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The Beatles Rise to The Top – Meet Astrid in Germany
The “Beatles” was formed in the summer of 1962 and from that moment on John Lennon and Paul McCartney, created a pop legend that (not even the band themselves ) could have imagined the impact they were about to create. The boys from Liverpool, where they crafted their talent and took the musical world by storm.
George Harrison would become the dark horse in the later years by surpassing Lennon/McCartney in writing the most covered song. That song was “Something’, with”Frank Sinatra’ covered himself and claimed to be the most beautiful song Lennon/McCartney ever composed. That’s just the way it was for George being in the giant shadow cast by his band mates superior writing talent.
Ringo, the other second rate Beatle, was given one song per album compared to George’s two. There was a good reason for this. Georges songs were not particularly good early on and they had a hard time letting him know this without hurting his feelings But when George developed his writing skills. He did so in a big way.
Ringo did not write at all. John and Paul did make it a point, out of kindness or a novelty to make sure he had one song on every album. Every one would have at least one song on every album. In the beginning for Ringo, they choose standards such as “Honey Don’t” an old Carl Perkins standard or “Act Naturally” by Johnny Russell/Vonie Harrison which was a phenomenal choice for both songs. I cant picture John, Paul or George pulling either of these off any better. In the end they were able to pen such songs as ‘Yellow Submarine” “Octopus’s Garden” and “With a Little Help From my Friends’ for Ringo to sing.
Your going to find out that what ever the Beatles touched, t was to turn to gold. A quick example; Magical Mystery Tour was considered a failure by the critics. While reporting on the failure of Magical Mystery Tour “Time” magazine subsequently noted the the film had grossed 2 million from college rentals and in America the album had grossed 8 million in its first 10 days. This does not include England where the EP hit number 1. As usual, everything they touched, it turned to gold.
This band was driven by the shear genius of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and there ability to write compositions that caught the imaginations of the young and older generation.Their stage presence often reduced their audience to tears. It didn’t matter that more often that not there music could not be heard above the constant screams from the first note of show to the very end.
This often frustrated the “Beatles” to the point where they rushed through the shows to them over with. George (Harrison) had once commented that “they felt like performing flea’s”.
The “Beatles” had enormous talent individually and collectively and also had the drive to reach there goals. Under the leadership of Brian Epstien the band would criss cross the country on an endless tour of one night stands.
In the early days without drawing a breath they were able to squeeze in a growing number of requests for Television and radio recording without taking a breather in their touring schedule.
Before their fortune and fame were to spread beyond the the Merseyside, and a break through tour of Sweden in 1963 which was followed early the next year by a trip to America.
Prior to this tour they had crossed the Mersey two separate times for extended stays in Germany. The first trip had been booked by their manager at the time “Allen Williams”. Buy the time the band arrived there they found out that they had been booked at the Indra Club. This was a dreary little dive compared to the Kaiserkeller’. They were expected to play from seven in the evening to two or three o’clock in the morning.
It was during this trip the boys met two important personalities who would unknowingly alter the history of “The Beatles” and Rock and Roll forever. As fate would have the boys would cross path’s with beautiful girl named Astrid Kirchherr and the son of a Berlin born doctor named Klaus Voorman.
The Indra Club featured a neon elephant outside the front door and a small cramped stage at the back of the club. The shows usually included strippers and sex shows and sometime nude female wrestlers. The regulars at this venue consisted of a cross section of the Reeperbahns seedy underbelly of drug pushers, transvestites and gangsters, who were not shy about flashing or using their arsenal of weapons when the occasion was called upon and this rogue bunch were not exactly thrilled when these oddly dressed English boys who showed up ready to entertain.
Bruno Koschmider was the owner and felt obliged to find them room and board. He put them up in the basement of another club he owned called the ” Bambi Keno” There were three filthy cuby holes at the front of the theater and their quarters were located right behind the screen.
Gangster movies and porn films alternated in the early afternoon and it wasn’t uncommon for the boys to wake up to the sounds of excessive panting. The living conditions were deplorable and if one of them were brave enough to sift through the trash strewn on the floor it wast surprising to find human excrement.
A public toilet at the back of the theater was all that was available to them and if it weren’t for the insistence of there manager (Allen Williams) they would have gone without clean bed sheets and towels. Five months would pass with the band taking little more that sponge bath’s, as the dressing room at the Indra Club also consisted of the men’s toilet.
During this period there meals consisted of bowls of cornflakes when they woke in the afternoon. there were the occasional dinner at the Sea mans Mission where the manager (who was English) took it upon himself to help them out with cut-rate seaman fares.
It was at this time in their young life’s that they took a more prolonged interest in diet pills (uppers, prellys) or a German made pills called “Preluden. As George referred to them as (slimming tablets). Rosa, an old lady in ankle socks who was the toilet attendant at “The Indra club” took a liking to the boys. She was happy to keep them supplied from her endless inventory of prellys she kept in a candy jar hidden in the back room.
