x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The 'German Beatle' completes his 197-song translation effort

Klaus Beyer, from Berlin, has made it his life's work to translate into German, and sing, songs recorded by the Beatles. All together, now: 'Sie lieb dich, ja, ja, ja ...'

Klaus Beyer, the 'German Beatle', with a model yellow submarine - or 'gelbe Unterwasserboot'.
Klaus Beyer, the 'German Beatle', with a model yellow submarine - or 'gelbe Unterwasserboot'.

BERLIN // Even Klaus Beyer's agent admits the eccentric Berlin performer is not a great singer. But that does not seem to bother Beyer, who has just completed the unprecedented feat of translating all 197 Beatles songs into German.

Admittedly, he need not have gone to the trouble. The German-speaking world has not exactly been holding its breath to hear "Yellow Submarine" sung as "Wir Sind im Gelben Unterwasserboot".

But Beyer, 59, a retired candle-maker dubbed "the German Beatle" by tongue-in-cheek commentators in Berlin, has done it anyway. "It's more than a passion. It's my life's work," Beyer said in a telephone interview.

Over the years, he has attained cult status in Berlin and gained a loyal fan base in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands by singing his lyrics to Beatles tunes played from a CD player. He has just completed recording his 13th and final Beatles oeuvre - Das Weisse Album.

The front covers of his CDs are of a strikingly similar design to the originals, except that they portray the slightly chubby, affable face of Beyer, either alongside John, Paul, George or Ringo, or instead of them. Abbey Road, or Klosterstrasse in German, shows him striding purposefully on a zebra crossing in a Berlin street in a reinterpretation of the iconic album cover.

Hauptmann Peppers Einsamer Herzen Klub bears an uncanny resemblance to the artwork of the 1967 epic Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but with Beyer in all the different guises.

"It started in 1969 when I heard two Beatles songs played on the radio, one of them was Here Comes the Sun. I was so impressed that I became a Beatles fan," said Beyer. His mother didn't understand the lyrics, and neither did he, so he got a dictionary and translated them.

And so "Here comes the Sun" became "Die Sonne Kommt".

His voice is rather high-pitched and tinny, and he does not reliably hit the right notes. One critic said he sounds as if he has inhaled helium and declared, a little unfairly: "How fortunate that John Lennon isn't alive to see this."

In fact, Lennon might have liked the quirky artist, who seems to live in his own Fab Four universe and has even recorded his own Beatles films in his 37 square metre apartment in the worse-for-wear Berlin district of Kreuzberg. One film features a paper yellow submarine ploughing through cardboard cut-out waves.

His questionable singing skills may even have contributed to his following. And strangely, the Beatles tunes are so strong that they retain some of their appeal despite the lyrics, and despite Beyer's occasionally overstretched voice.

"I don't think there's a band that can match the Beatles. They're so versatile. They're simply the best," said Beyer. His lyrics are not always direct translations because they have to rhyme in German, and fit the rhythm of the song. Hence "When I'm 64" became "Wenn ich Siebzig Bin", which translated back into English means "When I'm 70".

"The songs are my own creations, really," said Beyer, who will perform at a four-day music festival in the Netherlands this month supported by a Beatles cover band.

His agent, Frank Behnke, said the CDs would quickly run into copyright issues if a lot of people purchased them. But that does not tend to happen.

"We sell them at concerts, and usually one or two are bought per gig," Mr Behnke said. Beyer's audiences vary in size from as few as 10 to as many as 300. "The people who come to see him aren't Beatles fans in their fifties but people aged 25 or 30," Mr Behnke said. "They like his natural, no-nonsense style. He's quite a shy person who doesn't see himself as eccentric, he just does things his own way."

Germans have always claimed part-ownership of the Beatles, because the band spent a formative time playing in clubs in the northern port of Hamburg between 1960 and 1962, before they shot to fame in 1963. Lennon once said: "I didn't grow up in Liverpool, I grew up in Hamburg."

Beyer, who often performs in a homemade white Sgt Pepper uniform with cardboard epaulettes, has no intention of retiring now that he has reached his goal. A new task beckons. "I want to translate the album Imagine by John Lennon," he said.

Beyer's version of "Hey Jude" in German can be heard here

dcrossland@thenational.ae