FOR EARLY 1960s Hamburg youth, jaded with the austerity and honking jazz of the early post-war years, the opening of the city's Star Club heralded the electrifying arrival of rock 'n roll in Germany. And the group that opened the club on the now legendary night of April 13, 1962, was none other than The Beatles. Not a home-grown band, but who could have wished for a more illustrious opening act? Even during their Hamburg sojourn, The Beatles were a stellar group. Indeed, just over a decade later, John Lennon remarked: 'We were never a better band than when we were in Hamburg.' Located in the heart of the Reeperbahn, a neon jungle of bordellos, girlie bars, mariners' taverns and tattoo parlours, the Star Club contained a tiny stage with a backdrop consisting of an image of the Manhattan skyline on a tatty curtain. Cramped and smoky, it wasn't the most salubrious of venues, but The Fab Four endured three stints at the club that year, earning modest house-band wages and living at a nearby guesthouse. This was not The Beatles' first visit to Hamburg. During the preceding two years they had played at The Indra and The Kaiserkeller bars. In early 1961, The Beatles played at the Top Ten Club for three months. During this time they were recruited by fellow Briton Tony Sheridan to be his session players. The recording was produced by studio legend Bert Kaempfert (who later become known as the man who arranged Strangers In The Night for Frank Sinatra) and the result, the cheesy Mein Herz Ist Bei Dir Nur, was credited to Tony Sheridan and 'The Beat Brothers'. It entered the German Top 50 - and so it happened that The Beatles hit the charts for the first time, albeit under another name and on the back of a lesser performer. But they soon made amends and before long were household heroes. Night by night the band's raw sound came together, despite the technical limitations of bassist Stuart Sutcliffe and drummer Pete Best (who was replaced in 1962 by another visiting Liverpudlian, Ringo Starr). Over many months, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and the then-teenager George Harrison played with a ferocity and brilliance that would, a few months later, become evident to millions of record buyers. Moreover, The Beatles were, even at this early point, crafting rebel music with a self-awareness that sharply distinguished them from war-generation parents and 'the authorities'. After all, this was the '60s. Los Angeles-based ethnomusicologist and ex-member of a Beatles cover band, John Silverman, notes: 'Hamburg is where The Beatles learnt their craft to a world-beating standard. They felt very much at home in this city, a port that has enjoyed a vibrant arts scene since the days of the Hanseatic League [of the 13th Century]. And it was only after Hamburg that this most prolific and industrious of bands started working with Teutonic efficiency! Their two years in Germany were truly formative.' An intense romance between Stuart Sutcliffe and local girl Astrid Kirchherr gave the Hamburg Beatles story a compelling subplot. Stuart, an art student brought into the band by Lennon, fell headlong in love with the hauntingly beautiful blond photographer, and, as he entered Astrid's thrilling, provocative world of art and existentialist radicalism, he gradually lost interest in his night job. It wasn't long before Stuart proposed to her. A Beatles insider from their early days, Astrid actually wielded considerable influence over the band, and remains to this day one of the two surviving ex-Beatles' best friends (and, some say, conceived the 'moptop' hairstyle for them). Tragically, Stuart and Astrid's relationship was short lived; who knows how The Beatles story would have unfolded had Sutcliffe not died of a brain haemorrhage in 1962, aged 22. Another enduring friendship was formed during this time. Hamburg artist Klaus Voorman became close to The Beatles. In fact, he was the person who introduced Stuart to Astrid. Later, he was responsible for the iconic monochromatic cover of The Beatles 1965 masterpiece Revolver, and more recently the covers of the Anthology compilations, which brought the group to a new audience in the mid 1990s. Voorman was also an accomplished bassist and played on many of John Lennon's most famous solo recordings. By the time The Beatles left Hamburg at the end of 1962, their first hit, Love Me Do, had already crept up to No17 in the British charts. The phenomenal Beatles story had begun in earnest. Chapter One: Liverpool, Chapter Two Hamburg, Chapter Three: The World. There's an intriguing coda to this track. The only time The Beatles ever recorded a song in another language was the song Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand, also recorded in English as I Want To Hold Your Hand. Unusually, Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand was recorded in a Paris studio rather than their usual Abbey Road studios in London. But one can't help imagining the four ex-residents of Hamburg enjoying a few north-German recollections between takes.