Munich (Germany) (AFP) – A memorial set up in Germany by some of Michael Jackson’s most ardent fans the day after his sudden 2009 death has come under threat in a strangely emotional turf war.
Rival factions enamoured with the King of Pop beyond the grave are locked in a bitter battle over who tends best to the American singer’s memory, in a spat that has at times even turned violent.
Authorities in the southern city of Munich, where Jackson was a frequent guest at the plush Bayerischer Hof hotel, say the memorial may have to go to keep the peace.
A letter this month from the Bavarian state culture ministry in the tone of an exasperated parent warned that “if peaceful coexistence between the different groups of fans behind the Michael Jackson memorial is not possible, the memorial will unfortunately have to disappear”.
Just opposite the hotel’s entrance is a statue of Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso that Jackson devotees have commandeered as a shrine for the eccentric entertainer.
Its pedestal is smothered in pictures documenting Jackson’s startling physical transformation over his four-decade career, flags from the fans’ countries of origin, flowerpots and fresh bouquets with lovingly drawn cards.
One of the top-selling recording artists of all time, Jackson died aged 50 on June 25, 2009 from a lethal overdose of sedatives as he was readying to give a series of concerts in London.
The superstar was a frequent visitor to Germany, where he had one of his largest and most devoted fan bases.
In one of his more perplexing public appearances, the pop icon held his youngest son Prince Michael II out of the window of a Berlin hotel in 2002 in front of hundreds of fans.
Nevertheless, the outpouring of emotion set off by Jackson’s passing continues unabated in Germany six years on, and the mood has grown increasingly fraught, even hysterical.
“We tolerated this memorial until now but have heard from the police about disputes among fans and there have even been criminal complaints,” a spokesman for Bavaria’s culture ministry, Henning Giessen, told AFP.
One such complaint, for bodily harm, was filed by the president and founder of the Munich-based fan club MJ’s Legacy, Nena Snezana Akhtar.
She accuses a rival Jackson enthusiast of throwing a glass votive candle-holder at her. Berlin’s daily Tagesspiegel called it a “guerrilla war” fuelled by “a lot of Prosecco”.
“For some time, a group of four people has come together to rally against our work,” said Akhtar, who makes a daily pilgrimage to the shrine to tend to it.
“They remove our decorations, take down our posters and crush the flowers we plant.”
– Michael’s message –
Not surprisingly, the opposing camp, which runs a Facebook page called MJ Memorial Munich, tells a different story.
“The organisation MJ’s Legacy thinks that it has exclusive permission from the city to decorate and maintain the memorial,” said one member, Bettina Alder.
“(Akhtar) is doing everything she can to get us out of here but a lot of fans (from MJ Memorial Munich) don’t agree and want to keep coming.”
Until now, attempts to mediate between the warring sides have proved fruitless.
Although the memorial never received formal approval by the Munich or Bavarian state authorities, no one has moved to dismantle it.
Over the years it has become a kind of quirky landmark and a must-see stop for foreign tourists.
But if the police are called again to break up a dispute, the memorial will likely have to vanish.
“If that happens, I’ll be very, very sad,” said Mila Bulj, a pensioner and member of MJ’s Legacy, tears welling up in her eyes.
“We can continue getting together and accepting money for our charity work but I would miss the memorial so much.”
Beyond maintaining the shrine, the group does fundraising for causes that were close to Jackson’s heart, such as child cancer patients.
Inspired by the singer’s much-espoused dream of a world at peace, one fan who gave his name as Elmmi admitted that the shrine had perhaps caused more strife than it was worth.
“It’s not that important to have posters or a monument to remember him by, especially when they cause problems,” he said.
“The important thing is to keep spreading Michael’s message.”