The Beatles

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Those legendary Hamburg years that saw The Beatles go from wannabe Silver Beatles to the best rock and roll band in the U.K. began inauspiciously on this day, August 17, 1960. There was no fanfare or red carpet for the young Liverpool pop group making their debut in the “exotic” climes of Hamburg, Germany. It was a home away from home, more likely, as The Beatles swapped one war-scarred port city for another.

The Hamburg trip had been organized by the band’s unofficial manager/booking agent, Allan Williams, manager of the Jacaranda Coffee Bar in Liverpool. When approached by the band to let them play some numbers at his shop, he had art school boys John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe paint a mural in the ladies’ restroom. Nonetheless, he did offer them up to a German promoter, Bruno Koschmider, who was scouting for cheap British rock and roll bands to keep his nighttime customers happy.

So the deal was done. The Beatles would play the Indra club in Hamburg, a small venue hidden slightly away from the main action on Grosse Freiheit that connects with the Reeperbahn and its miasma of music bars, strip clubs and general debauchery.

The Silver Beatles dropped the “Silver” and hired Pete Best on August 12, ready for their overseas trip. Broke to a man, the boys couldn’t afford the train. The band – Best, Lennon, Sutcliffe, Paul McCartney, 17-year-old George Harrison and assorted Williams associates – headed to Hamburg in Williams’ green Austin van.

Hardly a pleasant journey, they drove first to London, then to Harwich, where they crossed the sea by ferry, landing at the Hook of Holland and then driving another 300 miles or so to Hamburg in Germany. Williams charged the band $25, to be taken from their pay, and he also fronted them cash for clothes and toothbrushes.

Their contract was for two months and The Beatles would each receive $4 a day for a backbreaking schedule of shows. Each weeknight they were to perform for four and a half hours, from 8 to 9:30 p.m., 10 to 11p.m., 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and 1 to 2 a.m.

But that was nothing compared to weekends. On Saturdays they were expected to play from 7 to 8: 30 p.m., 9 to 10 p.m., 10:30 to 11:30 p.m., 12 to 1 a.m., and 1:30 to 3 a.m. After a few hours sleep, they were due back on stage Sunday afternoon for Sunday’s sets of 5 to 6 p.m., 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., 8 to 9 p.m., 9:30 to 10:30 p.m., 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. and 12:30 to 1:30 a.m. They arrived in the late afternoon on August 17 and took the stage the same night in respectable sports jackets, not the rock and roll leather that photographer Astrid Kircherr captured later.

With the Indra adrift from the rest of the music drag, The Beatles played nervously to a handful of spectators, mostly hookers and their johns, that first night. Of course, they still played the full four-and-a-half hours before sleeping in one bed in Koschmider’s apartment that Bruno vacated for their first night before finding them “decent” accommodations in a nearby cinema – the Bambi Kino on the end of Grosse Freiheit.

Not used to the raucous nature of the German nightclub clientele, The Beatles at first simply stood still and performed their songs. But with Bruno urging the band to “mach schau,” or make a show, The Beatles discovered their performers' genes and quickly became one of the most exciting and musically efficient bands on the circuit.

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