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Tuesday 2 December 2014

Hamburg: Bambi Kino.

For the first time ever, a guest contributor to Kenwood. Thorsten Knublauch contacted me to ask if he could contribute some of his research re. the Bambi Kino; an excellent idea, and so, without further ado...

 My name is Thorsten Knublauch, author of "Komm, gib mir Deine Hand – Die Beatles in Deutschland 1960 – 1970" (with Axel Korinth), and "The Bravo-Beatles-Blitztournee – Five days of Beatlemania in Germany, June 1966" (English and German versions), and I have been engaged in research on German Beatles topics for over 25 years now. I am a specialist on their Hamburg years and their German tour, and, since the late 90s, I have written several articles on those subjects for the German Fanzine "A Ticket To Write". I am also a consultant for Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" books. 
For the great Kenwood blog, that specialises in Beatles sites and buildings, I`d like to present an abridged version of my long article on the "Bambi Kino", that was published in the December 2014 issue of "A Ticket To Write".
 In Beatles history there are many legendary places, such as the Cavern, Shea Stadium, Abbey Road or Savile Row, all of which are strongly associated with the Beatles. There are also a few places which are not so obviously linked, but which are nevertheless "legendary" too. One such site is the Bambi Kino – the Bambi Cinema, a place where the Beatles stayed in shabby rooms from August 17th 1960 until November 30th 1960.
What is the history of this building and what did it look like? I was lucky enough to get a photo of the construction plan of the complex, some files from the archives of the city of Hamburg, new and old photos, Google earth shots, scans from the Hamburg address books of the last 120 years, vintage cinema adverts and first hand witnesses to tell the whole story for the first time. I am grateful to Peter Paetzold of www.beatles-tour.com for his constant help with new photos, and the knowledge gleaned from his youth when he lived around the corner.

 The history of the “BAMBI Kino”.

Today on sightseeing tours in Hamburg you will be guided to a small blue building at 33 Paul-Roosen-Strasse. Perhaps I'm not the only person to wonder how on earth a cinema could have been there? In old books or in Beatles movies one can learn that they lived in small rooms behind the screen. I asked myself how one could sleep with that light and noise, and why there would have been a room behind the screen? I`d like to solve that mystery.
The Bambi Kino was, in fact, a complex of buildings, and not just the building that you see at 33 Paul-Roosen-Strasse. The main entrance to the cinema was situated on the left-hand side of this front building, with foyer and ticket booth (cash box) only - there was simply no space for anything else here. On the right-hand side was/is the main door for the apartments above the houses 33 and 35.

History of the complex. 
The architectural history is complicated. The building at 33/35 Paul-Roosen-Strasse is very old. A sign lists 1801 as its year of construction. From the 1880s on, behind the row of houses, at Grosse Freiheit 79-83 stood a pretty big entertainment establishment called “Englischer Garten" (“English Garden”) in the premises of a former Labadist Church.
Between the "English Garden" and the front house was a building (dated 1768), which served the "English Garden" as a dining room. In the years before it was sometimes used as a church building. Right next to the dining room a kitchen was added and one could also reach a cellar in the basement. Here the complex ended, as is clearly visible on the construction plan because of the thicker wall.

The complex at 79-83 Grosse Freiheit and 33/35 Paul-Roosen-Strasse was owned and operated from 1890 by the "Englischer Garten AG", and both addresses were counted together in the address books. The "English Garden" was entered via Paul-Roosen-Strasse, and the entire basement served as the entrance. The two upper floors of the building 33/35, then as now, each housed two small apartments. The "English Garden", incidentally, was not a garden restaurant but a local ballroom.
In the mid 1920s the building was sold. Around 1935 the "English Garden" ballroom was demolished to make space for living quarters that were never realised. The dining room and the front house were left.
 Around 1935 a certain Mr. Dietrich Mindermann acquired the remaining complex and the area was (again) used as a restaurant. At that time a long corridor was added to the kitchen, which led via a "kink" to the Grosse Freiheit. The exit became 85 Grosse Freiheit. In that corridor the new toilets and other rooms were added and the corridor became the entrance for suppliers.

