When the British beat groups visited Hamburg in the Sixties, they had grown up with a background of war films and humour about the Germans. Photographer Astrid Kirchherr (161): “We had this big guilt we carried around because of what our parents did in the war, and meeting English people was very special for us. They thought we were the krauts with big legs and eating sauerkraut all the time. It was unusual for teenagers from different countries to meet then and they would joke, ‘We won’ and we got used to that.”
Lee Curtis (162): “I don’t think that the war was a taboo subject but I rarely heard it mentioned. They wanted to forget it. They were genuinely ashamed of the things their parents had done, but most of it was done in fear. That young lad in The Sound Of Music offers a great insight into it: he joins the Hitler Youth Movement and he is frightened. He becomes a total stranger to his family and nobody trusts him. You had to do your duty and if your duty was to shoot someone, then so be it.”
In the 1950s, there were jazz clubs in Hamburg. Chris Barber (163): “We went to Germany and we found that a tune that we had recorded in Denmark in 1954 called ‘Ice Cream’ had taken the young generation by storm. We were the most popular thing since sliced bread in Germany – in Hamburg and Berlin in particular.” Indeed, the fans used to call Hamburg ‘Freie Und Barber Stadt’ instead of ‘Freie Und Hansestadt’.
By 1960, the Wall had divided Berlin. Hamburg, with a total population of around 1.7m, was the second biggest city in German and it became the most important centre for music. Several record companies had their head offices in Hamburg and made their recordings here. Schlager was the term for the popular music of the day but the term goes back further than that. Bernd Matheja (164): “Schlager is an Austrian term found in a magazine around 1862 and it means ‘It’s nice, it’s great, it’s a hit.’ We had Freddy Quinn, Peter Kraus, Ted Herold and Peter Alexander and they were performing lightweight material but very successfully. A lot of songs were written for them by German composers, but most of the time they sang cover versions.”
The German lyrics for the UK and US hits came from the same writers. Bernd Matheja (165): “It was a group of 10 to 15 people, nearly all men, all born in the 1920s, who wrote the German lyrics. It was a closed circle and they wouldn’t let anybody in. They translated everything. They often changed the meaning of the song completely. They were not always interested in using the original text and if it didn’t fit, they would do something else. Dave Coleman was an Englishman who worked with Casey Jones and the Governors, and when he left, he worked as a schlager singer. He did a song in German called ‘Alaska Quinn’ and it was Bob Dylan’s ‘The Mighty Quinn’. The German song is about a park you can walk to and there is somebody running round clad like an Eskimo. If Bob Dylan had heard a re-translation, I think he would have killed him.”
Considering their wild lifestyle in Hamburg, I am surprised that John and Paul never allude to it in any of their songs – you’d have thought that it would have led to a succession of songs. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find many songs about Hamburg. Lale Andersen sang ‘Unter Der Roten (Under The Red Lantern At St Pauli)’, which is about a soldier bidding his girlfriend goodbye and the red light is not emphasised. The German actor, Hans Albers, had some success in the Thirties with ‘Auf Der Reeperbahn (On The Reeperbahn At Half Past Midnight)’, which was performed by many other artists. Freddy Quinn, who was marketed as ‘the singing sailor’, recorded a schlager single in 1962, ‘Homesick For St. Pauli’, a curious reversal as most sailors would be visiting St. Pauli.
Ulf Krüger (166): “I can appreciate why schlager was popular. That generation had lost the war and they wanted tunes that looked forward to better times. Going to Italy for your holidays was, for example, better times – sitting in the sun, having a nice drink, swimming and so on. There are a lot of German songs about Italy, supplying people with dreams.”
Frank Dostal (167) from the Rattles and the man who wrote ‘Yes Sir I Can Boogie': “Schlager did not have anything to with reality: it was all, how about you and me getting together in Hawaii. The songs were about the mountains, the beauty of nature and going very far away. It was all so corny and we would never have dreamt of singing it when we were in the Rattles.”
