60 Years Ago: The Beatles Arrested for Arson
The Beatles' early pilgrimage to Germany gave the young band invaluable performing experience, but it also led to a number of potentially disastrous misadventures. That included the night of Nov. 29, 1960, which ended with Paul McCartney and Pete Best being arrested for arson.
The band members were already on their heels a bit, having dealt with the recent deportation of George Harrison, who'd been shipped back to the U.K. after authorities discovered he was only 17 — and thus too young to be playing the late-night sets the band was performing after the local 10PM curfew. They were also at odds with Bruno Koschmider, the owner of the Kaiserkeller, the club where they'd been playing.
In fact, Koschmider had terminated the Beatles' Kaiserkeller contract earlier in the month after learning they'd entered into an agreement with one of his rivals — and although they continued to play at the club for another three weeks, they knew they needed to move their belongings out of the building where they'd been staying — which Koschmider also owned — and into the small room they were planning on renting above their new performance spot.
Unfortunately for McCartney and Best, they decided to make the move after hours, and when they lit a fire to shed some light on the situation -- McCartney would say in Anthology that they fixed a condom to the wall and lit it up as a prank. Even though it did no damage outside of a few burn marks on the wall, Koschmider went to the police and accused them of arson.
"He'd told them that we'd tried to burn his place down and they said, 'Leave, please. Thank you very much but we don't want you to burn our German houses,'" McCartney recalled in the biography Many Years from Now. "Funny, really, because we couldn't have burned the place even if we had gallons of petrol — it was made of stone."
That didn't make much of a difference to the authorities, who held McCartney and Best overnight while arranging for them to be deported. The following day, they were escorted out of the country, leaving John Lennon and Stu Sutcliffe the last Beatles standing in Hamburg. Lennon made his way back to the U.K. 10 days later, while Sutcliffe stuck around until early 1961. This visit ended ignominiously, but they'd all be back in the spring — after Harrison turned 18 and they paid McCartney and Best's deportation fees — for another tour of duty.