Until his death in 1955, Mindermann operated the restaurant - probably always under the name of "Englischer Garten". Thereafter, the complex was converted into a cinema. I am presenting here (above) a building plan for that reconstruction that was used by the fire prevention authorities. I only have a photo of the plan that is not suitable for showing here, so I have made a new illustration myself on the original scale.
The left side of house No 33 became the cinema entrance with foyer and ticket booth (cash box), while No. 35 was probably operated separately as a restaurant by a different leasee. In the former kitchen of the "Englischer Garten" a screening room was installed with a projector. After the conversion the long corridor acted as the exit. Patrons left the cinema after a performance via this corridor, whilst the next audience entered from Paul-Roosen-Strasse. In addition the toilets could be accessed here.
The construction plan shows that about 18 m along the corridor were two rooms named there as "staff room" and "cash box". These rooms later served as the Beatles' accomodation. No one knows if they were ever actually used as named in the plan, as the cash box was near the front entrance. I would guess that both were in fact storage rooms, most likely since they were built circa 1936. These two rooms were entered through a door from the corridor and divided up inside. The smaller of the two rooms adjoins the men's toilet directly. To the left of the men's toilets were the women's toilets. A third room was designated as an office.

According to the address book from 1957, the cinema was initially known as the "Ali Film Theater", but this was changed later that year to "Luna Film Theater", as seen in adverts of the time. The movie database names a certain "J. Buschinger "as owner.
We now come to the Beatles-era.

Bruno Koschmider and the “BAMBI Kino”.
Most histories of the Beatles (including my own!) have suggested that Koschmider operated the Bambi Kino for a long period. However, this turns out not to be true. Looking at trade register entries for the year, one can see that Koschmider wanted to establish himself in St. Pauli in 1959. He already had establishments in Bremerhaven and Hamburg, on the Eimsbütteler Chaussee.
On October 14th 1959, he took over a restaurant at 36 Grosse Freiheit by getting a licence for a "beer business which will serve beverages of all kinds". In the basement of that building he opened the Kaiserkeller, a couple of days after getting the licence. The other clubs in that building were owned by different people.
Regarding the Indra, there have been differing accounts, but the fact is that the date September 1st 1950, listed in various books (even in my “Komm, gib mir deine Hand” book), is wrong – at least for anything related to Koschmider. The entries in the register show that his tenure followed the lease of a certain Susanne Gerecht who had taken over the club on November 1, 1958. Unfortunately, the documents I have do not show any specific date when Koschmider took over the club. I assume that when business flourished at the Kaiserkeller, he decided to open a second dance club. According to the earliest advert I know featuring the Indra with Koschmider as owner, it might well have been around March 1960. It is not true that he previously operated the Indra as a strip club, since the licence (as with his predecessor) only allowed the "operation of a dance hall serving beverages of all kinds". The strip club days must have been a couple of years earlier, but have gone down in Beatles history on the basis of a rumour because it chimed with the nature of the area. However, it did not fit in with the "portfolio" of Koschmider's other establishments. He maintained only dance halls in these years.
Incidentally, until the mid fifties strip clubs were quite harmless, providing mainly a kind of cabaret style entertainment with a mixture of music, bawdiness and a little stripping.
Around this time Koschmider also got permission for "operating a movie theater" on 15 March 1960, and he then took over the cinema in the Paul-Roosen-Strasse. The cinema must have been closed for a time as there were no screenings in 1960. (There are no cinema adverts in the newspaper archive before 1960, and I could not ascertain the exact date of the final screening in the “Luna” cinema.) Koschmider needed some time for renovations and recruitment of staff, following which he opened the cinema 3 weeks after acquisition. The first movie he showed was on 5 April 1960 - "Der Tiger Von Eschnapur" (The Tiger from Eschnapur).
But one can see that the program changed twice a week and there were - contrary to what some books claim - no porn films shown, just normal films that were a year or even more out of date, on a re-run. The cinema had exactly 235 seats and was one of about 140 cinemas in the city. It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that this somewhat obscure little cinema had already changed tenants shortly after opening. Koschmider first named it "Bambi Lichtspiele" (literally in English "Bambi 'Lightgames'" ie 'cinema'), and then changed it again at the end of June 1960, somewhat pompously, to "Bambi Filmkunsttheater" (Bambi Film Art Theater), even though he didn't change the style of the films. In Michael McCartney's book "Family Album" the latter name was shown from a flyer or letterhead:

Furthermore, so one could always get an idea of what was on at the cinema "around the corner", amidst the nightlife of St. Pauli, a case advertising the movies was attached to the side wall of the exit at 85 Grosse Freiheit. In addition a neon light reading „Kino“ was installed on the adjoining wall 87 Grosse Freiheit:

The photo shown above must have been taken shortly after the opening. The old writing for the "English Garden" can be seen on the house wall at 87 Grosse Freiheit.
There is a wonderful colour photo of the Grosse Freiheit from August 1960(!) in which, when enlarged, one can exactly see the new look of that wall and where a kind of "Pinocchio" was painted.

