Elvis Lives on in Bonn | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 23.11.2004
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Elvis Lives on in Bonn

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 than Bonn.


Elvis is still a cultural icon - and he's back in the building

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 & roll in post-war Germany.

Ausstellung Elvis Presley in Deutschland Bonn Haus der Geschichte

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 in Bonn.

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 on to the world," explained Reiche. "His music and way of being gave them a touchstone -- after all, many young Germans had grown up without fathers."

Elvis Presley beim Militär

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 US Third 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, 1950s 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 i 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

Ausstellung Elvis Presley in Deutschland Bonn Haus der Geschichte

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 exhibition 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 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."

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