Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Happy birthday, Astrid Kirchherr.

She was born in 1938, part of the German generation that had to deal with the awful legacy of fascism.  She and her art school friends Klaus Voorman and Jurgen Vollmer were bohemians--living in Hamburg, they rejected their home country and looked to France for their fashion and philosophy.

Though not rock fans, they traveled to the rough St. Pauli district of Hamburg in 1960 and became infatuated with a band from Liverpool, the Beatles.

They became close friends with the band.  Astrid would even bring them out to her family's place, letting them enjoy the middle class comforts so lacking where they worked.

She fell in love with the bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe. He was a talented artist but not much of a musician.  Eventually, he left the band and stayed behind with Astrid in Hamburg.

They got engaged during a time when a lot of the British, understandably, wanted nothing to do with Germans.  But before all that, Astrid took the Beatles out for a photo session, and created some of the most famous photos ever of the band.

She'd been studying photography, and had a real eye.  And, just by chance, she chose a group of young men who'd soon be the most famous in the world.

The photos have since been reproduced countless times, but they're still beautiful, and still surprising.

Sutcliffe, full of artistic promise, died tragically young--only 21, in 1962.  A few days later the Beatles were in Hamburg to perform.  They tried to comfort Astrid, but they themselves were distraught.

She remained friends with the band as they rose to the top and stayed there.  In general, she's had a relatively normal life, though to this day I'm sure she wonders what it would have been like had Stuart lived.

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