Some of those heels walked backward. Michael Jackson often stayed on the north side of the Promenade, in the plush Bayerischer Hof. If fans were persistent, he'd appear at the window of his suite and wave. (Note, this was not the German hotel where he dangled his infant son before the crowd; that was the Hotel Adlon in Berlin.)
When Jackson died, his Munich fans gathered in the Promenadeplatz to console each other. Near the spot where they often gathered to wait for him, sits a plinth bearing the statue of Flemish composer Orlande di Lassus, who did rather well for himself in the 1500s as the court composer for Albrecht V, the Duke of Bavaria. It seemed like a good place to leave cards and flowers, and light candles.
Other places across Germany welcomed Jackson's grieving fans in that summer of 2009. Jackson had befriended a family from suburban Hamburg, and fans paid respect outside their home. In Berlin, fans gathered not at the Adlon, but rather the wax museum across the street, which had moved Jackson's likeness to the front foyer. Some have commented on how much Jackson felt at home in Germany—and how much the nation took him to heart. (Did both feel unduly persecuted for past misdeeds?)
In Munich, though, the flowers and candles kept coming. Nobody saw a need to stop them. The statue of di Lassus was inconspicuous, in contrast to the square outside the Adlon, which faced the Brandenburg Gate. The City of Munich adopted a benign stance, since the shrine appeared to be meticulously well-tended.
Chief fairy is Sandra Mazur. She and her fellow fans established a foundation for the care and upkeep of the memorial; fresh flowers, laminated photos, plastic covers, candles and the like. Named the Heal the Children Foundation, funds over and above those needed go Doctors without Borders, to support kids in Somalia. These fairies are mercurial souls, who tend not to attract much attention, though Bayerische Rundfunk caught a few in action on the third anniversary of Jackson's death in June this year.
Tending, alas, is necessary. Many a Denkmal objector has tried to sabotage or disgrace the memorial. One particularly inventive cab driver, I understand, took to scattering birdseed amongst the memorabilia, to attract pigeons who would defile the site with droppings..
Understandably, the fairies soon sought to create a pigeon- and cabbie-proof permanent memorial; a bronze statue similar to the other bits of street-jewellery nearby.
The City of Munich felt a lot less benign about that idea. They squashed it.
A wet spokesblanket for the Council declared that Munich is suffering from Memorialitis, y'know like it was different from every other fucking city in Europe. The letter of rejection from mayor Christian Ude says that there was "insufficient connection" between the city and the King of Pop. The fairies beg to differ.
The fairies were in action as I drove past on Friday, so I stopped for a chat. They were preparing the memorial for Jackson's 54th birthday, which would have been today. It surprised me to find that these women are, like me, in their fifties, since one always thinks of fans as teenyboppers, right? But our salad days came in the eighties, and youthful infatuations die hard.
It also surprised me, briefly, that quite a number hailed from the former East Germany. We forget how Communist authorities distrusted western pop as a subversive influence, and with good reason. Artists like Jackson, Sting and Genesis played within earshot of eastern crowds, and their music spoke of freedom, rather than the lightweight diversions a western audience would read into them. (Well, maybe not Genesis. Had I to endure Phil Collins drumming for a three-night season, I would have soundproofed the wall rather than tearing it down.)
The Stasi even had a file on Jackson, since the star apparently visited Checkpoint Charlie and peeked across No Man's Land from the observation platform. This was revealed to be a hoax, using a Jackson double—only discovered because the TV station that arranged it nearly punked itself decades later.
Like many Müncheners, I would chuckle as I passed this obsessive, mildly-bizarre homage to a disturbed superstar. But after talking to the people who tend it, for whom it is a symbol of more than I imagined, I shall think twice before I snicker.