Astrid Kirchherr, Photographer, Phenomenon, Friend to the Beatles

She Came in Thru the Bathroom Window

Clad in all black with a pixie haircut and a camera in tow, she was probably the coolest chick ever to walk in to the Kaiserkeller in 1960’s Hamburg. She was a German photographer, the first to do a formal shoot with the Beatles, and largely responsible for what later became their world-wide “image.” She was a practitioner of Sartre’s Existentialism, an art student, and as it turned out, a great cook. She lured Lennon, mesmerized McCartney, hypnotized Harrison, and later became engaged to then-band-member Stuart Sutcliffe.

 Astrid Kirchherr was born on this day, May 20, 1938, in Hamburg, Germany. Her father worked for the German branch of the Ford Motor Company and her mother was a homemaker. Like all European children during World War II, Astrid witnessed its atrocities. During the bombings of Hamburg, her family evacuated to the Baltic Sea, where Astrid remembered seeing dead bodies washed up on the shoreline. It was perhaps this knowledge of the frailty of life that later attracted her to Existentialism.

John Paul Sartre, John Paul & George

The Existential crowd believed in “life defined by one’s experience.” Nowadays this sounds pretty obvious, but up until around the 19th century, people believed more in Plato’s philosophy of “Essentialism”. In brief, Essentialism says that we are given “essence” at birth, a role defined for us — assigned by god, society, or institutions. Existentialism posits that we must “create our own essence”, defined by ourselves and our experiences.

In practice, being an Existentialist meant Astrid was running with the cool kids. Those that dressed in black, smoked cigarettes and wore sunglasses at night. John Lennon dubbed them “The Exis”. If America had its Beatniks, Europe had its Exis. (I attribute both groups to the dire consequences of WWII and society’s questioning the meaning of life. )

According to Astrid, they were “trying to be French.” (Germany got a terrible backlash after the War. France was considered a more fashionable place.)

Klaus Voorman, Astrid and Stuart Sutcliffe in 1960

 Astrid studied fashion design and photography at Meisterschule für Mode, Textil, Grafik und Werbung, a school in Hamburg. She later worked as an assistant to photographer Reinhard Wolf.  

Meanwhile, back in Liverpool, John Lennon, also an art student, was gathering his musicians. The very early Beatles consisted of Lennon and McCartney, George Harrison, drummer Pete Best and John’s friend, fellow art student Stuart Sutcliffe. Although Sutcliffe could not play an instrument, John wanted him in because of the way he looked – a cute boy with great cheekbones who could rock a leather jacket. “He looks good, that’s all that matters,” John would say.

Stuart reportedly had no interest in being in a band, but John convinced him to do it. Astrid would later say, “John Lennon could convince anybody to do anything.”

Astrid’s photo of John. Stuart in the background

When the chance came for the Beatles to play in Hamburg – a city ravaged by war and considered the seediest place in Germany, rampant with drugs and prostitution – the boys jumped at the chance. Paul’s dad and John’s Aunt Mimi were reluctant to let them go. John somehow convinced the adults that the money they would make would surely be worth the risk.

It’s Only Rock & Roll

In Hamburg, Astrid’s then-boyfriend Klaus Voorman, also an artist, was living with the Kirchherr family. The story goes that one night, Astrid and Klaus got in a fight. Klaus stormed out of the house and found himself wandering through the Reeperbahn – the city’s red light district, which was by far the sleaziest section of already sleazy Hamburg. Klaus stepped into a bar called the Kaiserkeller. There, he heard the most amazing music, being played by the most amazing band. Forgetting all about the argument, he couldn’t wait to get home and tell Astrid about his discovery.

It took Klaus three days to convince Astrid to go to the Kaiserkeller. For one thing, she wasn’t eager to mix among the Reeperbahn’s prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers. For another thing, she had never even heard of Rock & Roll music. It was true — the Existentialist crowd that Klaus and Astrid ran with were into jazz and classical. A sedate coffee house would have been more her style than the sweaty, beer drenched Kaiserkeller. Nonetheless, Astrid was finally persuaded.

Astrid said, “When I walked down the stairs and looked at the stage, I was just amazed at how beautiful these boys looked… It was a photographer’s dream. And then when I heard the music, it was even more fantastic.”

L to R, John, George, Pete Best, Paul, and Stuart Sutcliffe at Kaiserkeller

Astrid went to see them every night. When she asked – in very broken English – if she could photograph them, the guys eagerly agreed. As a new band, they had never been photographed except for some amateur snapshots. Astrid had the idea to take them to a deserted fair grounds. There she used a lorry truck and open fields as the background. She produced photographs that critics still consider as some of the most sensitive ever taken of the Beatles, showing both their toughness and vulnerability.

L to R, Pete Best, George, John, Paul, Stuart

Astrid was not only their photographer, she became a great friend, too. She often brought the guys to her mother’s house and cooked for them, thus relieving them from their Kaiserkeller diet of beer and amphetamines.

