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Celebrating Elvis: The King's legacy lives on in 2012

Elvis Presley Museum Düsseldorf

Elvis is shown in front of the castle gate in Bad Nauheim, Germany, in June 1959. He was stationed at Friedberg, Germany, while serving in the U.S. Army but maintained an off-base residence in Bad Nauheim.

For Elvis Presley fans, 2012 promises to be a good year. There are exhibits, tours, special events, concerts, promotions and celebratory cruises in the works to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the King’s death, who would have celebrated his birthday on Jan. 8.

And a new museum housing a large private collection of memorabilia opened to the public last month in Düsseldorf, Germany. The Elvis Presley Museum Düsseldorf is possibly one of the largest such collections outside of the United States, according to the museum.

“People love it. They all go out with a big smile on their faces,” said Andy Schroeer, one of three collectors who founded the museum, which has already welcomed visitors from Europe and the United States.

Slideshow: The life of Elvis Presley

The approximately 1,500 items that form the permanent collection reflect Presley’s professional and personal life, and include writings, letters, photographs, records, jewelry, furniture, clothing and documents, like the performing artist’s first order for a single and his transfer papers from Sun Records to RCA Victor in 1955 for a fee of $40,000, “an astonishing amount at the time and a move that contributed to his becoming a superstar,” the museum said in a statement.

A number of items never before been shown in public will be on display for the first time, Schroeer said, like the signed shirt that Elvis donated in 1959 to the German magazine BRAVO for a contest.

The winner kept the shirt unopened in the original package for more than 30 years. "He was no Elvis fan and was kind of disappointed when he learned that he had won the Presley Sports shirt," Schroeer said.

By 1958, Elvis had a promising musical and acting career but joined the Army after receiving his draft notice and served active duty in Germany until 1960. The museum owns many items from that period.

The exhibits are intended “to show the more private side of Presley’s life,” Schroeer said. “There are really no big stories.” For example, the records Presley had shipped from the U.S. to Germany reveal his personal taste in music at the time, which was a mix of gospel and other spiritual music, as well as rock 'n' roll. “Elvis was very much into the Jordanaires. He loved those guys to death.” Also included are personal notes Presley made in “The Prophet,” by Khalil Gibran, his mother’s journal entries and the personal appointment book he kept in 1959 in Bad Nauheim, Germany.

J. Keilwerth / Elvis Presley Museum Düsseldorf

At left, Elvis' black Isana Guitar with case and amplifier. At right, the bicycle he received at the age of 13.

Displayed items do not have explanatory text next to them, as visitors come from so many different countries that text would need to be in many languages, which would take away from the experience, Schroeer said. Rather, visitors are given a listing of items with text in their own language.

The idea for the museum came about 10 years ago. Schroeer and the other two collectors, Oskar Hentschel and Michael Knorr, who have been friends since meeting at a local Elvis Presley fan club in the mid-1980s, wanted a home for their collections and the ability to share them with a larger audience. But each started his collection independently.

Schroeer began collecting in 1975 at age 10 when he received “Elvis Forever,” a double LP for Christmas. “Elvis could drive fast cars ... he was like a personal hero. You wanted to own something he held in his own hands,” recalled Schroeer, who wrote “Private Presley: The Missing Years – Elvis in Germany,” with his fellow collectors.

About 600 items will be exhibited at a time, but the collection will rotate regularly. Beginning Jan. 8, which would have been the King's 77th birthday, the museum will feature live music and new items, including a gold record on loan for four months that was engraved with Presley’s name misspelled — Presly instead of Presley — which was kept by the engraver after the mistake was discovered, Schroeer said. Photographs of the new and original gold records will also be on view.

J. Keilwerth / Elvis Presley Museum Düsseldorf

Elvis' favorite shirt in 1957, monogrammed with his initials, EP. In background, a Sun Records advertisement in the Nov. 26, 1955, Billboard Magazine for his single, "I Forgot to Remember to Forget."

It’s all for a simple goal, Schroeer said. “To keep the memory of Elvis Presley alive. That’s what people appreciate.”

Scott Williams, vice president of marketing and media for Elvis Presley Enterprises, said the opening of a new museum featuring Presley memorabilia was not unusual. “There is not a country where there isn’t some Elvis activity going on. There are fan clubs all over the world; that’s one of the ways fans celebrate their love for Elvis.”

Williams said much of the reason is due to the performer’s broad appeal. “He was a one-of-a-kind entertainer,” whose personal story of working his way up from poverty, as well as his musical range, provide “something to relate to, no matter what your tastes are.”

“Every year is a big year for Elvis,” Williams said, “but for whatever reason, the 5th year benchmarks have become historically larger.” Graceland in Memphis is planning a year-long series of activities to honor the 35th anniversary of the late singer’s death, which will kick off with an annual birthday celebration Jan. 5-8, followed by a cruise from Jacksonville, Fla., to Nassau, Bahamas, on Jan. 12-16. “It’s an entire ship of Elvis fans,” said Williams. “It’s nothing but Elvis.”

There will also be new exhibits, touring tribute concerts and “the largest exhibit outside Memphis of Elvis artifacts” will take place in
Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2012 featuring hundreds of items on loan from Graceland, including the performer’s gold phone and red MG, Williams said.

If you go
The Elvis Presley Museum Düsseldorf, presented in conjunction with the Official German Elvis Fan Club, can be visited daily in the historic old town center.See www.elvis-duesseldorf.de.

For information about hotel and travel packages in Düsseldorf, home to the “longest bar in the world” (260 bars, pubs, and breweries in under a mile, according to the city’s tourism office), see www.visitduesseldorf.de.

For more information about Graceland-sponsored celebrations, visit www.elvis.com.

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