There was no particular reason why we ended up in Hamburg for our New Year’s Eve knees-up abroad, but the lure of cheap flights, flowing German weissbeir and, by no means least of all, a street filled with scurvy and contemptible enterprises (for ogling only) probably had something to do with it.
Some pre-trip research revealed the infamy of the city’s sleepless Reeperbahn quarter, home to several of the bars where The Beatles got started. And a sundry selection of strip clubs and whorehouses.
Jolly good then.
So it was without delay that we made our way directly there on the big night, although any curious forays into the smuttier establishments were put on hold for a bit. Instead we chose to freeze half to death by the port along with several thousand other revellers, in order to watch the start of a marathon firework display to ring in the new year. It was awesome, and thankfully unaffected by premature inebriation, as was the case two years ago for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.
What we hadn’t bargained for were fireworks going off within 3 feet of us. I’ve never been in a war-zone before, but one can’t be too dissimilar to Hamburg on New Year’s Eve. People didn’t give a schnitzel; bangers, rockets and screechers (want for a better word) were flung casually into the middle of the street, regardless of who or how many people were passing by at that moment. One exploded so close to me that it caused me to nearly schnitzel in my pants.
We eventually sought refuge in a bar, where the bitter cold was swiftly alleviated by numerous rounds of sweet oats-tasting vodka. Soon after, the group had shrunk from 11 to 4 and we were stumbling past Olivia’s Show Club and Funky Pussy Club and into the pearly gates of the less disturbingly named Dollhouse. One hour later and €30 or so lighter we stumbled back into the sea of sin, and soon thereafter through the doors of an even more despicable establishment: KFC.
That would do it for the night.
Emerging lethargically from hangover-reeking hotel rooms the following morning, evidence of the madness that had taken place the night before was clear to see. Firework debris littered the pavements and cans and bottles rattled in the road. So much for German efficiency!
Time for something that didn’t involve shameless debauchery.
The Hamburg Beatles Tour
I was brought up to believe The Beatles were basically Gods, and nothing in the music world could, or ever would, touch them. I know all the albums, songs and words by heart. In fact there is a very high probability that the first song I ever heard was by The Beatles. Any family meal or holiday throughout my childhood was guaranteed to be complemented by a 60s classics soundtrack, and a crooning/air-guitar strumming Dad to boot. He is truly obsessed, and his enthusiasm hasn’t wavered in the slightest for as long as I can remember. Mum is losing the plot, bless her.
So, you can imagine my excitement (not least my Dad’s) when I discovered that several of their old Hamburg haunts were still standing.
I was going on my very own Magical Mystery Tour, and no hangover in the world, no matter how stinking and horrendous, was going to stop me. Unfortunately, this is exactly what stopped everyone else, thus, it was to be a solo mission.
So, scarcely twelve hours after leaving it in my wake, it was back to the Reeperbahn. I’d spent a good half hour planning my route, thanks to the endeavours of this anonymous blogger, and felt prepared when I arrived. What I hadn’t expected, as I emerged from St. Pauli train station, was to find the stadium of Hamburg’s infamous FC St. Pauli football team.
I’d read about them before the trip; the team has a renowned cult following that is largely made up of rockers, punks of far left-leaning political persuasions. According to Wikipedia, FC St. Pauli were the first German side to outlaw right-wing nationalist activities from its stadium during the era of fascist-inspired football hooliganism. Pretty amazing right? They’ve even got a skull and crossbones as their official team flag…
Sadly there were no games on either that day or the next, but it was still great to stroll around the stadium and get a feel for the club.
So, on to The Magical Mystery Tour…
The Reeperbahn is just a 2-3 minute walk from FC St. Pauli’s stadium, and this is the better end to start with if you’re planning on doing your own Hamburg Beatles tour. The first name on the list was ‘Top Ten Club‘, although this was changed to ‘Moondoo’ several years ago (the reference post I’d found is quite old). They played here regularly after moving to Hamburg, and even lived upstairs for a short while.
Continuing down Reeperbahn, about 50 yards or so, you’ll come to Beatles-Platz, at the start of Grosse Freiheit street. There is a sign and four outlined Beatles-shaped figurines that tourists queue to fit themselves into.
Grosse Freiheit is represented by numerable enterprises (including Funky Pussy Club). The Beatles probably spent many a night stumbling along this lively strip, reaping the local services offered as often as they supplied their own. One story goes that Lennon was caught with a working girl in the toilets of Kaiserkeller, a bar where they were booked to perform that same night and which remains iconic to this day. Allegedly, Lennon put a giant hole through the stage floor following a bet made by another band that he couldn’t do it if he tried. He could, and he did, probably to the delight of the other band. When the doorman found him ‘hiding’ in the toilets, he removed a nearby toilet seat and hooked it around Lennon’s neck, literally pulling him back into the bar, so that he could get back on the stage and play. Or so the story goes (I eavesdropped on a local tour guide).
There is a plaque (in German) outside the main entrance to the bar, chronicling the Beatles era, though there is no mention of the incident involving Lennon.
Across the street from Kaiserkeller is Star Club, or at least what remains of it, since this is no longer open either, after a fire forced the bar to close in the 80s. This was perhaps The Beatles’ most famous and routinely visited venue. And there is even a live recording taken from here that is still lurking in their archives I believe.
Beyond Grosse Freiheit, but continuing straight, is Indra Club, where the fab four (except Ringo) first appeared on the Hamburg scene. Again, there is a plaque, and a few old posters, but not a lot else to see. At least this one is still in business though.
Further down the road, turning left at the junction and continuing on a few yards, is the green, ivy-covered house in which The Beatles used to live. It is the only building that remains unchanged on Paul-Roosen Strasse (33) since the 60s – everything else is modern and characterless. They lived there ‘in squalor’ during the summer of 1960, and probably threw some amazing parties. If only I had a time machine…
There are a few more houses/venues I could have seen if I’d had the energy to hunt them down (the rest are scattered around the city) but by this point the hangover had become a body-sapping monster.
If you want to see more than I did, then check out this post by a nameless blogger. Whoever he was he was truly committed.
Personally I was content with my own Magical Mystery Tour, and glad to have survived the Reeperbahn’s ruinous and formidable nightlife. Just…
Have you spent a night revelling in/a day exploring Hamburg’s Reeperbahn? Have you nearly had your limbs blown off or your eardrums shattered by an enormous firework? Let’s hear about it!