By the spring of 1961 the cinema was already heading slowly downhill. The films shown were getting older and older. From 16 May 1961, for just three days, the "Bambi" screened its last movie (dating from 1940). Koschmider formally quit operating the cinema on November 16, 1961 at the Registry Office.
The Indra was de-registered in January 1961, but the enterprise had probably already ceased some weeks after the Beatles moved to the Kaiserkeller on October 4th 1960. The Kaiserkeller was given up by Koschmider at the end of 1961 (no exact date known), and he then didn't operate St Pauli clubs for a few years. One can only guess that the competition (one remembers the problems with musicians between the Kaiserkeller and Top Ten and the subsequent banishment) had caused him problems financially and personally.
After the closure of the Bambi Kino, the building was never again used as a cinema. The address 85 Grosse Freiheit also disappeared from the address book. The building remained the property of the Mindermann family and Mrs. Mindermann lived there for some time.

Shortly before the opening of the Star-Club in April 1962, in the former premises of the cinema, the "Club OK" was set up as a "first Twist-Club", and was advertised in a painting on the side wall as "the one with the exciting corridor". The club was entered (presumably) exclusively via the long corridor on the Grosse Freiheit, where it got an illuminated name sign, and the cinema case and neon "Kino" sign were removed. Bands who played the club included The Rattles (who later opened for the Beatles in 1966) and The Bats (with whom Stuart Sutcliffe played a couple of days as their replacement bass player in February 1962). It seems the club didn`t last long, being in such close proximity to the Star-Club, and closed most likely shortly after in 1962 or 1963.
Nothing is known about the years immediately following its closure.
For a short time during the period 1965-1967, the building housed the "Cotton Club". This jazz club was entered via Paul-Roosen-Strasse and over the portal a name sign and a neon sign were placed. Today at the site of the former foyer is a garage, which is believed to have originated during the renovation in 1982, at which time the former entrance was demolished and made smaller. At house number 35 (again/still) is a small restaurant.
As far as I know, today the old cinema houses a car collection, and the rooms in the long corridor are nearly destroyed.

The Beatles at the Bambi/Description of the accommodation.
When the Beatles made their night-time arrival in Hamburg on 16 August 1960, after about 36 hours of driving, they did not sleep in these premises. George remembers that they spent the first night together in a bed in Koschmider's apartment at 14 Eimsbütteler Chaussee. Allan Williams also said that the Beatles slept there, while the rest of the tour group slept in a hotel. (On the other hand, Paul recalls that they raised someone out of bed and then slept on the red leather chairs in the alcoves of the Indra. Such is memory…)
Before that, Koschmider told them that they would not play the next day in the great Kaiserkeller, but instead in the Indra which would also act as a rock club from then on. The Beatles' accomodation was gratis, and perhaps because of that no one should have expected anything good. Like Derry & The Seniors, who played at the time in the Kaiserkeller, Koschmider put the bands up in his premises. Peter Eckhorn later did the same for the Top Ten Club bands, who were accomodated in the attic above the club. Manfred Weissleder, however, hired apartments and hotels for his artists.

While the Seniors were locked up at night in the Kaiserkeller office, the Beatles had to live off the corridor of the Bambi cinema in the two rooms. As you can see from the plan, these rooms are not "behind the cinema screen", but originated in the reconstruction of 1936, and were probably still in their original state. The first approximately correct information about the location and size of the rooms can be seen in Klaus Voormann's autobiography "Why don't you play Imagine on the white piano, John?" on an illustration by Paul (above).
Paul has assessed the rooms quite well. Earlier descriptions of the quarters were from today's perspective quite funny and even contradictory, which is why in films like "Birth of the Beatles" or "Backbeat" the look of those rooms was a mixture of all the memories together with all the different rooms occupied during the various Hamburg residencies.
Pete mistakenly speaks in his biography from 1985 of three rooms. In addition he also remembers that the rooms were farther apart. In interviews in 1965 Pete spoke correctly of two rooms, but also claims that the rooms were about 100 yards apart. As mentioned, the rooms themselves must have been old storage spaces that were, despite the plan of 1957, never set up as a staff room or ticket office. According to the Beatles' own description, the rooms had no heating (which at the time would have been a coal furnace), and would have had naked or concrete walls, and only the larger of the two rooms had a light bulb hanging from the ceiling; the other was completely dark.
In addition, the rooms were very dirty.
Lewisohn describes the rooms as very low, but this can not be right. Assignable photos from the premises do not exist. Two photos of George which are referred to as "Bambi Kino" may not have been shot there, at least according to the plan.

