1960, five unknown musicians from Liverpool performed at Hamburg’s notorious Indra club, right by the city’s Reeperbahn red-light district. Pete Best, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Stuart Sutcliffe used the stage name “Silver Beatles.”
There were few gigs for them in their hometown Liverpool, so the official engagement from a club in the German port city was more than welcome.
After their residency at the Indra, the musicians rocked the stage at other Hamburg clubs, including Kaiserkeller, Top Ten and Star Club. It’s where the Beatles celebrated their first successes — and removed the word “silver” from the band’s name. Their signature mop-top haircuts were also devised in Hamburg.
“It was one of the best places, one of the wildest,” recalled Pete Best, adding that Hamburg was where the musicians developed their talent. However, the drummer who had been invited to join the band just days before their first series of concerts in the German city was also infamously replaced by the more talented Ringo Starr in 1962.
The band had sparse lodgings right on the Reeperbahn. They were in debt in the bars, the police detained them for causing a public nuisance. Fame and wealth were still a long way off, according to Paul McCartney: “We lived backstage in the Bambi movie theater, right next to the toilets. That’s true!”
They each made 30 Deutsche Marks per night for a seven-hour gig that would last until the early morning hours; at the weekend they would play an extra hour. They lived on meatballs, beer and amphetamines. Their repertoire grew with every set. “800 hours in the rehearsal room,” Paul McCartney once jokingly called the Hamburg years. It was a time that welded the band together, and that allowed the legendary Beatles sound to develop.
By their 1964 tour in Germany, the Beatlemania fan frenzy was an international phenomenon
For the older generation, the music their children were listening to was nothing but noise and racket. But for the youngsters, the beat was a rebellion against what was portrayed as an ideal world, even in pop music. The Beatles’ loud rock ‘n’ roll, stomping rhythms and guitar riffs were especially popular. They played whatever they could think of, John Lennon later said. “We were performers in Hamburg’s dance halls. And what we generated was fantastic, when we played straight rock!”
They did it so well that Horst Fascher, owner of the Star Club and a local celebrity, noticed them. He booked the Beatles for his club, where, he said, they learned from watching other stars’ stage shows.
The Beatles became increasingly famous. And they recorded their first record with popular British singer-songwriter Tony Sheridan, a folk song with added rock ‘n’ roll elements. “My Bonnie” became an evergreen and even made it to number five on the German charts.
On New Year’s Eve 1962, they played at the Star Club for the last time. The Beatles had become musicians with a mega career ahead of them — a career that began in Hamburg.
There are many myths about the Beatles residency at the Indra Club. One of the more likely tales has it that Paul McCartney used part of the club’s address — Grosse Freiheit 64 — in “When I’m Sixty-Four.”
True or not, the Hamburg music club today advertises the venue with the slogan “Indra — where the Beatles played first.”