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Travels of a Michael Jackson Pilgrim

“We are here to change the world” – Chasing Captain Eo across the continents (and Disney parks)

Opening at Disneyland in September 1986, the 17 minute feature film Captain Eo represented landmark technology for its time.

Shot in 3D, executive produced by George Lucas of Star Wars fame, and directed by his friend Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now, the Godfather etc.) it starred Michael Jackson, fresh from the global phenomenon of his Thriller album.

Rusty Lemorande, who produced the film, co-wrote the story with Lucas and Coppola based on an idea by the artists of the Walt Disney Imagineering company.

The Imagineering team originally suggested that John Landis direct Captain Eo on the strength of his success working with Michael on the Thriller short film.  But George Lucas brought in Coppola instead.

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Captain Eo theatre in Discoveryland, Disneyland Paris, June 2010.

The late James Horner, probably best known these days for his magnificent score for the movie Titanic, provided the score, with Michael penning two songs for the production, “Another Part Of Me” (1) and “We Are Here to Change the World” written with John Barnes, (2)

Michael reportedly came in with different versions of his songs on a daily basis, which has the ring of truth to it given what we know of Michael’s hands-on creative process and insistence on the highest possible standard in his art. (3)

In Captain Eo, Michael was accompanied by a cast of characters who seemed straight out of the Star Wars cantina scene – the pint-sized Fussball, two-headed Idey and Ody, the robot Major Domo and his mini-me Minor Domo, and everyone’s favourite critter, the elephant-like Hooter.

Captain Eo’s evil nemesis, the Supreme Leader of a decaying planet, was played by Anjelica Huston.

Though it opened in 1986, it was 1987 before I had the opportunity to see Captain Eo in Tomorrowland at Disneyland, California.  I remember being dazzled not only by the film, but by the in-theatre effects that accompanied it – lasers, lighting effects etc.  I came home telling everyone that it was like having Michael Jackson dance down the middle of the theatre right in front of me.

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Captain Eo in Disneyland’s Magic Eye Theatre, Anaheim, California July 2010.

Looking back, that was obviously a fanciful exaggeration, but reveals the sort of impression that Captain Eo made on my memory – as one would expect for a project that cost US$23.7 million dollars. (4)

Captain Eo closed at Disneyland, California on April 7,  1997 and lasted until August 16, 1998 at Disneyland Paris.  Thereafter it became another of the many Disney ‘lost attractions’ that were never expected to re-surface, expect perhaps as a nostalgia item on DVD or the Disney cable channel. Technology and special effects had evolved to a point where those in Captain Eo had become outdated and were at best described as “quaint” or, at worst “kitsch”.

Then, in 2009, Michael passed away, and there was a groundswell of support through the internet from MJ fans petitioning for Captain Eo to be returned to the Disney parks.  Questions were asked about it at the D23 Expo in September 2009.  At the time, Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger was quoted as saying that Disney was considering the possibility but that “It’s the kind of thing that, if we did it, would get a fair amount of attention and we’d want to make sure we do it right.” (5)

Iger reportedly had legal and public relations folk warning him of the possible backlash to the attraction because of Michael’s controversial legal problems in later years.

Nevertheless, there was an executive review of the film in its original Tomorrowland theatre at Disneyland, followed by another screening for Michael’s children and family, in September 2009.  According to one report, “they loved it.” (6)

In 2010, Captain Eo finally re-opened in the Disney parks with the name on the attraction changed to read: “Captain Eo Tribute”.

I was planning to be in the UK in June 2010 for events related to the first anniversary of Michael’s passing when the news broke that Captain Eo would be reopening in Disneyland Paris on June 12.  I quickly booked a Eurostar daytrip from London to take advantage of being so close to the park.  Besides – it meant I would be travelling via the ‘chunnel’ (channel tunnel) which would be an adventure in itself.

My visit to Disneyland Paris took place on Thursday June 24, 2010.  I’m not likely to forget it – being the first time I’d seen Captain Eo in 3D on a big screen since 1987 – and my first ever visit to Disneyland Paris.

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in the lobby of the Captain Eo theatre, awaiting the next screening at Disneyland Tokyo, March 2014

In the lobby of the Captain Eo theatre, waiting for the next screening, Disneyland Tokyo, March 2014.I remember thinking that the in-theatre special effects weren’t quite as I remembered them (in fact they were modified from the original presentation) but while it didn’t seem that Michael danced down into the theatre, I was stunned by the larger-than-life close-ups of him on the big screen.  I sat through three straight screenings that first time around.

Afterwards I chatted to a friendly female staffer manning the merchandise stall outside the theatre.  We both marveled at how, in Michael’s extreme close-ups, you could see the beginnings of a five-o’clock shadow emerging through his make-up!  (It’s true!  This is what impressed me!)

And, of course, I bought up big on Captain Eo merchandise!

The trip to Disneyland Paris was just one part of a round-the-world Michaeling odyssey in June-July 2010 which eventually brought me to Disneyland in Anaheim, where the good Captain had returned to the Tomorrowland theatre on February 23 of that year.

On July 1 it also opened in Tokyo Disneyland and on July 2 in Walt Disney World’s Epcot.

But on this trip I only got to see him in Paris and Anaheim.  I was to return to see him for repeat screenings at Disneyland each subsequent visit to the US over the next three years, including Christmas 2011 and the night of Mickey’s Halloween Party in 2012 – a great time to be at Disneyland AND to see Captain Eo!  (The Haunted Mansion ride broke down while Litte MJ and I were on it… which seemed only appropriate given the occasion.  The ghosts were having the last laugh… after all, it was THEIR night!)

July 2013 was to be my final opportunity to see Captain Eo at Disneyland in Anaheim although I didn’t know it at the time.  But by the time of my next visit, December 2014, the theatre in Tomorrowland was being used for screening promotional clips for new Disney films.  Fortunately I followed my usual practice of attending multiple screenings each day I was in the park in 2013 – for which I was later grateful. Never let it be said that I didn’t always make the most of every opportunity!

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At the entrance to the Captain Eo theatre at Epcot, Walt Disney World, Florida, October 2015

In the lobby of the Captain Eo theatre, Epcot, Disney World, Florida, October 2015.Early in 2014 some good friends of mine in Hong Kong alerted me to the closing of Captain Eo at Tokyo Disneyland.  They suggested we go see it before its final screening, scheduled for June 30 that year.  Consequently, on the evening of March 15, 2014, Yoly, Queenie, Jessica and I duly joined the queue outside Tokyo Disneyland’s Captain Eo theatre.

It was bitterly cold outside, but there was a warm press of bodies in the theatre lobby where we eagerly awaited admission to the next screening.  The lyrics of Michael’s songs from the film were emblazoned on the walls of the theatre.  They really know how to pay tribute to someone in Japan!

We didn’t do much else that night except view Captain Eo repeatedly.  When my friends eventually returned to Hong Kong, I relocated to a hotel close to the Disney parks (Disneyland and DisneySea – the latter being even more spectacular than its neighbour) and spent three days just exploring them and, of course, seeing Captain Eo again.

It’s worth noting that on its last day of screening at Tokyo Disneyland, there were queues up to 45 minutes long to get in to see Captain Eo.  MJ fans packed the theatre, many wearing Captain Eo t-shirts, and gave the film a standing ovation send-off. (7)

That left just Disney World in Florida, where Captain Eo continued to screen at Epcot until December 6, 2015.  I made it to the park in October of that year, and got to celebrate Halloween at “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party”, where, to my delight, “Thriller” played over loud speakers a couple of times throughout the evening.