Although James Last and his Orchestra play schlager to this day, generally it is made by singers with a small group. An example of reverse schlager, if you like, would be Elvis Presley singing in German in ‘Wooden Heart’. Tommy Kent (168): “I am a schlager singer, yes. You sing for all the people, for families, and it is light music, middle of the road. My name is Guntram Kuhbeck but in 1959 the record company said that it was not a good name for a singer. Bert Kaempfert said, ‘I think Tommy is good for you, you look like a Tommy. Take these singles and go to your hotel and pick one to sing.’ There were about 100 records and I went through them and found ‘Susie Darlin’’ by Robin Luke. We tried it the next day and it was a big success. Bert Kaempfert was not famous at the time but he made ‘Susie Darlin’’ with me and it sold a million. I was selling in Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg and I was a big star in Austria. I was No. l there for six weeks with ‘Alle Nachte (All Night)’. Bert became a big name producer and I was a star. My next song was Elvis Presley’s ‘I Need Your Love Tonight’. It was a big success in Germany but not as big as ‘Susie Darlin’’. Then ‘Personality’ and both of them sold 250,000. I made about ten records with Bert Kaempfert but I could never repeat the success of ‘Susie Darlin’’. The sales went down to 100,000 and then when they were only 30,000, the record company said, ‘That’s enough.’ (Laughs)”
Bernd Matheja (169): “You have to learn English in school. I was nine years old when I started English and then later on French. I always listened to English records and I always wanted to understand what they were singing and so, yes, I tried and tried and practised. The young people did not like schlager: they wanted the English and American beat and rock’n’roll. They did not know the words so they were interested in learning English. German lyrics for English songs are never satisfactory because the words are longer in German. Look at a book. If a chapter in the English original is four pages, it will be five in the German translation. It is always longer.”
Kuno Dreysse (170): “English is the language for popular music, it doesn’t matter which period it is – you can go back to the 20s, to the swing era or the blues and you will find English is the language. I am a German but I don’t like German singing as much as English singing. I used to be in a band in the Sixties as well and we would sing in English. We loved singing harmonies like the Hollies.”
This chapter is going to look at the significance of Hamburg. Is Bill Harry (171) right when he says: “Hamburg’s importance has been exaggerated by nearly every author. Liverpool is far more important. When the Beatles went over to Hamburg, there was the Indra, the Kaiserkeller and then the Top Ten. It wasn’t until 1962 that the Star-Club opened. There were only two venues open at the same time. In Liverpool you had every kind of venue, town halls, village halls, swimming baths, ice rinks, cellar clubs, and it was a thriving scene with 400 groups. In Hamburg, you didn’t have anything. We had watch committees so Liverpool was dead on Sundays. Strip clubs were not allowed and there was no drinking after ten o’clock. The groups loved Hamburg because booze was available 24 hours a day and it was completely uninhibited. This is why they have so many stories about Hamburg, but the music scene was virtually nothing.”
Kuno Dreysse (172): “I am not so big-headed as to call the Liverpool sound the Hamburg sound but all the Liverpool bands came here to work hard and find their style. The Beatles changed when they came to Hamburg, but what really happened? They got older. If you are 16, 17 or 18 years old, every year is a long time. They came with their guitars and they had to work every night. The Beatles played eight hours a night seven days a week. If you have some talent, then you must get better. If not, then you have to finish your musical career. The Beatles were good and they found themselves in the red light district where they could get drugs, where they could get girls, where they could get anything they wanted, so what did they do? They took their chance and they become world stars.”
III. The Indra and the Kaiserkeller
Welcome to an incredible cast of characters. The owners and managers of the Hamburg beat clubs had wonderfully onomatopoeic names – Bruno Koschmider, Manfred Weissleder, Horst Fascher. You’re scared before you’ve even met them.
In 1950 Bruno Koschmider, who was born in 1926, had opened a strip club, The Indra, at Grosse Freiheit 64. It was a small club, much smaller than the Cavern, with a bar and with tables around a raised stage. The stage was higher than usual at two feet so that the patrons could get a better view of the strippers.
