Astrid Kirchherr (born 20 May 1938) is a German photographer and artist and is well known for her association with the Beatles (along with her friends Klaus Voormann and Jürgen Vollmer), and her photographs of the band’s original members – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best – during their early days in Hamburg.
Kirchherr met artist Sutcliffe in the Kaiserkeller bar in Hamburg in 1960, where he was playing bass with the Beatles, and was later engaged to him, before his death in 1962. Although Kirchherr has taken very few photographs since 1967, her early work has been exhibited in Hamburg, Bremen, London, Liverpool, New York City, Washington, D.C., Tokyo, Vienna and at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. She has published three limited-edition books of photographs.
Kirchherr, Voormann and Vollmer were friends who had all attended the Meisterschule, and shared the same ideas about fashion, culture and music. Voormann became Astrid’s boyfriend, and moved into the Kirchherr home, where he had his own room. In 1960, after Kirchherr and Vollmer had had an argument with Voormann, he wandered down the Reeperbahn (in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg) and heard music coming from the Kaiserkeller club. Voormann walked in and watched a performance by a group called the Beatles: Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Sutcliffe and Best, their drummer at the time. Voormann asked Kirchherr and Vollmer to listen to this new music, and after being persuaded to visit the Kaiserkeller (which was in the rough area of the Reeperbahn), Kirchherr decided that all she wanted to do was to be as close to the Beatles as she could. The trio of friends had never heard this new music called Rock n’ Roll before, having previously listened to only Trad jazz, with some Nat King Cole and The Platters mixed in. The trio then visited the Kaiserkeller almost every night, arriving at 9 o’clock and sitting by the front of the stage. Kirchherr later said: “It was like a merry-go-round in my head, they looked absolutely astonishing… My whole life changed in a couple of minutes. All I wanted was to be with them and to know them.”
Kirchherr later said that she, Voormann and Vollmer felt guilty about being German, and about Germany’s recent history. Meeting the Beatles was something very special for her, although she knew that English people would think that she ate sauerkraut, and would comment on her heavy German accent, but they made jokes about it together. Lennon would make sarcastic remarks from the stage, saying “You Krauts, we won the war,” knowing that very few Germans in the audience spoke English, but any English sailors present would roar with laughter.
Sutcliffe was fascinated by the trio, but especially Kirchherr, and thought they looked like “real bohemians“. Bill Harry later said that when Kirchherr walked in, every head would immediately turn her way, and that she always captivated the whole room. Sutcliffe wrote to a friend that he could hardly take his eyes off her and had tried to talk to Kirchherr during the next break, but she had already left the club. Sutcliffe managed to meet them eventually, and learned that all three had attended the Meisterschule, which was the same type of art college that Lennon and Sutcliffe had attended in Liverpool. (Note: Meisterschule für Mode, Textil, Grafik und Werbung [Master Craftspeople College for Fashion, Textile, Graphics, and Advertising], although it is now called the University of Applied Sciences).
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