Needless to say, I had a great time travelling and visiting the different Disney parks in the course of my quest to see Captain Eo everywhere I could. In the process of this journey over the years, I met other fans of Michael Jackson and his little 3D space odyssey.

So, on behalf of all the fans who did – or didn’t get to see Captain Eo in 3D at a Disney park, I hope you think I ‘done good’ for a gal from Down Under in managing to see Michael’s film in every Disney park in which it screened.  (I’m still visiting Disney parks whenever I can.)

34506_1339911693009_587138_nMeanwhile, until the good captain and his delightfully odd-ball crew return to a Disney theatre or are unleashed on DVD/Blu-Ray or some other medium, in the immortal words of Captain Eo’s buddy Hooter:

“See ya later, trashcans!”

Kerry Hennigan

April 2017

All photos by Kerry Hennigan except photos of Michael Jackson with Captain Eo characters at Epcot, Walt Disney World, Florida (official Disney publicity photos).

Sources:

(1) http://www.mjtunes.com/modules/mydownloads/singlefile.php?lid=27
(2) http://www.mjtunes.com/modules/mydownloads/singlefile.php?lid=3241
(3) Wade Sampson, “More Untold Tales of Captain Eo”, https://www.mouseplanet.com/9123/More_Untold_Tales_of_Captain_EO
(4) ibid
(5) http://micechat.com/miceage/allutz/al091509a.htm
(6) ibid
(7) https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202466151190220&set=gm.10152341492684900&type=3&theater

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Forest Lawn, the Rose Bowl, Shambala, Vasquez Rocks and Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana – 2 & 3 December 2016

Part 1 – California/Nevada Road Trip – December 2016

In 2016 I undertook a three-week solo road trip covering parts of Southern and Central California and Nevada in the pre-Christmas weeks of December.  The route was planned for the usual ‘Michaeling’ (i.e. Michael Jackson-related) opportunities and to take in new or seldom-visited locales.  The result was a holiday that was both exhausting and incredibly satisfying.

15259499_10208012343641565_3165428888215488673_oIt began with a visit to Forest Lawn, fresh from LAX after I’d collected my rental car. Here I ordered flowers for Michael for Christmas, and bought a small bouquet to leave by the entrance of Holly Terrace with the tributes of other visiting fans.  I took photos, paid my respects at Michael’s earthly resting place and spent some minutes in quiet meditation and contemplation before taking in an exhibition at the Forest Lawn Museum.

The exhibition featured some artworks – paintings and sculpture – by Eyvind Earle who provided the concept art for Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ animated feature, which I had been enamoured of as a child.  I still have a copy of the vinyl soundtrack LP, and the movie has only recently been reissued on DVD.  Thank goodness – because my VHS copy is unplayable due to many years of viewing!

I was surprised – and pleased – to discover that photography with a mobile phone was permitted in the museum, whereas previously there had been a total prohibition on picture-taking.  So, I tucked my big camera away in my bag and happily snapped away guilt-free with my phone.

15289063_10208011160411985_2176085410641540710_oFrom Forest Lawn it was a relatively short hop to the Rose Bowl Stadium, which, as all Michael Jackson fans will know, was the location for the Super Bowl XXVII game where Michael performed his landmark half-time show.

The date was 31 January 1993 and the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills 52-17, not that many people remember that.  The stat that made the history books was for the TV ratings of the half time show, when Michael’s mini concert boasted more viewers than either half of the actual game.  He also started the trend for the appearance of big name artists at the Super Bowl and set a performance standard that others have been attempting to top ever since. (1)

Although no appearance fees are paid to Super Bowl halftime performers, in 1993 the NFL and sponsor Frito-Lay agreed to donate $100,000 to Michael’s Heal the World Foundation, as well as providing airtime promoting an appeal for the foundation’s Heal L.A. campaign.  The campaign – a pre-curser to the Heal LA student charitable group co-founded by Michael’s eldest son Prince at Loyola Marymount University in 2016 – aimed to provide health care, drug education, and mentorship for Los Angeles youth, particularly children affected by the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. (2)

I’m not sure why I haven’t been to the Rose Bowl before… but this was definitely the year to tick that off my ‘wish list’.

Arriving in LA just prior to the first weekend in December also enabled me to attend Parents Day at Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve for big cats in Acton, Ca. on the first Saturday of the month.  Michael Jackson’s tiger Sabu, formerly of the Neverland Zoo, had turned 18 years of age on 20 November 2016.  As his sponsor, who has visited him every year commencing 2011, I didn’t want 2016 to close without seeing him again.

Tippi herself lives at Shambala and is usually there on Parents Days to give us all a warm greeting and to sit and chat and have photographs taken with us.  This year though the windy weather kept her inside for the sake of her health.  But the rest of us toured the compounds and enjoyed the big cats being fed their treats by the animal crew before we retired lakeside for our potluck lunch.

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Sabu was no longer where I had always seen him previously – in the enclosure he’d shared with his sister Thriller (who died of lung cancer in 2012).  Now he was next door, so photographic angles were a little different from what I was used to.  But, thanks to having a zoom lens on my camera, I was satisfied with the results (see two of my images above).

More importantly, of course, was Sabu’s apparent good health despite his maturity.

Not far from Shambala lies the scenic area of Vasquez Rocks, a popular movie location and the place where the scenes in Michael’s ‘Black or White’ video featuring the Native American dancers were filmed.  I came here last year in October, but filming at the base of the rocks prevented me from getting to the other side – the spot where Michael danced.  This year I simply drove through the rocks to the car park on the far side and walked back through, photographing everything as I went.

Being a weekend, and great weather for hiking, climbing, biking and whatever other outdoor activities take one’s fancy, there were plenty of folks about enjoying the spectacular scenery.  A couple of guys were flying a drone over the rocks to get aerial shots, and there was even a fashion shoot in progress against the dramatic sandstone backdrop.

15369047_10208019237173899_2044835975682944359_oVasquez Rocks has a fascinating geographical and anthropological history, and if you have time, I recommend following some of the trails using the free leaflet from the Visitor Centre and reading about the Tataviam Indians who lived here from approx 200 BC to the late 1700s AD – the beginning of the Spanish period in California. (3)

In his Handbook of Indians of California (1925) Alfred Louis Kroeber wrote:
“They cannot have been numerous. Taken to San Fernando or San Buenaventura missions, they dwindled rapidly, and the few survivors seem to have been so thrown in and intermarried with people of other speech that their own language became extinct in a couple of generations.” (4)

These Native Americans weren’t like the familiar Plains Indians we saw dancing with Michael here at Vasquez Rocks.  In that instance the Rocks were standing in for an archetypal Wild West backdrop as they have done in many Hollywood westerns of yesteryear.  Only this ‘wild west’ location is just approximately 50 miles from downtown LA.

On the way back to the San Fernando Valley and our hotel, an premature exit from the freeway prompted a visit to the Historic Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana in Mission Hills, founded in 1797. (5)  It is a beautiful property (as you can see from the photo at the top of this story) with an extensive museum which is worth exploring.  In the mid-late 70s and 80s I made a point of visiting any of the historic missions that were within reach of my travels, but had never been to San Fernando Rey until now.

The legacy of the missions in terms of the local Native American tribes is understandably controversial.  The fate of the aforementioned Tataviam being just one example of dispossession, relocation and decline/loss of cultural identity or actual extinction.

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Nevertheless, there were a couple of delightful surprises in store for us here… a Sweet Sixteen ceremony taking place in the mission church, and in one of the museum rooms, the old organ (on the left in the photo opposite) that was used in the classic black and white comedy movie ‘The Ghost Breakers’ (1940) starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. (6)

Willie Best is wonderful in this film as Hope’s black manservant – a role that would definitely be considered demeaning and insensitive these days, and an example of how, historically, black actors were often typecast in dumb sidekick roles, secondary to the lead actors.  But, despite these failings, Best’s performance is a testament to his considerable comedic acting skills.  (He has the best lines in the film!)

