The Beatles‘ friend Astrid Kirchherr was one of the few people who got to see them in their early days. She had a front-row seat throughout their residency in Hamburg, Germany, and witnessed their raw talent many times. The German photographer helped the band too. Without her, The Beatles would’ve had a terrible time abroad. Here’s what happened to Kirchherr, one of the most important people in The Beatles’ early years.
The Beatles’ friend Astrid Kirchherr helped them during their residency in Hamburg
In 1960, The Beatles left for one of the naughtiest cities in the world, Hamburg, Germany. Their first manager, Allan Williams, set up their residency at Bruno Koschmider’s Indra Club and the Kaiserkeller, where German artist Klaus Voormann first saw them perform.
He’d argued with his girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr, and “wanted to let steam off.” So, Voormann went to the Reeperbahn. What he witnessed at the Kaiserkeller amazed him.
In Martin Scorsese’s documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Kirchherr said her then-boyfriend was laid back. It also took a lot to impress him. However, what he saw in The Beatles that night sparked a reaction from him, unlike anything Kirchherr had ever seen. He convinced his girlfriend to see the band. She said she “freaked out” when she saw them perform.
“Seeing them on stage, faces I always dreamt of taking pictures of because they had so much personality and were still young like I was,” Kirchherr said.
Eventually, Voormann and Kirchherr met The Beatles. She added, “John did his ‘I’m a man, I’m a man’ thing. And Paul was doing his ‘I’m a good boy, good education’ bit. Said hello and shook my hand. And George just looked at me and said, ‘Oh, hello. And you are Klaus’s girlfriend?’ But he was ever so sweet. I came to know George then.”
Voormann said, “We loved this band. We were knocked out, and we didn’t realize how they lived.” The Beatles lived horribly in a tight closet that Koschmider had given them. Kirchher invited them to her home, cooked, and washed their clothes. She took care of them.
Eventually, she and Voormann broke up, and she started dating The Beatles’ bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe. Their relationship allowed Kirchherr to go up to him and the band to take photos of them while they performed. Soon, Kirchherr took some of the most famous portraits of The Beatles.
The Beatles remained friends with Kirchherr into their fame
Unfortunately, Sutcliffe died in 1962. John Lennon and George Harrison took care of Kirchherr. Without her, The Beatles would’ve drowned during their residency in Hamburg.
Once The Beatles left Hamburg, they didn’t get to see their friend much, but they reunited with Kirchherr on the set of The Beatles’ first feature film, A Hard Day’s Night. She came and took photos of her friends. After that, they didn’t see the photographer much.
In the late 1960s, Kirchherr photographed George for his first solo album, 1968’s Wonderwall Music, one of her last photographs before changing her profession to interior design (per Rolling Stone).
For years, Kirchherr earned little money from her famous photos of The Beatles, although people constantly reproduced them. However, she finally started profiting from her work when she began selling her prints at Beatles conventions.
In Scorsese’s documentary, Kirchherr said, “I always had a vision that I want to take pictures of outstanding faces who can tell a story behind the mask. Imagine what is behind this rough man John Lennon, and what is behind the funny joking Paul, or the lovely sweet little George.”
According to the New York Times, she and Ulf Krüger, a German musician, started K & K, a Hamburg shop that sold vintage photography and books, in 1988. Kirchherr also became an author.
Genesis Publications published five of her book, Liverpool Days (1994), Golden Dreams (1996), Beatles in Germany (1997), Hamburg Days (1999), and When We Was Fab (2007). She published several trade books, too, including Yesterday: The Beatles Once Upon a Time (2008) and Astrid Kirchherr: A Retrospective (2010).
Kirchherr died in 2020
In 2011, Kirchherr sold the rights to her work to a private collector. Shortly after, she announced her retirement.
The photographer and artist died at 81 in 2020 after a short cancer battle.
According to NPR, Kirchherr doubted her photography talents; it’s why she’d moved on to interior design. She said, “I wasn’t sure if I’m really good or is it just the Beatles that made me, sort of in a way, famous? And I wasn’t sure anymore if I’m good or not so I just gave it up.”
It’s unfortunate that Kirchherr doubted her work. She did have an impact on the world and the world of art and photography all by herself. Without her help, The Beatles probably would’ve left Hamburg sooner; without her emotional portraits of the band, none of their fans would’ve gotten a glimpse of them before they became famous. Her legacy is those photos.