"ELVIS LIVES ON IN BONN"
Deutsche Welle Multi-Media
Bonn, Nov. 24, 2004 -- Elvis is still a cultural icon
- and he's back in the form of a major exhibit at the House of
History Museum (Haus der Geschichte) in Bonn, Germany.
Forget Memphis, Las Vegas and Graceland -- Germany has always
had a special place in its heart for Elvis, and now, anyone wanting
a personal glimpse of the man behind the myth need go no further
Boasting exhibits ranging from glitzy catsuits and strands of
hair to first-edition records, the show that opened in Bonn Monday
marks what would have been Elvis' 70th birthday.
Taking a fond look at the two years that Presley spent in Germany
as the most famous GI in history, it pays tribute to one of the
20th century's brightest stars and explores the reverberations
of rock and roll in post-war Germany.
The curators aren't taking any chances. Elvis fans can be a determined
bunch, and that's why much of the memorabilia is behind glass.
"We don't want anything ending up on eBay," explained
Jürgen Reiche, the director of the House of History.
How Pop Culture Changed Germany
When Elvis Aaron Presley was drafted into the United States
Army, he might have left his fans back home so lonesome they
could cry -- but Germany couldn't wait to meet him.
"For many, Elvis opened a window onto the world," explained
Reiche. "His music and way of being gave them a touchstone
-- after all, many young Germans had grown up without fathers."
The King was welcomed by crowds of screaming fans when he arrived
in the northern port of Bremerhaven to begin military service
in October 1958.
The fresh-faced 23-year-old private assigned to the U.S. 3rd
Armored Division was to spend the next 18 months at Ray Barracks
in the sleepy town of Friedberg.
A Corrupting Influence
Under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, 1950's Germany was a staid
and conservative place. Not everybody was thrilled to be playing
host to Elvis the Pelvis. Local politicians alleged he was corrupting
young people, while East Germany dismissed his music and raunchy
performances as anti-communist propaganda.
In March 1960, Germany bid "Auf Wiedersehen" to the
King of Rock and Roll, but not before he'd ensured himself a
permanent place in Germany's affections by recording a version
of the famous folksong "Muß ich denn zum Städtele
hinaus." It may have been incomprehensible to his US fans,
but his winsome rendition featured in the 1959 movie "GI
Blues" meant he was claimed as an honorary German.
From Pink Cadillacs to Priscilla
As well as featuring clips from movies like "GI Blues"
and "Jailhouse Rock", the House of History show includes
300 items from Presley's stay in Friedberg, including the military-issue
bag he was carrying when he arrived, the pink Cadillac he drove
on days off and even the partially reconstructed barracks hut
where barbers gave him his regulation army haircut.
While Presley clearly had an electrifying effect on post-war
Germany, ushering in the country's lasting love-affair with American
pop culture, the exhibit also explores the role Germany played
in Presley's life.
After all, it was here at that he met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu,
his future wife and mother of his only child, Lisa Marie. At
one point during his stay, he even moved his father Vernon and
his grandmother Minnie Mae into a house in Bad Nauheim, a small
town near to the military camp where he was stationed.
"It was rock 'n roll and the PX shops with American products
and a whole new image for Friedberg -- very exciting," said
deputy mayor of Friedberg, Michael Keller.
The extent to which Elvis shook up mainstream culture cannot
be over-estimated, say the exhibit organizers.
"He still preoccupies us, he's well-known across the generations,
and he brought about a sexual, musical and social revolution,"
pointed out Jürgen Reiche.
In his opinion, post-Elvis Germany was never the same again.
"He inspired and motivated society," he explained.
"He was an ambassador of a movement that spoke to people
who wanted change."