Having arrived back at our temporary ‘home base’ of Sherman Oaks, it was time to pack in preparation for our early departure next day.  It was also time for any final photos to be taken of our surroundings – which, not coincidentally, happened to be the hotel where Kent Twitchell’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ mural of Michael Jackson was proposed to be installed. (7)

15230813_10208011185452611_3082354158303144322_nThe Courtyard by Marriott at Sherman Oaks has comfortable beds, friendly staff and a nice cafe where I got delicious, inexpensive meals on both nights of our stay here.  There are local stores within walking distance, and the Sherman Oaks Galleria is just one block away.

But that will have to wait for another visit, some other year.  After two days of busy activity, I was ready to head north – to Sacramento and California’s ‘Mother Lode’ country, where more adventures awaited my miniature travel companion and I.

Story and Photos by Kerry Hennigan
April 2017

Sources:

(1) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-02-06/business/ct-biz-0206-rosenthal–20110206_1_super-halftime-party-doritos-zaptime-halftime-show

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl_XXVII

(3) http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/vasquez011574glenn.htm

(4) Alfred Louis Kroeber, Handbook of the Indians of California (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1925) pp. 613-614.

(5) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_San_Fernando_Rey_de_Espana

(6) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032520/

(7) http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-michael-jackson-mural-at-museum-of-the-san-fernando-valley-20150618-story.html

 

 

 

Touched by the Chimp (or experiencing Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour in Hong Kong) – August 2013

It’s true, Bubbles grabbed my shoulder on his way from the back of the arena to the stage at AsiaWorld-Expo, Hong Kong during the Saturday night performance of Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour.

I had been hoping for a high five from Bubbles – one of my favourites amongst the exceptional Immortal cast.  Instead I got a strong grip on the arm which left me relieved I’d never tried that with a real chimp!

It was 24 August 2013, and the Hong Kong and Mainland China MJ fans were out in force.  My seat was amongst the latter, and did those guys know how to have fun!  Their enthusiasm was matched by the local fans grouped on the opposite side of the arena from us.

I’ve been blessed to see Immortal in the US and UK amongst truly appreciative crowds, but nothing quite matched the Hong Kong experience.  There was no holding back the emotional outpouring of love for Michael or appreciation of the Cirque performers who danced, swung, contorted and tumbled to MJ’s music.

My visit to Hong Kong was timed to take in three shows on the nights of Friday 23rd, Saturday 24th and the Sunday matinee show of 25th with some of my MJ friends who live in HK and Macau.  They had arranged activities to fill the rest of my short visit to one of my favourite holiday destinations.  This included a quick trip to Hong Kong Island to see (again!) Michael’s wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s on The Peak.

1383506_10200925088264610_1418426281_nMy friend Miranda told me that it was the final day for Michael’s figure to be on free public display at the entrance to Madame T’s.  He had been there since before the 25th June anniversary, and had drawn such crowds that it was wisely decided to leave him there until Immortal came to town.

Certainly during our visit, he was still attracting crowds that ranged in age from grannies to babies.  (It actually brought a lump to my throat to see the youngsters cling to his legs, and even crawl between them in the case of one little boy!  It reminded me of photos of Michael’s children holding on to their Daddy or clinging to his legs while in the company of others.)

Hong Kong was full of Chinese tourists, but the fans who arrived at the arena for the show on Saturday night had mostly come just for that night, just for Immortal.  The group photo of them and us (i.e. the HK fans and a couple of us from other Pacific Rim countries) is pretty impressive, especially with most of the group wearing their free VIP ticket t-shirts and a large number waving LED lighted gloves! (See photo at top of article.)

Just as there had been changes in the show between Las Vegas and London, there were more changes evident since those London shows I attended at the O2.  Overall the production seemed a bit tighter and a bit more polished, if that is possible, and there was a bit more focus on members of the live band than I remembered – and deservedly so, too.

We still had Michael on the big screen behind the performers – inevitably bringing the biggest cheers of the night, irrespective of what was happening down on stage; while the spectral-like image of Michael on the curtain during the final minutes of “Will You Be There” still had plenty of us in tears.

The Dangerous pole dancer’s routine seemed more extreme than ever, the Is It Scary contortionist more flexible, and the I Just Can’t Stop Loving You aerialists’ routine even more romantic than I remembered.  And, of course, there was Bubbles – a wonderful performance that had some of us ‘believing’ there was a real chimp inside that familiar costume!

Michael-Jackson.ruThe central mime character who guides us through the story did his usual incredible job as the ‘glue’ that binds the different segments of the show together – keeping us spellbound while, behind the curtains, the set is being redressed and the performers are getting changed for another big production number.

I thought I knew what to expect in terms of how the fans would react to different parts of the show… but Hong Kong surpassed anything I had experienced elsewhere.  At times it was like being at an Australian Rules football match – the cheering, the shouts of “Michael, Michael, Michael” that filled the arena, the mass sing-a-long that accompanied the soundtrack of Earth Song, and finally, the standing, clapping, stamping and singing accompaniment to the final brace of songs that starts with “Can You Feel It?” and climaxes with the magnificent “Black or White”.

Yes – we certainly felt it, Michael, and it’s unlikely any of us will forget it.

With Australia the next country to be visited by Immortal on its around the world odyssey, I was left wondering how seeing the show in my own country could possibly top the Hong Kong experience.

But, regardless of nationality, the fans’ enthusiasm for Michael should never be underestimated – no matter their location on the globe.  I should know – I’m proud to be one of ’em.

Kerry Hennigan
First published on Facebook, August, 2013

Photos by K Hennigan except (below) by Cirque du Soleil and (above) Michael-Jackson.ru

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Dubai, May 2016 – skyscrapers, souks and Michael Jackson memorabilia

Story and Photos © Kerry Hennigan

As the Emirates flight from Munich banked for its approach to the Dubai International Airport, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the fabled city of skyscrapers and souks on the Persian Gulf.  My only previous experience had been a brief airport stopover a fortnight earlier which included aerial views over the city and harbour and the off-shore islands development called The World.

This time I was staying a few days to relax and take in the local sights.  I wasn’t interested in the gold sold in the souks overlooking Dubai Creek.  Nor was I impatient to ride to the top of the (currently) tallest skyscraper on the planet.

I was after gold of a different sort – ‘Michaeling’ gold.  Michael Jackson visited Dubai more than once during his self-exile in the Middle East in the second half of 2005.  He dined at the Burj Al Arab (pictured above), hired Wild Wadi water park in its entirety for a day, toured the Palm Jumeirah (home of the Atlantis Resort) as well as The World development, and refreshed his signature on a piece of his own memorabilia at the Hard Rock Café.

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He also visited the Ibn Battuta Mall where he was spotted wearing an abaya along with a traditional woman’s headscarf, and reputedly ducked into a ladies’ rest room to (according to the local papers) fix his make-up.  The story goes that a woman who realised there was a man under the veil raised the alarm, causing Michael to retreat into the nearby McGrudy’s book store.

Michael’s publicist issued a statement that, having realised his mistake in entering the women’s rest room, he quickly left and waited in the bookstore until police arrived to escort him through the crowd that had gathered.

Michael’s host, the Emirates champion rally driver Mohammed bin Sulayem, dismissed the newspaper embellishments as rumor.

“People are always interested in gossip and in portraying a negative image of (Jackson),” bin Sulayem told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “The reality is that he’s an easy person to be with, not demanding and not difficult.”