He Got Hair

Down

to His Knees…

Of course, no one really had hair down to his knees, but in an age of buzz-cuts and conservative short hair, the Beatles few extra inches were considered an outrage. Astrid was partly responsible.

Having studied fashion design, Astrid was hip to innovative trends. She is credited with changing the band’s clothing and hairstyles. Leather jackets were swapped for turtlenecks and Nehru collars. Brylcream and ducktails were replaced with the mop top.

Astrid is famously attributed with styling the band’s hair. It was actually Klaus Voorman’s hair she styled first. According to Astrid, “Klaus was the most beautiful boy the world had ever seen, but he had these big, sticking out ears. I had the idea to just grow the hair over them, which he then did, and it looked absolutely beautiful.”

Klaus Voornan with Astrid’s haircut

Stuart saw the haircut, liked it, and asked Astrid to do his hair the same way. Months later, George followed suit. John and Paul stubbornly kept their rockabilly ‘doos, but then on a trip to Paris they were convinced to try longer hair. Tellingly, Pete Best never got the haircut. He left the band soon after. Enter new drummer Ringo, who was game. By the time they hit the Ed Sullivan Show in 1963, all four Beatles were wearing the mop top as if they had invented it themselves.

You might be wondering what happened to Stuart Sutcliffe. His story is the most tragic of all.

Would You Believe in a Love at First Sight?

In a 2010 interview, Astrid said, “Maybe it sounds sentimental, but when I saw Stuart for the first time, I knew: That was my man. He was then, and still is, the love of my life.”

Astrid and Stuart

Stuart felt the same about her. He wrote of their first meeting “I could hardly take my eyes off her.” Stuart claimed he tried to talk to her during the break but much to his dismay, she had already left. Luckily, she came back the next night.

Klaus Voorman, realizing you can’t stop true love and overactive hormones, graciously backed out of his relationship with Astrid. There was apparently no jealousy. Klaus and Astrid remained good friends all the way till her death in 2020. (Klaus, a talented artist, maintained his relationship with the Beatles. He did a lot of artwork for them including the Revolver album cover, which was a masterpiece.)

After the gigs at Kaiserkeller were finished, Stuart quit the Beatles, moved in with Astrid, got engaged to her and pursued his painting. They should have lived happily ever after, a perfect couple in a perfect world.

Sadly, that was not to be.

“I Know What It’s Like To Be Dead”

Stuart began to suffer severe headaches and weakness in early 1962. In February he collapsed in the middle of an art class in Hamburg. Astrid’s mother had German doctors come to examine him, but they were unable to determine the cause of his illness. The condition got worse and Stuart’s health deteriorated. On April 10, 1962, Stuart collapsed in the Kirchherr’s kitchen. Astrid’s mother, in a panic, phoned Astrid at work and called an ambulance. Astrid hurried home, arriving in time to ride in the ambulance with Stuart. He died in her arms on the way to the hospital.  He was only twenty-two years old. The cause of his death was most likely a brain tumor.

Astrid went on to work as a freelance photographer. In 1964, she and her colleague Max Scheler took “behind the scenes” photographs of the Beatles during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night as an assignment for the German magazine Stern. She published numerous collections of work, including a volume of the Beatles called Hamburg Days and another called Liverpool Days and her last, When We Was Fab, published in 2007.

George, John and Stuart and Hamburg Fairgrounds

Astrid never got over Stuart. She married twice, divorced twice, and never had any children. She once said, “Many people say their prayers at night, praying to god. I say my prayers too, but I pray to Stuart.”

Spoken like a true Existentialist.

Astrid Kirchherr died of “a short but severe illness” in 2020 at age eighty-one.

I like to think she has finally been reunited with Stuart.

Time Traveler’s Day!

 

The lure and lore of time travel has long fascinated many people. From Marty McFly’s Back to the Future escapades, to Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, the idea never ceases to intrigue. Who wouldn’t want the chance to fix our mistakes, change history, see the future or just explore some period we find interesting? On this day, December 8, we celebrate all that and more!

This holiday, invented in 2007 by an online group known as Koala Wallop, is technically called ‘Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day’.  Because it is all pretend and make-believe, right?

Is time travel really possible? If so, how would it happen? Would we need a machine, as suggested by H.G. Wells? Could we travel through rock formations like Claire Frazier? Jump across the Brooklyn Bridge like Kate and Leopold?  Or would hypnosis work, like Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time? 

According to Wiki: “Time travel to the past is theoretically possible in certain general relativity spacetime geometries that permit traveling faster than the speed of light, such as cosmic strings, transversable wormholes, and Alcubierre drive. The theory of general relativity does suggest a scientific basis for the possibility of backward time travel in certain unusual scenarios.”

Quantum physicists are making new discoveries every day. They have mathematically calculated the existence of eleven different dimensions, all of them involving the placement, misplacement, and elasticity of time.

There have been several weird incidents that suggest time travel has occurred. Fasten your seat belt and keep an open mind! Then decide for yourself what’s fact and what’s fiction…

1. The Time Traveling Hipster

This photo, taken in the 1941, seems normal enough upon first glance. But look closer. The young man in the center is dressed in modern clothes and definitely looks out of place.  Did he pop in from another era?