In October 1959 Koschmider opened the much larger Kaiserkeller, literally ‘King Cellar’, at Grosse Freiheit 36. This was a cabaret club so the stage was only 18 inches high. The club could take 700 patrons and it was designed for sailors as the décor was nautical and the seats were like rowing boats. The bouncers were led by another guy with a splendid name, Willy Limper, although it was presumably the victims who were the limpers.
One of Allan Williams’s ventures was to open Liverpool’s first strip club. Attention from the police meant that the club did not last long, but it was a start and Allan thought he would see how things were properly (or improperly) done in Hamburg. It was a seaport too and, more to the point, the St. Pauli area had a notorious reputation. While there, Allan Williams thought he would sell the Liverpool groups to Bruno Koschmider. Allan Williams (173): “Koschmider was a horror, he was a gay, deformed homosexual and a trapeze artist who had broken his leg in a fall which left him with a permanent limp. The first time I encountered him was when I went over with Lord Woodbine to discuss the possibilities of getting work for Liverpool groups. I went to the Kaiserkeller because I heard rock’n’roll music being played by an awful German band and, in the interval, everybody danced to Cliff Richard’s records. One of the waiters took me in to meet Herr Koschmider and while I was doing my sales pitch for Liverpool groups, somebody shouted, ‘There’s a fight,’ and I could see this feller on the marble floor. Herr Koschmider gets a truncheon out and beats the feller to a pulp. That’s the type of personality he had.”
Allan Williams convinced Koschmider of the merits of British music, but Koschmider signed a London band led by Tony Sheridan from Norwich. Sheridan, a fine but maverick performer, had had some success in the UK appearing on the ATV show, Oh Boy!, but his manager, Larry Parnes, found him unreliable. He went to Hamburg with his group, the Jets. Tony Sheridan (174): “There was nothing when we got there. The aftermath of Adolf Hitler was a big void and there was no German musical scene to speak of. We shocked everybody with our music and they couldn’t believe it. Lots of people flocked in to see us and it was wonderful.”
Being in an uninhibited area like St. Pauli suited Sheridan fine, but, with little thought to the consequences, he transferred to a new club, the Top Ten, which was opened by Peter Eckhorn at Reeperbahn 136, in July 1960. This was a large cabaret club that could take 1,000 patrons. Eckhorn was only 21, but he was supported by his gangland family and as his minders were tougher than Koschmider’s, he did not fear retaliation. Instead, Koschmider came to London to find more British acts.
Meanwhile, Allan Williams had arranged some auditions in Liverpool for backing musicians for Larry Parnes’ acts, musicians who would be more reliable than Sheridan. As a result, the Beatles did a short tour in Scotland with Johnny Gentle, and Cass and the Cassanovas with Duffy Power. Derry and the Seniors were expected to back Dickie Pride (another splendid name and chosen by Larry Parnes and Russ Conway – say no more!) on a summer season in Blackpool, but it fell through. Howie Casey (175) of Derry and the Seniors: “Larry Parnes was looking for cheap Liverpool bands to back his stars. We got the gig to back Dickie Pride, but it was cancelled at the last minute. Allan Williams said he would drive us to London and we could perform at the Two I’s coffee-bar instead. We followed an instrumental band and Derry went into his wild thing. Bruno Koschmider was in the audience and he told Allan he was looking for a band for the Kaiserkeller to replace Tony Sheridan, who had gone to the Top Ten.”
There is a possibility, although he would never admit it, that Allan Williams never went to Hamburg until he went with the Beatles in August 1960. Brian Casser of Cass and the Cassanovas might have set up the contacts with Bruno Koschmider, but, not having his own telephone, he was using the one at the Jacaranda. Allan Williams may have known of this and taken over. Unfortunately, for reasons unconnected with beat music, Brian Casser has had nothing to do with the scene for years and has been keeping the lowest of low profiles. In other words, I haven’t a clue where he is. A great pity as it would be intriguing to interview him about this aspect of the Hamburg story.
