Julia Sneeringer

Julia Sneeringer is Associate Professor of History at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center. This paper is part of a work-in-progress on the social history of the early rock and roll scene and the entertainment economy in Hamburg, West Germany. Her earlier work (Winning Women’s Votes, UNC Press 2002) explored political propaganda for women voters, as well as gender and advertising, in Weimar Germany.



"'I'd Never Even Been to Manchester': Liverpool Musicians in Hamburg's Entertainment Economy, 1960-1965"

In the early 1960s, Hamburg was at the epicenter of Western pop culture. In its red-light district, St. Pauli, The Beatles and other British acts provided a soundtrack for the revelry of tourists, sailors, and other denizens of the demimonde in venues around the Reeperbahn such as the Star Club. Young people, from working class locals to art students and social dropouts, also came to experience the thrill of live rock and roll at a time when this “jungle music” was largely suppressed. By 1962 this scene drew thousands from across Germany and Europe; in 1964, Hamburg garnered worldwide attention as the “cradle of The Beatles.”

My presentation explores the social, spatial and cultural circulation of British musicians in Hamburg from 1960 to 1965, particularly those from Liverpool who never made it big beyond their passionate German fan bases. These young men and a few intrepid women, inspired by African American sounds largely brought to Liverpool by seamen and soldiers, spontaneously formed groups in need of places to play. Club owners in Hamburg, whose tourist industry boomed during the Economic Miracle, needed musicians who could sing rock and roll in its “authentic” language and in 1960 began importing waves of cheap talent from Britain.

Most of these musicians – some barely eighteen – had never been outside Liverpool, much less abroad. Thus St. Pauli, with its 24-hour culture of sex, stimulants, and sleaze, represented not only an opportunity to make a living playing music but a “school of life” beyond parental control. My presentation discusses how musicians’ circulation through the worlds of the city and its entertainment milieu shaped their identity, particularly in regards to sex, generation, and national belonging. It also explores their interactions with fans, who themselves crossed boundaries of class, gender, and nation to experience a music scene sited in a liminal zone far from West Germany’s prevailing culture of respectability. These encounters between musicians and fans, as well as with club owners and hostile authorities, produced new cultural syntheses and constitute a crucial moment in the budding transnational youth culture that swept the world as the Sixties progressed.

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