To be fair, some historians have debunked this, claiming that the sunglasses were indeed in style in the 1940’s, as was the single letter sweater. The camera he is holding would have been available also. But I still say the guy looks too hip for the scene he is in!

2. Mike Tyson’s Boxing Match

The year was 1995. The smart phone obviously had not yet been invented And yet! Caught on tape, there is a man recording the match, seemingly on a smart phone.  Take a look at this video. The device does look like a smart phone. A comparison is shown to other recording devices available at the time, and none of them match what is being used.  What do you think?

 

3. The Charlie Chaplin Time Traveler

In 1928, Charlie Chaplin made a silent film called The Circus. He used several extras/ unknowns as pedestrians. Watch closely in this one scene, where a woman appears to be talking on a cell phone! The video repeats and zooms in so you’ll get a closer look. You’ll see that she even pauses and hesitates, clearly talking into the device.  If this woman is a time traveler, she was smart to get herself in a Chaplin film. Maybe she knew he would become an acclaimed star and millions would see this footage.

 

4. The Massena Company Woman

Speaking of cell phones, this footage was taken in 1938, at the Massena Aluminum Company in New York. A woman appears to be chatting on — yes, a cell phone! Her companions take it in stride. Could the whole group be time travelers? (Imagine how strange a cell phone would have looked in 1938. Remember the old days when if you heard someone walking down the street chattering you thought they were mentally ill?)

 

** I should note that hand-held walkie-talkies were being developed in around 1937, but they did not look like this. They were far clumsier! Plus, civilians did not have access to them, as they were used mainly for the military.  (And you thought cell phones of the 1990s were cumbersome? 🙂 )

5. The Teleportation Angel

This is perhaps the strangest one of all. Could a time traveler come in as an angel and perform a heroic act?  The following footage was caught on a surveillance camera in China. Watch closely, about 15 seconds into the film. The biker nearly gets hit by the truck, but a mysterious hooded figure saves him. The frantic driver gets out of the truck to investigate, and they are both gone! (Yes, it could be fake, but this looks very realistic.) Decide for yourself 🙂

 

5. Andrew Basiago and the Gettysburg Address

Andrew Basiago is an American lawyer.  From his videos he appears to be a normal guy, reasonably intelligent, and not a complete crackpot.

Basiago claims that between 1962 and 1972, the U.S. government (specifically the CIA and DARPA) ran a top secret operation called ‘Project Pegasus’. This program led to the  development of many highly advanced technologies — stuff like teleportation, contact with extra-terrestrials, and yes — time travel.

According to Basiago, when he was a child, he was selected from a “psychically gifted group”  to become a time traveling liaison. He was sent to meet historical and future dignitaries, as well as various extra-terrestrial entities. He says he was sent to meet Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address. There is a picture to prove it.

This photo is from The Library of Congress, taken at the Gettysburg Address, 1863.  Basiago says he is the child in the picture.  He also says he had stepped into a “plasma confinement chamber in 1972 New Jersey, and hopped back to 1863 Gettysburg.” Somewhere along the way, he lost his shoes. He was given a new pair, obviously too big.

Far fetched? Maybe so. But keep in mind this operation is allegedly created by the CIA — they are known for their astoundingly unethical and secretive operations.

In this video, Basiago explains more. (Running time is about 1 hour 30 minutes.) Could he be telling the truth?

 

Whether you are a believer or not, have a fantastic Time Traveler’s Day! Just remember, Kate met Leopold through time travel. And all she had to do was challenge her own cynicism, accept his strange mannerisms, be open to possibilities, then leap over the Brooklyn Bridge — according to mathematical calculations that designated a break in the fabric of the time-space continuum…

May all your other-worldly dreams come true 🙂

 

 

 

A Wolf in the Aurora Borealis?

 

wolf-northern-lights

Lapland!  The very name conjures up images of  winter magic, glistening pine trees and husky-drawn sleds. This is the elfin north where the Snow Queen resides in her palace of ice. Wild wolves roam, caribou cross, and of course there are the dazzling Northern Lights, sure to inspire any imagination. Or any photographer.

In December of 2015, Marja-Terttu Karlsson of Pajala, Swedish Lapland took the above photograph. Much to her surprise, when she transferred it to her computer screen she was able to see a vivid and clearly depicted wolf, prowling there among the stars!

Ms. Karlsson displayed the photo on Facebook, where it quickly went viral. Observers have been skeptical of its authenticity, but Ms. Karlsson claims it is real and unaltered.

The Aurora Borealis — or Northern Lights — appear as grandiose displays of color in the night sky, most visible in Alaska and countries near the north pole. They are produced by solar winds colliding with the arctic atmosphere. In recent years, scientists and astronomers say there has been an increase in shapes and brightness within them, due to the sun’s activity.

Or… maybe mythology is true? The sacred wolf watches over us, almost unbeknownst to humankind except in such rare moments, caught on film.

What do you think?

wolf gif