On another occasion he was spotted visiting shops with his entourage and went to see a movie at the mall cinema.

An evening visit to Ibn Battuta Mall was the first thing I did on venturing out of my hotel in the Tecom precinct of the city.  After the fresh spring air of Germany, the heat and humidity of Dubai hit me like a tonne of bricks.  The weather was already hot in the Emirates, but it can get a whole lot hotter, I was assured by numerous taxi drivers throughout my stay.

During the day the heat was dry and dehydrating – not unlike my own home town in summer.  But first thing in the morning and again in the evening, things became steamy in Dubai, and I always had to clean the lens of my camera before I could use it.

The air conditioned splendour of Ibn Battuta Mall was an instant relief (although, of course, all the taxis and hotel courtesy cars were air-conditioned).  But there’s always those moments of crossing from the car to the entrance, or walking back to the taxi rank, or actually wanting to explore the mall’s architecture and landscaping from the outside, when you are exposed to the heat.  You invariably want to quickly retreat inside again.

Ibn Battuta Mall is a bit like a theme park with brand name boutiques instead of rides.  The different wings are lavishly decorated in the style of the different countries visited by fabled Medieval explorer Ibn Battuta of Morocco – who can probably be called the father of travel writing.  You can read about him on Wikipedia.  Throughout the mall there are displays of discoveries and inventions that originated from the Arabic-speaking world, some of which are bound to surprise the western visitor.  But you only notice them if you can tear your eyes away from the surrounding décor – in particular in the Persian wing, where you can dine under a stunning dome of blue faience tiles while enjoying a Starbucks frappe.

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Sadly, McGrudy’s is no longer in the mall, so I consoled myself with a visit to Borders, an old favourite, and browsed the shelves until it was time to eat.  The most heavily stocked author was George R. R. Martin – not much different from home, really! Ibn Battuta Mall has a food court much like that in any other shopping mall, but I like to sit in comfort in an actual café or restaurant out of the way of families with kids and shopping carts balancing trays of food as they wind their way around tables looking for a place to sit.  So, it was back off to the Chinese-themed wing for something that didn’t come from a fast food stall.  (I was still on holiday, after all!)

While at the Mall I booked a pass for one of the double decker hop-on, hop-off bus tours that run between the major sites.  It seemed the most economical way to take in everything in a relatively short space of time.  And, of course, I would ‘hop off’ when I got to a place with a connection to Michael or otherwise of interest to me as a history and culture buff.

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This resulted in a tour of the new ‘down town’ financial district which boasts the towering Burj Khalifa skyscraper (above,top), visits to the local museum (above) and a cultural village – the latter which seemed to be slumbering in the noonday heat except for a resident cat – and Jumeirah beach with the iconic Burj Al Arab, looking like a yacht with its spinnaker sail set to take her out into the Gulf.

Next door to the security gate into the Burj is Wild Wadi Water Park (below).  It’s great to see the well heeled guests of the Burj and their kids mingling with budget travellers and locals and everyone in between at this fun place.  Michael apparently walked about in a white lycra body suit when he hired the entire park and made it available free to families.

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Unfortunately when it came to exploring the Burj, I couldn’t get past the front gate!  Not surprising really – this is the world’s most luxurious hotel.  If you want in you have to be able to afford the rates, the cost of a private tour, or at least a booking for their famous afternoon teas.  Some other time, I’d like to do that.

Nevertheless, little MJ got his photo opportunity with the famous Burj, and I had to be content with that.

The Jumeirah residential area looks like it would be a very nice place to live – if you could afford it, and assuming you can handle the heat of the region.  But the old town with its shop houses, narrow alleys and stalls is the traditional face of Dubai.  It reminded me of an Arabic version of the back streets of Singapore or Penang.  In all these cases, the somewhat ramshackle appearance belies the amount of trade that goes on behind the facade – and the amount of money that must change hands inside.

In Dubai this is where the gold souks do their trade; nearby is the creek with its lines of moored dhows – which all look to lack the masts of the traditional Arab sailing craft. Having been closely involved with the timber square rigged sailing ship ‘One and All’ back home for several years, I wasn’t much impressed by the sail-less dhows or the prospect of taking a cruise on one.

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Another place I did explore was the Wafi Mall (above), famous for its pyramid restaurants.  The Egyptian theme of the complex was the main attraction, and the pay-off was finding a replica of King Tut’s throne which was virtually identical to the one from MJ’s “Remember the Time” video.  As with that one, which we’d seen in person at the MJ FanFest in Vegas in December 2011, little MJ had to have his photo taken sitting (i.e. standing) on it.

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Dubai has lots of up-market shopping malls, and more are coming, with plans to extend the creek and build the world’s largest mall on an island in the middle of it.  Tourism is Dubai’s big money-earner, and they are not letting the grass grow under their feet.  In a city where the local train network runs between modern elevated stations that look like they belong to a futuristic Disney monorail network (which they’re not) the hop on hop off double-decker tour buses are probably the slowest way to get around.  I found myself spending too much time waiting in too little shade at bus stops for my liking.

When you travel and have limited time in a place, it’s important to use that time judiciously.  The train wasn’t handy to my hotel, it was too hot to walk to the station, and if I was going to have to get a taxi to take me there, I may as well let the taxi take me directly to my actual destination and have done with it.  Time saved is money well spent, and the taxis were reasonable (compared, for example, to the price of a couple of cans of Diet Coke from the hotel café!)

Once over at the Hard Rock Café, I was on familiar territory.  I walked in and immediately felt at home.  The staff told me of the two occasions Michael had dined at HRC Dubai in 2005 during his time in the Gulf region.  The Café was then located on Sheikh Zayed Road by Media City.  Now it was in the Festival City development.  “But the memories are still here” the manageress told me.  She had held the door open for Michael when he arrived the first time around.  It was something she still considers an unbelievable experience.  His humble, polite manner to her and all the staff left a memorable impression on everyone.

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There are some MJ memorabilia at the HRC Dubai, from early in his adult career.  It’s the black and white jacket he wore in one of the Pepsi commercials from the mid-80s, a pair of shoes, and a fedora.  Michael recognised them as his, and even re-autographed the hat.

On one visit he ate the Buffalo Wings, so I had a small serve of the same.  Yes, spicy, as we know he liked his food, but delicious.  On his other visit to the HRC he had a Cajun Chicken club sandwich, which he cut in two, eating only half of it.  Sadly, it’s no longer on the menu, so I couldn’t try it, but I do believe I’ve had this somewhere else in the world at another HRC!  Cajun chicken is, coincidentally, one of my favourites.

The staff were so much fun here, not only because of the memories and stories they shared of Michael’s visits, but because they were a multi-cultural group and knew how to make a customer feel at home.  They were certainly all up for a group photo with little MJ.

The next day was to be my last in the city, and my destination was visible from the balcony of my hotel room and at night was lit up like a beacon on the edge of the Gulf.  This was Atlantis, the popular resort at the top of the Jumeirah Palm development that juts out from the coast into the azure waters of the Gulf.  The drive along the ‘trunk’ of the Palm passes one luxury hotel or apartment complex after another, until finally you come to Atlantis.

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Atlantis has its own water park, shopping arcade (of course) and other attractions which are open to the public.  When I walked in to the towering grotto-like lobby (above), it was full of family groups waiting to check in.  It’s a busy place.  There are parts that are accessible to guests only, but most that is worth exploring is open to casual visitors.  The water park is accessible to non-guests who pay admission.  I don’t swim, so it was of no interest to me, but I certainly intended to use the free pass I had for the Lost Chamber attraction.

