Meet Heinrich, the World's First Disc Jockey

The quiet western city of Aachen, which last made news when Charlemagne lived there 1,200 years ago, has a credible claim to being the birthplace of the discotheque -- meaning that the world's first disc jockey was called Heinrich.

Up until the late 1950s, dancing establishments around the world would rely exclusively on live bands. Records were shunned because they were regarded as "dead music."

Then, in October 1959, Austrian businessman Franzkarl Schwendinger broke new ground. He opened an exclusive restaurant, the Scotch Club, in Aachen, and hired someone to play a series of records for entertainment. He got the idea from listening to Radio Luxembourg, a radio station that was rapidly reaching cult status by playing pop music, something unheard of in the conservative world of German broadcasting at the time.

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Heinrich, whose real name is Klaus Quirini, was a 19-year-old cub reporter for the local newspaper and had been sent to write a story about the strange new phenomenon of public record-playing. The man on stage, an opera singer from Cologne, would change records without saying anything, and the audience wasn't impressed.

Miracle Stuns Audience

"The place was full but the entertainment wasn't going down very well, so we started complaining," Quirini told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "I was drinking whisky for the first time in my life and I may have been a little loud so the manager came over and said why don't you give it a try."

Fuelled by liquid courage, he jumped on stage. "I said: Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to roll up our trouser legs and flood this place because A Ship Will Come with Lale Andersen!"

'A Ship Will Come' by the German singer Lale Andersen was a hit at the time and the audience was stunned at the witty introduction to the song, says Quirini. "People started applauding, they thought a miracle had happened."

A new trend was born that night in Aachen. Some might argue that the Scotch Club with its sentimental German ballads and strict dress code -- jackets and ties for the men and definitely no trousers for women -- paved the way for the discos of the 1970s and the modern techno nightclubs with laser shows and dancers gyrating from suspended cages.

Aachen Triggered Disco Revolution

The discotheque swept Europe throughout the 1960s and didn't reach the US until the 1970s, says Quirini. In fact, he recalls not being impressed by the venues he saw in New York during a trip in the mid- 1980s. "I didn't see a single smart discotheque there. We were 10 to 15 years ahead of them."

"Rivals in the business poked fun at us at first but history proved us right," says Quirini, now 68. Schwendinger, the owner of the Scotch Club, knew he was on to a good thing and immediately offered Quirini a full-time job, for 800 marks a month, a huge salary at the time. But his father, a prominent judge who was conducting a major political trial at the time, insisted that he change his name if he took the job.

"At first I wanted to call myself Egon, because there was a hit at the time called 'Oh Egon, I Only Drank a Glass too Many Out of Love for You.' But we didn't have that record," says Quirini. "But we had a record that went 'Heinrich, I've Only Got You.' So I changed my name to Heinrich. When I walk through Aachen people in their 70s and 80s still say Heinrich to me."

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