The Beatles Square on the corner of the Reeperbahn and Große Freiheit has a large
The Beatles Square on the corner of the Reeperbahn and Große Freiheit has a largedisc on the ground, like an LP and I feel like Rishi Kapoor in Karz, standing in the middle. But I am charmed because I am on a Beatles pilgrimage in Hamburg.
Beatles lore commonly believes that Hamburg ‘made’ the Beatles: it toughened and made performers out of them, and introduced them to the Exies — the cool, ironic, philosophically-inclined Astrid Kirchherr and Klaus Voormann. Hamburg is also where the Beatles reshaped themselves in visible ways: Stuart Sutcliffe left the group; the other three met Ringo Starr and would eventually want him — instead of Pete Best — to be a part of their group.
To my right is Beatlemania, the recently-opened Beatles museum, unmistakeable with the inflated prow of a yellow sub protruding from the front. The museum is the product of the devotions of three people: Matthias Höllings, Ulf Krüger and Uwe Blaschke, all of whom had seen the Beatles perform in the ’60s and were musicians, historians and collectors in their own right.
The museum is arranged as an interactive experience, and in one sense is less museum and more a kind of multimedia exhibit. The ‘Port of Entry’ is on the top floor. Here the visitor is given a passport, can be photographed as one of the Beatles, and proceed through the rest of the museum.
It is like travelling in time: the top floor recreates the working-class district of St Pauli of the ’60s, with the clubs that the Beatles frequented which now no longer exist or have gentrified themselves beyond recognition. Here also are sketches, paintings and photographs done by Stuart Sutcliffe, Astrid Kirschherr and Klaus Voormann. This is the most interesting part of the museum, not least for the oddly-spelt and disarming postcard that Ringo sent to his grandmother, or the CV that the Beatles had to write before they signed their first contract with Bert Kaempfert.
Going downward floor by floor, one moves past Abbey Road Studios (where one can sing along karaoke-style and take the recording home), past screens playing film clips of Beatlemania at its height, to the ‘Yellow Submarine’ room. There are rooms that celebrate landmark albums like Sgt. Pepper’s… and the White Album and finally there is the ‘Let It Be’ room, where one can listen to the ‘naked’ and the Phil Spector’d versions of their last album.
Through the journey, one sees the increasing sophistication of the music and the merchandising: all sorts of oddments, including hats, games and key chains, are on display. These contributions belong to Uwe Blaschke, and I wonder what his house looked like before most of it moved to the museum. You could also visit the museum store and buy (more contemporary) merchandise and — if you can afford it — the entire bootleg Star Club tapes.
Outside of the museum, to round off the pilgrimage, the Beatlemaniac must take Stephanie Hempel’s walking tour of the Große Frieheit area where the Beatles lived and performed.
Visiting hours: 10am-7pm. Admission charges: ¤12 (adults), ¤8 (children). Beatlemania Hamburg, Nobistor 10/Reeperbahn 22767, Hamburg, +49-01805-853753, www.beatlemania-hamburg.com.