The Lost Chamber is a cave-like aquarium maze (below) designed to be a window onto a lost alien civilisation (of course!).  With the subdued lighting and the rippling reflections cast by the waters of the giant aquarium tanks, it really was like another world.  There were mats and cushions on the floor so you could sit and take in the mesmerizing view of sharks and rays and other sea life gliding and swirling dreamlike through your field of vision.

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An even bigger treat was in store, however, at the Legends of Atlantis gift gallery.  Here I unexpectedly encountered a one-of-a-kind brother for little MJ, a combination doll-statue of Michael Jackson a little larger than my doll.  I lifted him down carefully from the shelf, carried him to the counter tucked against my chest, and announced to the assistant that I would not be leaving the shop without him!  She was a fan, and we became instant friends.  I’m sure she was also pleased to make such a big sale – for ‘Atlantis MJ’ did not come cheaply.

So there I was, on my last day in Dubai, finally buying some local gold – MJ gold, that is.  I flew out that night with him carefully packed in my carry-on, content that I’d experienced the best Dubai could offer me given the short duration of my stay.

Next time, I promised myself, it would be a different time of year, the weather would be cooler, and I would venture out into the desert and nearby historic outposts to steep myself in their history.

But for now, I was more than happy.

Posted 24 September 2016


michael-in-dubai-aug-2005

Sources for MJ in Dubai:

Photo of Michael Jackson in Dubai, 2005 (above) Associated Press

Various reports of Michael’s visits and activities in Dubai:

http://web.kitsapsun.com/archive/2005/08-31/65296_michael_jackson_relaxes_in_dubai.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/jackson-takes-wrong-turn-in-dubai/

http://onlineathens.com/stories/083105/ent_20050831042.shtml#.V-YjWPB97IU

http://www.contactmusic.com/michael-jackson/news/jackson-water-park-treat

http://www.khaleejtimes.com/article/20051113/ARTICLE/311139955/1002

http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/general/new-reports-of-jackson-sighting-at-mall-emerge-1.444503

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/people/2006-01-16-jackson-new-job_x.htm

Information on the medieval traveller, Ibn Battuta: 

http://www.ibnibnbattuta.com/p/who-was-ibn-battuta.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_Battu

A bitter-sweet sort of agony – On being an MJ pilgrim

Story and Photos* by Kerry Hennigan

A Michael Jackson pilgrim is what I call a fan who travels the country or the world to visit places relevant to Michael’s life or to attend special events honouring his art and legacy. They are a culturally diverse group of individuals from many countries, and since June 2010 I’ve been fortunate to consider myself one of them.

While many people think of pilgrimage in terms of traditional sacred journeys to places like Santiago de Compostela in Spain, following in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land, or travelling to other sacred sites like Lourdes, there are also many types of secular pilgrimage.  Michael Jackson pilgrimage belongs in the latter group, of course.  We love and admire Michael as a human being; we don’t worship him as a god.

California locations like Neverland in the Santa Ynez Valley and Forest Lawn, Glendale are the most obvious places of pilgrimage for MJ fans. In Hollywood his star is on the Walk of Fame and just down Hollywood Boulevard is Pantages Theatre where he filmed scenes for “You Are Not Alone.”  Michael’s final rented home in the Holmby Hills part of Beverley Hills and the Jackson family compound in Encino are examples of other places to include on any LA-based ‘Michaeling’ holiday.

There are no ‘rules’ to follow – like any journey taken by choice, the itinerary should be what the individual pilgrim wants it to be.

Some of us travel to see monuments and statues of Michael – in China, London, Hong Kong, Rio and other places. Happily more are cropping up around the world as Michael’s legacy continues to grow.  When I attended the unveiling of the magnificent statue of Michael by Lu Zhengkang in the Guangzhou Sculpture Garden in China (photo above), I was in the company of hundreds of fans from China, Hong Kong and Macau, didn’t understand the language (except when my HK friends spoke to me in English) and yet had an absolute ball interacting with everyone as much as I could!

We had Michael in common.  What more did we need?

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The author in Guangzhou, China with local Michael Jackson fans for the unveiling of Lu Zhengkang’s statue of MJ – 1 January 2011.

By contrast, being a solitary visitor to this statue’s twin in the sculpture garden at the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Kansas years later was equally as moving, but in a more personal way. Luckily some US visitors came by and offered to take some photos of me with the statue in case I ever needed to remind myself I had really been there!

Some pilgrims will take in costume and artifact displays like the MJ FanFest (in Las Vegas in December 2011) or the collection that was housed at the MJ Galley at Ponte 16 in Macau. I used to love visiting Ponte 16 and enjoyed staying in the hotel there on two of these occasions. Sadly, I couldn’t ever afford to book their special MJ-themed suite!

Not surprisingly, considering the many cities he visited on his world tours, Europe has plenty of opportunities for Michaeling: the HIStory statue located in Best in the Netherlands, for instance, and the fan-created street memorial in Munich, Germany, opposite the hotel where Michael stayed when visiting that city.

Photos posted on social media of other places fans have encountered provide plenty of items for the pilgrim’s ‘wish list’.

There are numerous artifacts to view at Hard Rock properties all over the world, and at the Hard Rock Cafe in Penang, Malaysia, a large seated statue of Michael reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial in Washing DC is a permanent fixture right at the entrance (but there is none of his memorabilia inside, unfortunately).

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Michael’s statue in front of the Hard Rock Cafe at the Hard Rock Hotel resort on the Malaysian island of Penang.

Big tribute shows like Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour, and their resident Michael Jackson One show in Las Vegas have also been successful in attracting fans from far and wide.

Over one extremely heady period ranging from Dec 2011 to October 2013 I saw Immortal in 5 different cities on three continents for a total of 14 shows.  Only the last of these was in my own home town.  My favourites were opening night in Vegas, Saturday night at the O2 in London, and Saturday night in Hong Kong, when the local fans hosted a large group from mainland China who came in especially for the occasion.

I sat with the mainland Chinese fans in seats down on the arena floor and was amazed at how they sang, ‘Earth Song’ word for word – like an actual chorus accompanying Michael! None of them spoke English (and most of them didn’t speak Cantonese – the language of Hong Kong).  It was an unforgettable moment and a wonderful reminder of the truly international appeal of Michael Jackson, world citizen.

When it was screening at the various Disney parks around the world, I would plan my travels to be able to see Michael circa 1986 in the lighthearted 3D space adventure ‘Captain Eo’.  I was eventually able to catch it at every one of the venues in which it had ever screened – Disneyland California (where I had first seen it in 1987), Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland and Disney World in Orlando. It took some effort over a few years, but was certainly worth it, especially considering it’s now no longer screening at any of the parks.

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With pals Queenie, Yoly and Jessica (from Hong Kong) at the Captain Eo Theatre in Tokyo Disneyland.

Of course there are other shows – like Adrian Grant’s long-running Thriller Live in London’s West End and in Las Vegas the MJ Live tribute show currently at the Stratosphere (formerly at Rio – where I saw it) plus numerous other tributes which can enliven the travels of the MJ pilgrim.  While you probably wouldn’t plan an overseas trip around these types of shows, they are good entertainment and great places to make some new friends among the fans attending the event. Thriller Live’s home at the Lyric Theatre in London also has a small memorial to Michael in the form of a plaque mounted on the wall in the lobby.

As Michael fans we are blessed indeed to have so many places to visit and, occasionally, exhibitions to view and special events to attend. All are a testament to the man we admire and love, the incomparable King of Pop and king of our hearts, and the source of some incredible moments of personal ecstasy as we enjoy, share and celebrate his legacy.

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The author with celebrated photographer Greg Gorman’s 1987 portrait of Michael Jackson, temporarily exhibited at the Museum of Photography, Berlin, Germany.  *Photo by Yoly Leung, May 2016.