The door where George is posing opens outwards to the corridor, but according to the plan it must have opened inwards. In my opinion the wall also looks too good. Perhaps these shots were from 1961 in the Top Ten lodgings? Peter Paetzold described to me how the larger of the two rooms has a tiny little window by the roof, looking towards a courtyard of the houses on Paul-Roosen-Strasse. The plan shows no window, therefore it has to be assumed that this window was not yet there in 1960.
The larger room was "furnished" with a small couch and two old (field) beds, in which, as "first come, first served", John and Stuart took the beds and George occupied the sofa.
Pete and Paul at first thought they had to sleep on the floor.
However, in the smaller room were two other beds that were placed - depending on the source - either separately or as a bunk bed one over the other. Paul drew them as bunk beds for Voormann's book, although it is not clear whether he was confusing this with the premises above the Top Ten from 1961. But if you look at the size of the room then it becomes clear that there may only have been space for bunks, which must have been placed opposite the entrance.
Here lived Pete and Paul, without bedding. Coats and one British flag which had been lying around served as blankets. There was also no other furniture and so they were forced to live out of their suitcases. Due to the proximity of the toilets there would have been a smell, though even without this the odour in the rooms may have been "indescribable", with five chain smokers and without proper washing facilities and no windows.
The Beatles had to wash using the small cold water sinks in the two adjacent toilets. The actual layout of those rooms is described in the construction plan: toilets, urinal gully and sinks.

The famous drawing by Klaus Voormann therefore does not show the true appearance and was just his illustration:

John reported to Hunter Davies that "fat old German Fraus were pissing next door" to the washing Beatles. The Beatles preferred the ladies toilets, as they were probably a little cleaner. Now and then they went to the swimming baths, and later also to Astrid Kirchherr's house, or that of the Horst Fascher family. I also wonder how they washed their clothes.
George reported in the "Anthology" that they would probably not have showered until the second or third visit to Hamburg, when they had an apartment opposite the Star Club.
Judging by the statements Stuart made in a contemporary letter, rain must also have entered from the ceiling. He wrote that he could have composed a tune if he had placed the cans in the right places to catch the rain drops.
Lewisohn has researched that it was extremely cold in October 1960 - an average of 5 degrees. The Beatles originally had a commitment only until 16th October, which was then extended until the end of the year, and therefore they had taken no winter clothing with them. They had obviously not expected to have to simultaneously wear many of their clothes due to the cold nights. Koschmider provided no extra blankets and so they shivered themselves to sleep. Paul recalled in interviews (besides the smell) the fact that he was always frozen. It is hard to imagine that they actually had girls in these rooms.
Of course it was not quiet there. The cinema had two to three performances per day (depending on the film) at 6.30, 9 and sometimes 4 pm. On Sundays there was a children's screening in the morning (which was not advertised in the newspaper, but only in the case outside the entrance). The Sunday films and the 4pm show would have conflicted with the sleeping times of the Beatles. Lennon stated that he was awakened by the noise of the cinema. Also you have to add that the patrons went to the toilets and the exit, and delivery services walked past the rooms.
From 16 - 18 August 1960 "Der still Don" (The Silent Don), made in 1958, was shown, and from 19 to 22 August 1960 the featured attraction was "Der Weg ins Freie" (On The Way To The Outside), from 1941, with Zarah Leander.