Paul was the last to give in to the “Peer Presure’ of the” Devils Drugs” as he referred to them. Paul’s dad, being a “wise working class” guy for warned him to ” WATCH OUT” for life on the Reeperbahn (Hamburg) was no place for them to learn the hard lessons of life. Eventually the “prellys’ had taken such an adverse affect over everyone in the band that the trivial arguments that took place, could not be remembered.
These consisted of arguing over who was the band leader. They had become irritable from working so hard and got caught up in the perpetual daily routines.
This era pre-dates Ringo, as he was not to join the group for almost a year later. Pete Best was the drummer. Although the band quickly found out they needed these Prelly’s to get through the long nights of endless playing. Pete did not participate in this activity and this crazy behavior and it was at this point that a wall was being formed between him and his mates.
Stu Suttcliff was also a member during this period and was the bass player. He had been brought on board by his close friend John who were class mates back in a Liverpool art school. Although not a very good musician John talked him into buying a new Bass guitar with some money he had won in an art contest back in home. Stu reluctantly agreed
Stu would would also become a target of Paul’s wrath. There were many arguments about his ability to play. One night on stage he and Paul had in all out brawl with Stu getting the short end of it. He was much smaller than Paul. Stu ended up leaving shortly after this event and Paul was to take on the Bass guitar full time
Ingesting large quantities of these uppers made them thirsty and what better place to be when your thirsty? The drinks where free and plentiful from the barmaids when Koschmider was not looking. Also it was common practice for the patrons to send up drinks to the band as they wanted to be entertained and not watch the group standing around.
It is also known that some of the band mates where a bit jealous of Pete Best as he was attracting more girls then the rest. Being a competitive bunch and all, this really bothered Paul the most.
Koschmider extended the the Beatles engagement only after another group (Derry and the Seniors) from Liverpool where to exhausted to continue there engagement at the Kaiserkeller. It was then the band was moved from “The Indra Club” to this much larger venue.
The decor consisted of Fishnets and portholes.It was enormous compared to “The Indra’ and a much rougher crowd.
This club had it’s own small army of efficient bouncers who where frequently called into action in this brutally violent club. Horst Fasher was in charge of security. He was an ex-boxer who allegedly spent time in jail for a street fight in which a sailor was killed by the bare fist of this menacing bouncer.
Fasher took a liking to the boys, John in particular, who was crazed and out of control. Their provocative behavior only got worse with this new found special protection. Driven by alcohol and amphetamines the boys behavior began to spin out of control.
Time passed as summer turned to autumn and and once again there engagement was extended. The boys had befriended two German natives during this visit. Claus Vorman and Astrid Kirchherr. Clause would go on to record on many of “The Beatles” solo projects. Astrid would style the now famous Beatle hair cuts and would photograph the album cover “With The Beatles” in which the four faces are pictured in half white and half black.
Klaus had a tremendous effect on the boys during this period of their lives. He was befuddled by Pompadour hairdo’s and there wild checkered jackets or their leather attire that they would casually flaunt like every day casual or work gear.Klaus was particularly taken by Stu Sutcliff, the least talented of the group.
Seems Klaus was taken by this moody mysterious character hiding behind his Bass guitar and dark clip on sun glasses. Klaus was an art student in Hamburg as was Astrid. They were room mates and after a heated exchange between the two one afternoon Klaus stumbled into the Kaiserkeller to get his mind off of the “events” of the afternoon. On any normal day he would not have stumbled into a such a dangerous area like the Kaiserkeller.
Klaus was so captivated by their music, style and spirit he came back two nights later with Astrid. They would return the next night, and the next until Astrid herself was hooked. Astrid had a blond pixie haircut with sad, large, dark eye’s. She was a girl of exotic beauty.
Astrid was pretty enough to capture the eye of each and every member of the group. She was enrolled at a private academy called the Meister Schule where she was studying art, and had met Klaus. When she met the boys Klaus was living in a top floor apartment of her mothers house and she was was working as a photographers assistant.
Astrid became enchanted with these strange English boys and managed to strike up a friendship despite the lack of communication between them due to language differences. In return the the boys were thrilled to meet there “peers’ and immediately latch on th Klaus and Astrid as natural companions.
It was a natural fit for this new found friendship and Astrid began to photograph them any opportunity she had. She began to bring follow German art student’s to the club. Like Astrid, they dressed in leather trousers and black heavy black leather trench coats.
These were a a pale, intense, group labeled “Exis” short for “existentialists” considered vogue. Not considered rockers or mods though. They were a pale ascetic and extremely intense group.
Any of the photo’s you see of The Beatles” in Germany wearing leather outfits, it was was from this relationship that the boys would change trends in there daily attire. A portion of their outfits were designed by Astrid herself.
According to Paul, They (the band) did not completely bath (sponge bath only) till the third trip to Germany. That is when Astrid had let them use her accommodations.