Derry and the Seniors had a horrendous train journey to Hamburg. Neither Williams nor Koschmider provided work permits, but they managed to bluff their way into the country. Howie Casey (176) remembers it vividly: “In the doorway of the Kaiserkeller was a huge notice painted in all sorts of colours. It had ‘The Seniors’ in big letters and underneath ‘mit der Neger Sänger Derry.’ We were looking at it, thinking it was great, when Derry pipes up from the back. ‘Hey, la,’ he says, ‘what’s all this about a Nigger singer?’ I knew Neger meant Negro in German, so I assured him that they weren’t having a go. Bruno Koschmider showed us round. It was a huge club, bigger than anything we’d seen in Liverpool, beautiful décor and a big stage. We asked about our accommodation and were shown two little rooms which contained only two single beds, a couch and a few chairs. There was no bedding and we used coats for blankets. I found a huge Union Jack to cover myself with and so I used to lie in state every night. We were paid £16 a week each, which wasn’t bad as my dad was only earning that much. We had to feed ourselves and clean ourselves, although we didn’t worry too much about that, but our clothes had to be clean. Drinks and cigarettes are important and we spent money on girls to show off. Before the end of each week we were totally broke and were living on scraps, and, of course, there were doctors’ bills for certain illnesses.”
Derry and the Seniors enjoyed Hamburg’s night life. Howie Casey (177): “Rory Storm was taking over from us at the Kaiserkeller. We wanted to stay and Derry got a job with a German dixieland band, would you believe. The American navy was coming to Hamburg on a goodwill visit, a huge aircraft carrier and a few battleships, so someone made contact with the really tatty Casanova Bar on the Reeperbahn. This was a strip joint with little booths where people did dodgy things to one another. We played background music and the strippers would have particular songs to strip to. Every one of them wanted ‘It’s Now Or Never’. We would play quietly in the background, and there was a stage with a chair that the strippers stood on to get on it. The Americans would be giving them drinks, and they would be pissed sometimes and go arse over tit. They were charged exorbitant prices, but once the fleet left port, we were out of work again. I had two saxes with me and one was an expensive baritone sax that I had bought on hire purchase when I was in the army. A pawnshop on the Reeperbahn asked me to play it to prove it was mine and I sold it for the equivalent of £17. It was worth £400 so some lucky German got a cheap baritone. I kick myself for that.”
Koschmider was having such success at the Kaiserkeller that he decided to have beat music at his other club at the dark end of the Grosse Freiheit, the Indra. Allan Williams was asked to send over more groups, but most musicians had day jobs. Not the Beatles however. There was a drawback – they lacked a permanent drummer – so Pete Best (178) was invited to join. “My mother took a phone call from Paul McCartney. He said that they’d had an offer to go to Germany and needed a drummer. George Harrison had seen me play and knew that I had a drum kit. He thought I might be interested in joining. I went down to Allan Williams’ house and auditioned. Two days later, I was a Beatle.”
Geoff Hogarth (179): “The Iron Door was a drinking club then and the customers wanted us to be open on Sunday afternoons. I said okay but we would try something different. I thought about the cha cha cha but Harry Ormshire booked Johnny and the Moondogs. They didn’t sound bad but they weren’t musically adept. They said to Harry, ‘Don’t introduce us as the Moondogs: we are the Silver Beatles now’ and they had sprayed some silver on their clothes. Stu Sutcliffe had a floppy cowboy hat and I asked him about some more bookings. He said, ‘There’s no point. We’re going to Hamburg on Thursday.’ I didn’t care for John Lennon, who was definitely the leader. He would be giving me abuse but that’s the way he was. He didn’t change when he was famous.”
The long hours on stage gave the Beatles the opportunity to experiment. They developed a raucous style and made a big impact. They had never met a musician like Tony Sheridan (180): “If you play ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ 2,000 times, you have got to find ways to do it differently and this is when innovation happens – you put in sevenths, and ninths and elevenths. That is what Hamburg can do for you – you become something else, but I believe that the only way to be is spontaneous. All those guys who plan their shows are not being creative. Of course, I had bad nights, but there were nights when I turned myself on and turned everybody else on.”