So where, you might well ask, does the ‘agony’ come into it?

The more you get to know some of these places and the more fans you meet, the more you discover to add to your wish list. It’s frustrating being on the other side of the world, for example, and not having the time or wherewithal to see or do everything when Michaeling opportunities arise.

That’s one sort of bitter sweet agony.  The other, which is more acute, is knowing that as a pilgrim you have fallen short of the real prize, which is now unobtainable. This is the agony of us late-comers to MJ fandom who never saw Michael perform live, much less had a chance to meet him. We never made the ultimate pilgrimage – to attend a Michael Jackson concert, or to see him when/if he was visiting our own part of the world.

For us, this lack of first-hand experience of Michael has driven us to travel the world ‘in Michael’s footsteps’ (as my friend Nena calls it) as if attempting to make up for what we have missed.

There can be no adequate compensation for never having seen Michael in person, so it’s just as well to have a pilgrim’s wish list that is ‘bottomless’.

Like mine.

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The author with Britto’s mosaic portrait of Michael Jackson at Espacio Michael Jackson, Santa Marta favela, Rio de Janeiro, where Michael filmed parts of ‘They Don’t Care About Us’.

An earlier version of this article was posted on Facebook in October 2013: https://www.facebook.com/notes/kerry-hennigan/the-agony-and-the-ecstasy-of-the-global-mj-pilgrim/585649768159877

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Dusseldorf, Best and Xanten – MJ HIStory and Roman Archaeology, all in a day

May 2016: we decided to take the train from Berlin to Dusseldorf, figuring that on a day when museums in Germany are usually closed, Monday was a good day to relocate to the next stop on our Michael Jackson-inspired Germany odyssey.

Neither Yoly, Queenie or myself had realised it was also a public holiday, however, which meant that our afternoon stroll to the shopping precinct of Dusseldorf took us to malls and stores that were closed up tight for the day. (But we did find a place to eat, however!)

Not far from the upmarket shopping precinct is Old Town (Altstadt) where the Rhine waterfront promenade vista lay in front of us. Schlossturm (Castle Tower) and St Lambertus Basilica (13th century) were to our right and the Rheinkniebruke to our left, while handsome period homes and apartment houses overlooked the decorative paving and beautifully manicured street trees.

A land-locked sailing barge floated on the Alter Hafen (Old Harbor) and a clock tower that also measures the height of the river was mounted on the promenade wall in front of us.

Despite the chill afternoon breeze blowing down the waterfront, the sun had eclipsed the earlier showers we’d encountered and bathed the promenade in golden light. Riverboat cruises were chugging up the river and pedestrians (and their dogs, in some cases) were taking advantage of the opportunity to walk in the sunshine.

Here, as elsewhere I visited in Germany, the public places were well patronised by locals and visitors. At home in Australia, much planning goes in to ‘place making’ for new and re-developed urban areas. In Germany they’ve been at it for centuries – and it shows.

Next day we were back at the train station to collect our rental car. Yours truly was the designated driver while pal Yoly navigated (i.e. programed and monitored the GPS) and Queenie relaxed in the back seat along with little MJ (my doll). It was great to be behind the wheel of a car again – a Volkeswagon, of course – and to not have to worry about train timetables to get us where we wanted to go.

We headed directly to Best, across the international border into the Netherlands. Here in the EU, there is little to alert you that you are crossing from one country to another – just a welcome sign or two. The language had changed, but the scenery either side of the border was pretty much the same – a green, semi-rural landscape dotted with picturesque small towns.

There’s no way you can miss Michael’s HIStory album promotional statue at the McDonalds in Best. It towers over the carpark and is bedecked with cards and decorations from fans from around the world. Yoly was thrilled to see that the banners she and her companions had left on an earlier visit – three years ago – were still hanging in place and still in good shape. I added mine to the collection and liked to think it would have similar longevity adorning Michael’s statue.

It was inevitable that we would have lunch at McDonalds, which proved to be a cut above the average fast-food highway pit stop. The inside is decorated with film and music memorabilia, plus a letter signed by Michael congratulating McDonalds on purchasing the statue hangs on the wall. After lunch we took more photos then hopped back in our trusty vehicle and backtracked across the border.

Our next stop was the historic German town of Xanten, home of the largest archaeological park in the country and a notable cathedral (Xantener Dom or St Victor’s). Yoly had suggested visiting Xanten on our way back from Best, to get more value out of the car we had hired for the entire day. Being a history and archaeology buff, I was so glad that she did – Xanten was an additional unexpected highlight of our cross-country drive.

The LVR-Archaeological Park with Roman Museum preserves the remains of a first century AD Roman settlement that, in AD 98 was granted colony status by Emperor Traian. Its name duly became Colonia Ulpia Traiana.

We entered through the reconstructed walls of the fort and explored the museum and grounds, the temple remains and the arena. Behind the walls of the arena you can walk through the narrow corridors off which wild beasts and gladiators were housed while awaiting their turn in the arena.

It would have been pretty bloody stuff back then, but the most action these days is likely to be an impromptu game of soccer between some visiting school students. After exploring the shops and cathedral in the town of Xanten, we headed back to Dusseldorf.

At the end of the day, the only trouble we experienced was in locating a petrol station so that we could return the car with a full tank! It was to be our last night together for this trip. Yoly and Queenie were staying on another day in Dusseldorf before flying out on Cathay Pacific, but I was boarding the train next morning for the short trip to Cologne (Koln).

Once again it would be just me and little MJ, and whatever the next destination had in store for us.

Story and Photos (c) Kerry Hennigan, July 2016

Cologne and Phantasialand, May 2016 – Romans, the Dom and MJ’s Colorado Adventure

Romans, Franks and Vikings all left their mark on Cologne (or Köln, to give the city its actual German name).

The Romans made it a colony in the 1st century AD and the Franks attacked and finally took it in the 5th century. In between it was the capital of the Gallic Empire for a mere 14 years. As for the Vikings, well, they (characteristically, one might say) burned it down in 881/2.

In the early 10th century, Cologne became a city of the Holy Roman Empire. Work began on its most famous monument – the Cologne Cathedral (the Dom) in 1248. If you arrive in Cologne on the high speed train service and alight at the Cologne Hauptbahnhof, as I did, it’s the first sight to grab your attention when you exit the station.

My hotel was ‘am Dom’ that is, near the Cathedral – and also the historic Rathaus (town hall) which I could see from the window of my room. Both buildings can be explored during daylight hours, but it is at night that they take on a special magic under the glow of floodlights.

Little MJ at Phantasialand (c) Kerry Hennigan 2016

 

The main purpose for my stay in Cologne was to see the city’s most famous historic sights and to have proximity to Phantasialand at Brühl.

Michael Jackson visited Phantasialand in 1997 and opened a roller coaster ride there.  Like a lot of fans, I had seen the video footage and still photos from this event, and I wanted to visit the park and see the roller coaster for myself.

For a period of time it was even signposted as The Michael Jackson Colorado Thrill Ride. But, not having permission to use MJ’s name, the theme park had to remove the reference to him and change the sign accordingly. Now it’s just called the Colorado Adventure.

But first, Cologne and its history.

Staying close to the Cathedral means that there is history all around you. In particular, Roman history. The Romano-Germanic Museum is right beside the Cathedral, located over a mosaic that has been preserved in situ.

Many other local finds are also on display here – but the famous Dionysus mosaic (AD 220-230) and the sepulchre of Poblicius (AD 40) that now overlooks it, can be viewed through the window of the museum without going inside. But of course, little MJ and I went inside!