Stu Sutcliff “: I Just recently I have found the most wonderful friends, the most beautiful looking group I have ever sen. I was completely captivated by their charm. The girl thought I was the most handsome of the lot. I, feeling the most insipid member of the group’ being told how much Superior I looked- this alongside the great Romeo, John Lennon and his two stalwarts Paul and George: the Casanova of Hamburg!
As it turned out this meeting would be more beneficial to the band. Astrid and Klaus group of friend were much more cultures than the locals and they were “The Artsy Crowd”and the boys took more from them, then they learnt from the band.
Jurgen, was was member of Astrids group and they would take the band to seedy places such as the old fair ground or a bombed railway to photograph the band. This is when the boys started to see how things were done. They didn’t like glitter. They started using these early handout photo’s. They loved the image.
Astrid brought them to a leather goods retailers which would not be available or seen in London at the time. The Marlon Brando image they sought after was now ripe for the picking. Every one in the band loved the idea of leather, but it was Astrid who had the leather garments and had the Beatle haircut of the future.
The Beatles did come home with a style that had never been witnessed before. It turns out Astrid left her mark on the world through “The Beatles”. The hair cuts made such an impression that wigs were modeled after this style and where a huge success.The leather would have stayed if john had his way. He reluctantly gave in to Brian Epstien to sacrifice the leather for the suites.
I, myself have no complaints. It brought the world the greatest band ever, at a time that was desperately needed. I loved almost everything John Lennon produced. But there was that time where he had referred the “Sargent Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band” album as rubbish.These were not John’s better days as far as I’m concerned.
It was during this trip Stu fell deeply in love with Astrid, and though they could not speak more than a few words to each other, due to the language barrier. They had become engaged. Stu would leave the band and stay in Germany and Paul took over duties on Bass.
Five more months had past in Hamburg and if they had not got in trouble they may have stayed another year if the police didn’t throw then out. The problems began when Peter Eckhorn, opened a top ten club and began to lure Reeperbahn club employees away including the Kaiserkeller’s fearful bouncer Horst Fasher and most of his thugs. Rosa, the wash room (prelly’s) attendant was also lured away.
Koschmider made it clear to the boys they could not work with in 35 weeks of their contract and 25 miles of the Kaiserkeller and if they did it would not be safe for them to walk with in 25 miles of his club.
Regardless of his warnings the boys left for Eckhorns club and as word got back to Koschmider he was not pleased. The next morning the boys were dragged out of bed by several nasty Reeperbahn policemen and taken to the station.
Koschmider had tipped off the police that George was under age (not yet 18) and it was illegal to be in any club on the Reeperbahn past curfew. In fact none of the band members had any legal work papers. George was ordered to leave in 24 hours.
Stu and Astrid took him to the train station that night and in an unusual show of feelings and heart break, George limped back to Liverpool with his tail between his legs. A heart broken young adult. With a year on the Reeperbahn, the boys were much more mature beyond their age.
A couple days after his departure Paul and Pete Best went back to Bambi Kino to grab what little possessions they had left. They didn’t believe there belongs would still be there. In a show of kindness Koschmider choose not to throw them out. But the two boys couldn’t leave well enough alone.
They gathered their belonging from behind the screen and decided to set the dry drapes on fire and run for it. No mention to anyone in the theater that it was on fire. Before much damage was done, it was extinguished before near disaster. But suspicion was set in and the police couldn’t help notice” The Beatles” written in carbon from the flame of a candle.
The boys were now under suspicion of arson to the Bambi Keno and were hauled into the Reeperbahn police station for questioning. Thanks to a second show of undeserved kindness From Bruno Koschmider there were no charges and Paul and Pete were ordered out of the country. They were on the next flight out with out Pete’s drum kit and most of their luggage.
John and Stu were the last to standing and there wasn’t much point staying.The trip had taken it toll as for as all were concerned.
John scraped together enough money for a train ride back home. Stu who had a fever and a touch of tonsillitis would fly home, only to return next month to marry Astrid.
The boys where home for almost a full month before they bothered to contact one another. They all left Hamburg worn out and dejected. What was about to happen next no one could have anticipated. They all assume to disband at this point.
No one in the band thought about what the endless hours of jamming, improvising and being forced to learn new songs had done for them. Their standard repertoire was no longer enough to keep the audience entertained for the long stretch,s they were required to perform. On the Reeperbahn a strange transformation had taken place.
The boys where now polishing musicians and where not prepared for the pandemonium that was about to unfold before their very eyes.
Once each member of the band had been home they went about their business and did not bother to communicate with each other for almost a full month. When they finally got together and performed in front of the home fans it was a whole new band.
The long grueling hours had matured these amateur musicians into polished professionals. They were now in demand to fill the local clubs on a full time basis. This was a huge stepping stone to the next level for the Beatles.
It would not be long before they would be in the studio recording singles and attempting to crack the coveted number one spot on the charts.
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