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Michael Jackson in Budapest

Michael Jackson in Budapest

June 9, 2012 11:06 amComments are Disabled

I recently met up with an old friend in Budapest and as we were walking near the city center, he asked me, quite randomly, “have you seen the Michael Jackson shrine?”  I was intrigued, and it just so happened that it was less than a block away, so we went there, and sure enough, we found a Michael Jackson shrine.  In Budapest.  See, it’s right there on the right.

Now, first I have to describe this shrine, because it’s no ordinary shrine.  It’s at the corner of a delightful little tér across the street from what I later find out is a hotel.  And of course, this is not a shrine at all, it’s a tree, an ordinary tree about a hug’s wide, with an assortment of Michael Jackson’s pictures, tributes, handwritten notes and poetry affixed to the trunk, and candles and flowers placed by the base.

Of course, when one finds a Michael Jackson shrine in Budapest, it’s hard not to ask some fairly basic questions.  What’s up with Michael Jackson in Hungary?  Why is there a shrine to him.  Why is there a shrine to him here?  And why is the shrine to him seemingly spontaneous, and off of pretty much every single map and not found in any book.  In fact, it took me quite a bit of hunting in Google to find out what the deal is here.

You see, the building I later found out was a hotel is the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, which has an interesting tidbit about this tree on their Facebook page.

Hundreds of celebrities stayed at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest in the past 19 years.

Among them the late Michael Jackson. The hotel hosted the king of pop three times, in the same presidential suite each time. In 1994, on his first visit, he was shooting a short feature on Heroes’ Square. In 1996, he visited twice: after a brief stay to examine the premises of his upcoming concert here, he gave a spectacular performance in the People’s Stadium on September 11. That was the second stop of his History World Tour, in Budapest.

Mr. Jackson appreciated being loved. He would often stand by his window, looking out, waiving at and sending messages to his fans. They camped outside the Kempinski Corvinus day and night, chanting his name.

Following his death, his fans named the tree, where they spent so much time trying to catch a glimpse of their idol, Michael Jackson Memorial Tree.

Ah!  So there we have it.  A sweet story about this little shrine.  Apparently Michael Jackson is huge in Hungary, with a yearly flash mob dedicated just to him.

But in the 3 hours between discovering the tree and looking up more about it, I was very intrigued about the possibilities here.  I imagined perhaps, in the 80’s when Jackson was getting huge, that his music and stage presence and celebrity were well known in Hungary, still under oppression behind the Iron Curtain.  I imagined that people must have listened and watched Michael Jackson in secret, blown away by his artistry and command of dance, watching the crowds cheering him on in distant lands with technologies and civilization that people in Hungary must have found a wonder to behold.  I imagined that Michael Jackson, someone who expressed freedom and happiness in his music, resonated deeply in the Hungarian spirit, in the spirit of a people who themselves tried to throw off the shackles of communism in 1956 only to have their rebellion ruthlessly crushed.  I imagined that in the 90’s, when people were free, and Michael Jackson came to Hungary for the first time, people waited on line for days to get a chance to see a glimpse of their idol.  People idled for hours outside his hotel waiting for him to come out.  People paid money they didn’t have to go to his concerts.  And of course, I imagined how sad the people of Budapest were for their idol when he died, and how someone maybe saw a tree in his favorite park and put his Michael Jackson portrait there as a tribute.  And more and more people joined in, expressing their love for this legend who made them dream of freedom in darker days.

It was a nice thought…and the truth was less cathartic.  But I think maybe even a little of what I thought might have been true, and that gave me hope.

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