The Praetorium, Cologne (c) Kerry Hennigan 2016

Nearby another museum – the Praetorium, takes us beneath the level of the modern city streets to the remains of the official residence of the Imperial Governor of Cologne when it was the capital of the Roman province of Lower Germania.

Having taken the elevator down to the museum level of the building, you can walk along the (empty) Roman sewer tunnel.

Even on the surface of Cologne’s historic old town, bits of Roman architecture crop up on street corners and car parks.

But the World Heritage Listed Dom dominates everything else with its souring spires. This, the largest gothic church in Europe, even had a spell as the tallest building in the world between 1880 and 1884. Though building work began in 1248 there was a long spell of 400 years when work halted. Finally, in 1842, the nave and towers were completed using more modern building methods.

Repair work had to be undertaken following World War II due to the Cathedral’s having suffered 14 aerial bomb hits.

Cologne Cathedral, Germany (c) Kerry Hennigan 2016

The cathedral is as awesome inside as out, with its towering nave and many treasures on display. A couple of our favourites were represented amongst the statuary, namely a medieval St Christopher and St Michael the Archangel.

The Shrine of the Three Kings (which legend says contains the relics of the Magi) is also located here, and is the reason the cathedral was originally constructed, making Cologne a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.  The shrine is clearly visible behind the high altar -in fact, I thought I’d come across the lost Ark of the Covenant when I spotted it.

Just when all this history started to become overwhelming, it was time to head off to Brühl and a day at Phantasialand.

The theme park is reminiscent of Disneyland with its main street and central hub providing access to different themed areas – Berlin (adjacent the entrance), Fantasy, China Town, Mexico, Africa and Mystery.

The rides range from gentle toddler-friendly boat and carousel rides to extreme thrill rides.

Restaurant Mandschu, Phantasialand (c) Kerry Hennigan 2016

There are also plenty of food stalls and cafes, and I had one of the best meals of the entire trip at the Restaurant Mandschu in China Town, overlooking water dragon fountains. (NB: my Tibetan astrological sign is the Water Dragon).

Of course the Colorado Roller Coaster was a major attraction for me to see – but since my body rebels at the very thought of roller coaster rides, I was content with taking copious photos.

At the time of my visit, a new themed area, Klugheim, with two new extreme coasters, was in its final stages of construction. So, at the end of a very full day, I left Phantasialand with quite a bit left to see on a return visit.

That’s always the best way to end a holiday, I think.

Except… my trip wasn’t over yet. Dubai was still to come on the homeward leg, with some very specific Michaeling locations to visit.

Story and photos by Kerry Hennigan July, 2016

Phantasialand, Bruhl (c) Kerry Hennigan 2016

Berlin, May 2016 – Michaeling East and West

There’s something about Berlin. It has history, drama, excitement and an indefinable vibe. I didn’t feel ‘at home’ there as I did in Munich, or as enraptured as I did in beautiful Cologne, but Berlin is just…unforgettable.

Having survived the Nazi regime and subsequent Allied bombing of WWII, then occupation and a cruel Cold War that divided the city into East and West and, in some cases, split families and friends asunder, re-unified Berlin has become a magnet for visitors from all over the world.

For my friends Yoly and Queenie and I, the ‘magnetic attraction’ was Greg Gorman’s previously unseen portrait of Michael Jackson on display at the Museum of Photography. The seated semi-nude portrait was taken by Gorman in 1987, and displays a beautiful young performer with a look of determined concentration on his face. At the same time, he seems so vulnerable.

I wondered if his expression represented some thoughts on Michael’s part that perhaps this portrait was not such a good idea. Or whether he was miles away in his mind, focused on some new project, whether a song, choreography or short film concept. Or perhaps his brow is just furrowed against the cold, being scantily clad (and considering how sensitive to cold he always was).

We could speculate endlessly; but regardless of the cause of his intense expression, the portrait is an evocative (as opposed to ‘erotic’) image.

I don’t know what sort of reception this portrait would have received had it been used back in the late 1980s. Gorman has speculated in media interviews that perhaps it was too revealing in terms of the way Michael was being presented in official images at the time. We can’t ask Michael, sadly, so we will probably never know.

The Museum of photography was within walking distance of our hotel. I made the excursion twice, once shortly after I arrived in Berlin, and again a couple of days later after Yoly and Queenie had joined me.

The route encompassed some other noteworthy locations, including the preserved ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church with its war-shattered carapace and restored mosaics; and the Berlin Zoo, the latter which Michael visited with Prince and Paris in 2002 when in the city to attend the Bambi Awards ceremony.

I didn’t go into the zoo on either occasion, but the path to the Tiergarten from the Museum of Photography provides glimpses through the perimeter fence into some of the animal enclosures.

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The main attraction in the Tiergarten, apart from the glorious green vastness of it (larger than the whole of Monaco, one taxi driver told me) was the Michael Jackson memorial tree, a young tree bedecked with love tokens from fans from around the world. We added our own and those of friends and took copious photographs.

Our attention to the tree caused others to pause and look at the ornaments, cards and messages that decorated it. Yoly had a conversation with an American family whose young son (not with them) loves MJ and “knows all of his dance routines.”

Such happy encounters are one of the many rewards of being a global MJ pilgrim; you never know when or where they are going to happen. But, if our being there, adding our tributes on the tree (like many before us) prompted others to stop, talk and read the messages, then that is surely a positive thing for Michael’s legacy.

Facing the north-eastern corner of the Tiergarten is the Reichstag (1894), home of the German parliament. A lot of history has happened both inside and outside the Reichstag. The building we see today is largely a reconstruction of the pre-war edifice which was abandoned after a fire in 1933. It remained a ruin during the years Berlin was a divided city. In place of the cupola that originally topped the building is now a modern glass dome and a roof garden, both accessible to the public.

13576683_10206904790953440_2115597222141787979_oOn 19 June 1988 Michael Jackson performed a concert on his Bad world tour on the grounds in front of the Reichstag. The choice of venue was deliberately strategic; the Berlin Wall still separated East and West Berlin. While 50,000 fans attended the open air show at the Reichstag, there were many on the other side of the Wall who gathered at the Brandenburg Gate to hear their idol.

Michael returned to Berlin for more concerts, but there was no longer any need to choose a venue with proximity to the infamous Wall. By then it had been torn down (Nov 1989) and Berlin – and Germany subsequently reunified. You can still see parts of the original Wall preserved in situ, or slabs of it covered in graffiti and mounted as works of folk art in and around the city, but especially in proximity to Checkpoint Charlie.

During my visit (May 2016) Berlin was enjoying a long weekend of cultural festivities, and Paiserplatz – the square east of the Brandenburg Gate – was full of people having a great time in this vibrant and exciting city. I visited Michael’s wax figure at Madame Tussauds and indulged in a light lunch at the famous Hotel Adlon, marvelling at the beautiful interior – completely rebuilt after the destruction of World War II.

Michael and his family stayed at the Adlon in 2002. This was where the so-called ‘baby dangling’ incident occurred when Michael attempted to show ‘Blanket’ to the fans calling to him from the plaza below his hotel suite.

I could have spent a lot more time in Berlin than my schedule allowed. One entire day was spent at Museum Island, home to five incredible museums. Three proved to be my limit before my feet gave out, with the Pergamon Museum being the undoubted star attraction, thanks to its reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and much, much more.

Given more time I would have returned to the island to see the remaining museums and perhaps paused to enjoy a coffee or lunch overlooking the surrounding River Spree.

But for now, my sightseeing and Michaeling was done, and it was time for the three of us to move on – by train to Dusseldorf on the banks of another river: the Rhine. And beyond it, Best in the Netherlands, and the next ‘must see’ site on our Michael Jackson-inspired odyssey.

