BILL HILLMAN TRACKS
THE BEATLES IN HAMBURG

Indra Music Club
www.hillmanweb.com/BEATLES/indra.html
Große Freiheit 64
August 17 - October 3, 1960
 
This is the first club in Hamburg in which the Beatles played --August 17 - October 3, 1960. This is where the Beatles Story began. In a small, dark, and dirty club, almost at the end of the Große Freiheit street in Hamburg's St Pauli district.

Acting upon letters praising Hamburg's club scene, Allan Williams of the Jacaranda club in Liverpool made contact with Bruno Koschmider, offering to act as a booking agent.  Koschmider agreed since he had previously booked the English band Derry and The Seniors, who were very successful. Williams contacted Rory Storm and The Hurricanes and  Gerry and The Pacemakers, but both bands were already booked, so he sent a young inexperienced band -- The Beatles -- to Hamburg instead. This was a difficult decision for most of the band members since it would mean foregoing their education and career opportunities in Liverpool to work for an unknown employer, in front of German-speaking audiences, in a distant foreign country with whom they had been at war about 15 years before. In fact, in 1943, RAF bombers had leveled much of Hamburg in "thousand bomber raids" that had killed 43,000 civilians.

PAUL:  It was still very close to the war and all the people in Liverpool and on our estate hadn't forgotten, so it was good that we could meet young Germans. All these kids coming in had forgotten about the war, and this was very good for our relationships with those people.
The pay for the band worked out to only about 100 pounds a week but it was still much more than what the Liverpool gigs paid. To cut costs Williams drove the band and their equipment to Hamburg in his Austin van, which they loaded onto a boat at Harwick and crossed to the Hook of Holland. Accompanying them in the van were also Williams' wife and three friends -- making for a dangerously overloaded vehicle. Since Williams had failed to obtain work permits they posed as students on vacation.

Although they had hoped to play in the large Kaiserkeller club they were disappointed to find that they were booked into a run-down strip club -- the  Indra --  where they were required to play six or seven hours a night, seven nights a week. For lodging they were assigned to a filthy storeroom at the rear of a theatre -- the Bambi Kino. 

JOHN: We were put in this pigsty. We were living in a toilet, like right next to the ladies' toilet. We'd go to bed late and be woken up next day by the sound of the cinema show and old German fraus pissing next door.
The Beatles soon learned that they had to expand their repertoire to fill the long hours on stage and to develop a stage act that would satisfy the tough sit-down German crowds who constantly shouted, "Mach schau!" (Make a show). The band soon built up a following. Near the end of their contract the club was forced to return to its stripper entertainment due to noise complaints from a nearby church and tenants who lived in the apartments above. The Beatles were moved over to the Kaiserkeller.

Indra Club ~ Photo of Beatles on their first night at the club (click) (alternate)
in their matching lilac jackets tailored by Paul's next-door neighbour.
GEORGE: The city of Hamburg was brilliant; a big lake, and then the dirty part. The Reeperbahn and Grosse Freiheit were the best thing we'd ever seen, clubs and neon lights everywhere and lots of restaurants and entertainment. It looked really good. There were seedy things about it, obviously, including some of the conditions we had to live in when we first got there. The Indra was at the far end of Grosse Freiheit, off the Reeperbahn, the main club zone. The whole area was full of transvestites and prostitutes and gangsters, but I couldn't say that they were the audience. Hamburg was really like our apprenticeship, learning how to play in front of people.

JOHN: We worked on the stage non-stop 6 to 7 hours per night. The waiters had these pills. They saw when the musicians were totally fatigued, or collapsed drunk, and then they gave you one of those pills. You took the pill, and could go on again. You sobered up. You kept going until the effect wore off, then took another.




THE INDRA CLUB TODAY
Große Freiheit 64
Photos by Bill Hillman
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Commemorative Beatles Plaque

Side-Door Garden Area with Outdoor Tables
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Posters at the Front Entramce

Next Featured Band
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INSIDE THE CLUB
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Stage, Dance Floor and Tables

Bar and Lounge Area
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Manager and Bartender

Bartender
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Tables and Toilets

Band Promoter: Representing Che Lennon Band from St. Petersburg
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The Stage Comes Alive

The House Band
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Late Night Performance of The House Band


Click for full-size poster collage


THE BEATLES' HAMBURG: CONTENTS
PART I: Gigs  |  PART II: Digs | PART III: Echoes | PART IV: Reeperbahn | PART V: Places
Photos I | Photos II | Photos III

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