Grosse Freiheit 2012

“Beatlemania Hamburg”, the Beatles museum closed for business June 30th

July 11th and 12th 2012 saw me back in Hamburg for a short while, during a three week European holiday. When in town, of course I couldn’t keep away from revisiting those old Beatles haunts yet again. The Beatles museum had recently closed down, but some of the old venues where the Beatles used to play are still there. The street “Grosse Freiheit” is located near the end of Reeperbahn, and housed several of these, the Indra Club, the Kaiserkeller and the missing Star Club (it burned down in the early eighties).

Grosse Freiheit starts with the Beatles square, where five steel sculptures resembling the fledgeling prefabs stands on an LP-shaped circle.

Grosse Freiheit as seen from the Beatles square
The same view in 1960
That’s me inside Ringo/Pete’s neck
With nighttime come the neon lights
Sixties nighttime
Standing in Grosse Freiheit you glance over to the other side of Reeperbahn with the not-so-seedy Liedl food store

Reeperbahn is the main street of the St. Pauli district and it’s the entertainment street of Hamburg, with both sex clubs, sex cinemas, hookers and brothels, but also regular theaters, souvenir shops, restaurants, discoteques and bars. And of course, Davidwache police station just around the corner from the prostitute headquarter of Herbertstrasse.

Me, standing below where the Zigarren-Haus sign was in 1960

 Note the webcam above me, not updated for 8 months…

The same building at nighttime

A bit up the Reeperbahn from Grosse Freiheit is the house where the Top Ten club once was. The Beatles played at the Top Ten Club in their free time (!) in 1960 and on payroll in 1961.

Location of the Top Ten club
On the ground floor, there’s a Pizza Hut Express, but there’s also a disco named Moon Doo in the house

Going back to the Grosse Freiheit, you pass the Beatles sculptures again (sadly plastered with flyers for recent gigs), you pass the cafe Gretel & Alfons, the old Star Club site and the still operating Kaiserkeller. Then there’s a thai karaoke bar and then there’s nothing. Standing around in the nothingness you can look back and see Grosse Freiheit from the other side.

But there are two more interesting locations in this quiet corner of Grosse Freiheit: the Indra Club and Bambi Kino. When the Beatles first arrived in Hamburg in August 1960, they played at the Indra and slept at Bambi. Legend has it that the Bambi was a sex cinema, but it really wasn’t, they featured regular movies. And it was never named Kino, the German word for Cinema, the Bambi was an “Filmkunsttheater” – a Movie Art Theater. But patrons are likely to have referred to it as Bambi Kino, nonetheless.

The Beatles used the Bambi’s back entrance in Grosse Freiheit but the main entrance is around the corner in Paul Roosen strasse 33.

 The movie theater is long gone, but the name Bambi is still held alive by a sticker which we found on lamp posts and walls in the neighbourhood

My main reason for going back to Grosse Freiheit this Thursday however, was to see what had become of Indra Club. When I was there in 2010, the club celebrated 50 years since the Beatles’ debut with a weeklong series of concerts by the USA-based band “Bambi Kino” who tried to recreate the Beatles feeling, and the concert I attended was also filmed and televised. Back then, I presented Orhan, the owner of the Indra Club with some good prints of The Beatles at Indra, including a framed print of a photo I had colourised. I felt that the photos of the Beatles playing at the Top Ten Club which they had hanging on the walls at the Indra were inappropriate when there were photos taken at Indra Club itself in existance. So I made a return visit to see if the owner had made use of the photos and how the club had fared since it had been so prominently featured on TV the last time I was here.

The building that houses the Indra Club
A group of tourists were being guided there as I approached
Still closed, Indra Club was advertising tonight’s program: table tennis!

I was very disappointed. The Beatles at Indra photos were nowhere to be seen, a handful of people were inside playing ping pong while downing their drinks and it was a sad state of affairs. A new coat of paint and some redecorations inside, having a young Hamburg group playing for the door… there’s really not that much the place needs. Okay, perhaps the toilets would have needed upgrading. But I mean, there were several tourist grups being guided on the Grosse Freiheit and many of them were taken to see the famous Indra Club, the customers are being delivered right to the doorsteps to the manager and he clearly doesn’t see the potential.  More than 150,000 people visited “Beatlemania Hamburg” between 2009 and 2012. If the Indra Club had been up to scratch, that’s where they would all have come to quench their thirst while watching live music. After all, the Star Club is no more and the Kaiserkeller and the Top Ten are discos.

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