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Text and photos copyright (c) Kerry Hennigan4 July 2016

Munich 2016 – Michael Jackson Memorial, Fairytale Castle and the Moon King of Bavaria

Every trip starts with grand plans; not all of them can be realised. But in the end, the Michael Jackson-influenced trip I made to Germany in 2016 was a great success; a memorable experience on many counts, in particular for Michaeling and historical sightseeing.

It began in Munich, a city MJ visited numerous times, the last being for his charity concert ‘Michael Jackson and Friends’ in 1999. He stayed at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof overlooking Promenadeplatz where the fan-initiated memorial now stands.

I had a drink on the rooftop Blue Spa Bar of the hotel with Nena from MJ’s Legacy International Association and a tour of some of the public rooms, including the incredible Falk’s Bar with its ‘hall of mirrors’. This remarkable place dates back to 1839 and is the only room at the hotel to survive WWII unscathed.

Earlier I had left tributes at the memorial, looked at the cards and messages left by some of the many other fans who had preceded me to this modern-day ‘sacred ground’ and taken numerous photographs. I met Mila, another of the keepers of the shrine, and some of the curious sightseers who stopped to look at the memorial.

The Munich MJ street memorial adorns a statue honouring another, lesser-known musician. Since being co-opted by Michael Jackson fans, 16th-Century Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso has gained some new recognition of his own. It’s what they call a ‘win-win’ situation, I guess. Di Lasso’s statue was due for refurbishment a couple of months after my visit, and Nena and friends were negotiating with authorities to be able to reinstate the MJ tributes once the cleaning process is completed.

I gained an appreciation of what it takes to keep something like this going without raising the ire of surrounding Promenadeplatz tenants, including the 5-star Bayerischer Hof and city officials. Knowing problems people have had at home in placing simple floral tributes adjacent to sites of road fatalities etc., it seems to me an incredible achievement that the Munich MJ memorial has continued for so long. Unfortunately it hasn’t been without some controversy between competing groups of fans. It gave me reason to wonder, as I’ve done before, whether anything involving Michael can be free of controversy or fan politics. Sadly, it seems not.

13433204_10206774972228053_2229020751265837138_oThe Munich MJ memorial represents an outpouring of international love for Michael, just as do the flowers and messages left at Forest Lawn and Neverland in California. In Munich the memorial has become something of a tourist attraction in its own right – a curiosity in this beautiful, historic city. If it causes non-fans to wonder about the artist who prompts such declarations of love and admiration from around the world, then it serves its purpose. It has grown beyond petty fan politics and needs to be sustained and maintained for the benefit of Michael’s legacy.

Munich also offered me opportunities for amazing historical and architectural sightseeing. As a history buff who loves beautiful buildings, I felt very much at home in this city of buses, trams, trains and pedestrian promenades. It reminded me very much of Melbourne back home in Australia, but with a landmark structure on almost every corner.

I did most of my sightseeing on foot or by taxi, walking from my hotel to Marienplatz and visiting the beautiful churches on the way, starting with Michaelskirche on Neuhauser Str – a Jesuit church built in the late 1850s and the largest Renaissance church north of the Alps. By the end of my first full day in Munich, a Sunday, I had dropped in on five different Masses in five different Catholic churches. At home I’d be lucky to get to Mass once a year.

That afternoon when I was at the rooftop bar at the Bayerischer Hof with Nena, I had an aerial view over the part of the city that I had explored in the morning, from Karlsplatz to Marienplatz and back. Now, in the golden afternoon sunlight, it was full of tourists and locals whereas in the morning it had been just early risers like myself, a few cafes open for breakfast business, and people going to early Mass.

On the following day, a Monday, when museums are usually closed in Germany, I took a day trip by train to Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig II’s fairytale castle in the Bavarian Alps. Ludwig, who is sometimes called the Swan King or the fairytale king, reigned from 1845 to 1886. He was obsessed with the heroic sagas of the past and enamoured of France’s famous ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV and saw himself as the ‘Moon King’ – a romantic shadow of that earlier monarch.

I joined a group at the Munich Haupbahnhof (main train station) which was about five minutes’ walk from where I was staying. Together with our guide we caught a train to Hohenschwangau, and then a bus to the village at the base of the castle. Or, I should say ‘castles’ because there are two of them. One is Hohenschwangau Castle itself, which was built by Ludwig II’s father King Maximilian, and across the valley, at a higher elevation, is the magnificent Romanesque-style fortress Neuschwanstein. Before climbing up to the castle we visited Lake Schwansee that is said to have inspired Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’. In the distance is the Marienbrücke, the bridge over the Pollät gorge – closed for refurbishment at the time of my visit.

That was fine, because the visit to the castle was sufficient for me, especially after the steep walk up from the village. It had me glad of every rest stop, overlook and photo opportunity so I could catch my breath and give my heart a chance to return to a normal pace. Next time I promised myself I’d take a ride in one of the coaches being pulled by magnificent draught horses. The smart people were riding up the mountain!

But Neuschwanstein was worth the effort to reach. It is indeed a magnificent attempt to create a typical fairy tale castle. It’s famously said to have been the model for the Sleeping Beauty castle in the original Disneyland in California. I’ve visited all the Disney parks and I especially know the park in California well, so I could testify that the top part of Neuschwanstein, viewed from the frontal aspect, does indeed display a similarity to Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Only it’s much bigger – of course! And it has lots of spiral staircases! Yes, after climbing up the hill, when you finally get into the castle, the first thing you do is climb some more!

No photographs are permitted inside the castle, but there are official images on the internet and a series of historical prints of the fresco-covered rooms that pay homage to Wagner’s operas, of which King Ludwig II was a great fan. He was also a friend and financier to Wagner himself, though never invited him to the castle to see the artworks his operas had inspired. It’s one of the many mysteries about the King who in addition to spending the crown’s money on realising his fairytale fantasies at Neuschwanstein and elsewhere, became depressed and reclusive in his later years. He came to a sad end, but his legacy certainly lives on.

Which brings me to something our tour guide said as we were talking on the train journey up to Hohenschwangau. She had been telling our small group about King Ludwig and his eccentricities, his lavish building projects and his later reclusiveness. Eventually the government had him declared insane, and he was deposed and died in Lake Starnberg, south of Munich, having gone for a walk with his doctor and subsequently drowned. The doctor was also found dead in the lake, but with a bullet hole in his head! Speculation about the double fatality continues to this day.

On seeing the MJ artwork on my tote bag our guide said to me, if you combine Michael Jackson with Howard Hughes, that’s King Ludwig. Well, that was an interesting viewpoint, but I really didn’t want to spoil my outing by debating or thinking about it. Yes, I guess there were some similarities in behaviours, but some of them only if you believed the tabloids.

The next day I took a taxi to the Nymphenburg Palace, the royal palace where Ludwig was born which is located right in Munich. It is palatial indeed, and is surrounded by landscaped gardens and parkland full of beautiful pavilions and even a grotto-style chapel.

It was a day of inclement weather – the first I’d experienced since arriving in Germany which was otherwise enjoying a glorious spring. Walking the paths through the trees and sitting by the lakes of Nymphenburg I enjoyed the patter of the light rain on the green canopy overhead and felt blissfully contented.

I felt physically refreshed and emotionally and artistically exhilarated by Munich and the Bavarian landscape beyond it. Perhaps like Michael before me. I like to think so.

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Sources and further information:

http://www.mjs-legacy.com/ (in German and English) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_II_of_Bavaria https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuschwanstein_Castle
http://www.schloss-nymphenburg.de/englisch/palace/index.htm

Text and photos copyright (c) Kerry Hennigan, May 2016.

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