"I might have been born in Liverpool - but I grew up in Hamburg" - John Lennon
When the Beatles first arrived in Hamburg in 1960, few would have predicted the global acclaim and popularity the band would go on to achieve just three short years later. From 1961-62, the Beatles visited Hamburg several times where they lived and performed in the heart of the city's red light district. These redicences would have a significant impact on the group and set the band on course for world-wide popularity.
The Beatles, who at the time comprised John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison on guitar, Stuart Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums, arrived in Hamburg in mid-August 1960 and began a relentless residency at the Idra Club in the St Pauli district.
Located just off the infamous Repperbahn, which was home to an array of nightclubs, bars and restaurants, the Beatles' residency saw them play multiple shows a night for seven days a week over the following months. The relentless playing, often until the early morning, helped the band hone their musical skills and improve their playing.
Housed in a dilapidated cinema storeroom with no modern comforts, the band spent their free time taking in the sights of the Repperbahn and the Hamburg red light district.
Following a breach of contract when the band played at a rival club for improved pay, Harrison, who was underage at the time, was reported to authorities who promptly deported him. When McCartney and Best returned to the storeroom to collect their possessions they set fire to a condom which resulted in their arrest and deportation for attempted arson.
Upon the their return to Hamburg the next year, the Beatles were able to achieve several significant musical landmarks by signing their first record deal and achieving their first chart success.
The band's first appearance on a single was recorded in June. English musician Tony Sheridan who was also on the Hamburg club circuit at the time hired the Beatles as his backing band on several songs. The single My Bonnie was released later that year and went to 32 in the German charts as The Beatles signed their first record deal with the German arm of Polydor records.
"Well I bet you, I'm gonna be a big star"
Between their residencies in Hamburg, the Beatles would return to Liverpool. Following the release of My Bonnie and their surge in popularity, Brian Epstein convinced the band to sign him as their manager in January 1962.
Two years after their first Hamburg performance and reflecting the band's growing popularity, the Beatles returned in April of 1962 for their third residency and to open a new 2000-seat capacity club called the Star Club. Between summer and autumn stints in Hamburg, the band would replace Best with Ringo Starr and go on to make their first recordings with George Martin, the rest of which, is rock and roll history.
"There are places I remember..."
Of their time in Hamburg, the band credited the experience of working and playing abroad as having a significant impact on them both musically and personally. Harrison said the time in Hamburg was akin to "apprenticeship" where the band learned "how to play in front of people".
Both Lennon and McCartney credited the long sets the band were obliged to play as significantly improving their playing, with McCartney saying the band got "better and better".
Of the Beatles' time in Hamburg, Lennon famously recalled: "I might have been born in Liverpool - but I grew up in Hamburg".