The Fab Four come home to Hamburg

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The site of Hamburg's legendary Star Club where The Beatles shot to fame is today occupied by a Chinese takeaway that reeks of fried noodles, but around midnight the place can still rock to the sound of "Twist and Shout" – even if it is played on a ukulele.

The twangy music and German-accented lyrics and are down to the Hamburg busker Stefanie Hempel, a self-confessed Fab Four fanatic who has begun taking tourists on a warts-and-all Beatles tour of the city's red light district.

On her late night excursions of the Reeperbahn, she explains that when the lads from Liverpool briefly lived here in the early Sixties, they used to urinate from balconies and pump themselves full of an amphetamine-based slimming pill to cope with their punishing routine of all-night gigs.

Visitors are taken to the site of the former Bambi cinema off the Reeperbahn's main street, where The Beatles slept behind the screen in bunk beds and had to wash in sinks in the ladies' toilets. A black and white photograph alongside the front door shows them laughing as they hold up empty Preludine pill containers.

"One night Paul and John nailed a condom to the wall of the cinema where they had been given accommodation. Then they set fire to it," Hempel explains. "They got deported after that," she recounts with glee.

The 32-year-old's offbeat and irreverent look at the group's lesser-known days in Hamburg – when they dressed as leather-jacketed rockers with greased back hair and "ducktails" rather than as mop-haired Mods in collarless "Beatle Suits" – is part of Hamburg's drive to re-invent itself as a Beatles city. Almost half a century after the band began playing their mixture of skiffle and rock'n'roll as a minor accompanying group at the Reeperbahn's Kaiser Keller, with Pete Best on drums and Stu Sutcliffe on bass, the city has finally discovered its Beatles past.

Fire destroyed the original Star Club in the 1980s and all that remains nowadays is a black, gravestone-like monument with the names of all the rock legends who played there engraved upon it in gold lettering, including those of Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles.

Ulf Kruger, a 63-year-old musician and friend of The Beatles, has been trying to get the city to promote its associations with the group for decades.

"We have been very late on the uptake. But better late than never," he admits. In an attempt to make amends for 50 years of Beatles amnesia, a €2.5m (£2.15m) permanent "Beatlemania" exhibition has opened on the Reeperbahn. It aims to attract at least 250,000 visitors a year. The project, which follows the construction of a special "Beatles Square" on the Reeperbahn, has been privately funded by the German music industry but has the full backing of the city government...

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