Allan Williams (181): “It was not Liverpool that made the Beatles, but Hamburg. Bob Wooler used to say to me, ‘Okay, smart arse, if it did that for the Beatles, why didn’t it do it for Gerry and the Pacemakers and Howie Casey and Rory Storm and all the other groups?’, but they were established acts before they went. The Beatles were a bum group before they went. They only had done a few gigs in Liverpool and they hadn’t got their act together, and that is where they learnt the trade. Howie Casey sent me a letter when I told him I was sending the Beatles over. He said, ‘Allan, you’ve got a good thing going over here. If you send that bum group, the Beatles, you’re going to louse it up.’ I had enough confidence in the Beatles to know that they were good enough, and history has proved me right. They went for three months which was extended for another two, so they were out of Liverpool for five months, working outrageous hours seven nights a week. That would either make or break a group and it made the Beatles.”
Howie Casey (182): “I knew all the other bands at the Larry Parnes auditions – Cass and the Cassanovas, Rory Storm and so on. I had never seen the Beatles before and they borrowed Johnny Hutch and he was one of the great drummers of the time. He sat in with them, but I wasn’t impressed and I wasn’t the only one. When I was at the Kaiserkeller, Allan Williams sent me a letter saying he was going to send over the Beatles to play in the Indra, which was a little bar up the road. I wrote back immediately to say, ‘Don’t send the Beatles, you will ruin the scene. Send Rory Storm instead.’ The Beatles arrived and we went to see them on their opening night as they started earlier than us and they finished earlier at 11. They kicked off and my jaw went to the floor. There was such a difference from what I had seen at the auditions and we were buddies from that point on. They were jealous that we were playing in this huge club and it was a proper rock club too and they would come down and jam. We had some great nights.”
Beatles chronicler Hans Olof Gottfridsson (183): “It was a tough job. You can see from their letters home that they constantly had problems with their voices. The standard for performing for so long was set by the Jets. They were told to play three hours and have a break but they wanted to play for one hour and have a break. The Jets were professional musicians who were used to performing. The Beatles had just left school. It must have been murder for them.”
The German youths were impressed, notably Herbert Hildebrand (184), who was to form the Rattles: “In 1960 the Beatles appeared at the Indra and we were street boys from the red light area, so we became close friends and we showed them around and we asked them to get us records by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. They encouraged us to perform and when we appeared at the Star-Club it was a big success.”
Jurgen Vollmer (185) was an art student, who took that famous photograph of John Lennon in a St. Pauli doorway: “It wasn’t so much the Beatles: it was the whole atmosphere in that district. It was a very rough and tough area where only rockers went. I had just finished art school and types like us wouldn’t go to those places. When we went, we were so fascinated by the atmosphere of it and by the Beatles who were rockers themselves. They looked like the audience with their leather jackets and their hair, the pompadour, Elvis-style, and their ducktails. They attracted us because they were so menacing-looking, and they were something that we hadn’t seen before. It was the look that inspired me: John’s cool, arrogant, above-it-all rocker look. He isn’t that way, but he projected that image. Marlon Brando in The Wild One, a popular movie at that time, had that image, and John perfected that image, but he wasn’t at all like he looked. The rockers were provoked very easily and for someone with my arty look, it was dangerous. Other friends of mine who had the same look were beaten up on different occasions, but for some reason I escaped that.”
Ulf Krüger (186): “When the Beatles arrived here, they wore their little jackets, drainpipe trousers and winklepickers and then came the influence of Astrid Kirchherr and her gang, who wore black leather. It’s cool. Astrid wore leather first and then Klaus Voormann wore a leather suit that Astrid had specially made for him. The Beatles couldn’t afford a thing like that so they bought cheaper stuff on the Reeperbahn.”