Right from the start, The Beatles complained to Williams and Koschmider about the miserable accommodation, but Koschmider, at least, didn't care, replying only that the whole thing would be "temporary".
As Rory Storm & The Hurricanes did later, the Beatles could have lived for 4 DM in the Seaman's Mission, but despite the appalling conditions they preferred to save the money.
The exit on the Grosse Freiheit was used by the Beatles to go in and out. It can be assumed that they had a key to the door and the rooms. You would probably ignore the exit today if there were not two great photos that show John in his underpants holding a newspaper right in front of that door - made because of a lost bet. Peter Paetzold of www.beatles-tour.com discovered the origin/location of these photos decades ago, and his research has been used for several books without mentioning him.
The actual door is unfortunately not visible in the pictures, but only the store of Mr. Grondahl, whose firm had been there since the late 19th century. These photos were given by the Beatles to Hunter Davies during research for his authorised biography. Lennon wrote on the back of a photo: "Me sightseeing Hamburg, November 1960".

I have inserted John into the modern view in order to get an idea:

The newspaper seen is the "Daily Express" dated 31 October 1960, and was available in Hamburg from 1 November 1960. Lennon was an avid reader from childhood, and read newspapers from start to finish. It can be assumed that the photographs were taken at the beginning of November 1960.
We shouldn't forget to mention the "historical" aspect of the long corridor. Here opposite the front door of the Beatles' two rooms, the condom was attached that was used by Pete and Paul to play "a stupid prank" on Koschmider. In the early years it was alleged that a small piece of tapestry or cordon was burned because of the "lack of lighting while packing”. If one looks at the position of the wall one can easily see that this would have been completely useless for any kind of lighting in the Beatles rooms, and that it must simply have been a prank. Additionally one has to ask what kind of lighting would a burning rubber condom provide?

The look of the cinema.

Unfortunately there is no known photograph showing the Bambi Kino. There are some rare photos showing the area a couple of years later in 1967, where one can recognize the building. I reconstructed the look of the front house using those photos as reference. I can imagine that a kind of sign or neon lights were above the entrance advertising the cinema but I haven`t included that in my drawing above.
The famous drawing by Klaus Voormann that "shows" the Bambi was made using the wrong building (namely the accommodation provided during the first Star-Club residency in spring 1962 at 30 Grosse Freiheit, and not their first ever accomodation in Hamburg).

Bruno Koschmider's Home Movies.
A day after I gave my German article to the printer, Bruno Koschmider's home movies appeared on the internet (as shown on this site as well). I knew of their existence (two stills from the films were used in Spencer Leigh's "Beatles in Hamburg" book), but never dreamed of actually seeing them.
The films show the Kaiserkeller around late 1959 or early 1960 inside (with a dancing young Achim Reichel, later of the aforementioned German band „The Rattles“).
The second film shows the Kaiserkeller exterior, and a glimpse of the Indra entrance. Also the Bambi Kino at Grosse Freiheit, and the entrance on Paul Roosen Strasse were filmed.

The cinema adverts show the film posters (from left to right) of later Sunday film Grimms' Fairy Tales "Tischlein deck dich" ("The Wishing-Table, the Gold-Ass, and the Cudgel in the Sack") "The Tiger Of Eschnapur" and with the notation "heute" (today only) "Wenn die Kraniche ziehen" ("The Cranes Are Flying").

This proves that the film of the Bambi-Kino was made during the first 3 days of the opening of the cinema around April 5th 1960 as the opening film was "The Tiger Of Eschnapur"! Also on the film a very short glimpse of the Indra entrance is included. INCREDIBLE!
For the Kenwood blog I have reconstructed the wall on Grosse Freiheit and the entrance in Paul-Roosen-Strasse by using several stills of the films and in addition I added the original film posters as comparison. My earlier drawing of the Bambi was quite accurate in comparison with the original look. As I had no idea if there was a sign I left it out.

The Bambi Kino will for ever be associated with 33 Paul-Roosen-Strasse. Let us hope, however, that the exit on the Grosse Freiheit will also survive the current construction work for an underground car park in the adjoining grounds, and that the Beatles' Hamburg won't lose another photo opportunity. (Thorsten Knublauch)

So there it is. Many thanks to Thorsten for a very interesting bit of research.


  1. Great article, well done. It's amazing to think that John went from this rat hole to Kenwood in only a span of 4 years.

  2. That was totally awesome. Really enjoyed reading about something that until now was so little known/understood. Thank you

  3. Fabulous reading. Thanks for posting.

  4. Loved this and actually made the trip to Hamburg to see it myself. In your research have you figured that a club called INDRA was previously at 36 on the site of the Kaiserkeller? Please contact me for details

  5. Yes - that was pre- war. After the war Indra was at GF 64.
    No one knows if the pre and post war Indras had something in common.


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