1994 was an exhilarating year to be in Hungary – with the country freshly liberated from its repressive era under Soviet control, the Magyar people were finally able to develop their nation as an independent state, and to welcome inspiring luminaries to visit from around the world… including the planet’s biggest star, Michael Jackson, who arrived in Budapest for the first time that year to film one of his most iconic videos. From that point on, a humble tree in a corner of downtown Erzsébet Square became an organic monument of Hungarian devotion to the King of Pop that is still hallowed today.
During that momentous 1994 visit to shoot the grand-scale promotional video for Michael Jackson’s “HIStory” album – including the digitally enhanced unfurling of his gigantic statue in the center of Heroes’ Square – the King of Pop stayed in the luxurious Royal Suite of the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest, with windows overlooking Erzsébet Square. Throughout his visit, MJ’s many Magyar fans camped out around the tree in the square’s corner directly beneath the Royal Suite, and the superstar singer-songwriter frequently greeted his devotees by standing at his window and offering friendly waves and messages, earning adoring reactions as the fans repeatedly chanted his name.
Two years later, Michael Jackson returned to Budapest twice amid the 1996 “HIStory” world tour, first to examine the facilities of the arena where he would perform (the present-day Ferenc Puskás Stadium), and then again to put on the only concert that he ever gave here. Again Michael Jackson stayed at the Kempinski’s Royal Suite, and again crowds gathered around the tree in the corner of Erzsébet Square to catch glimpses of their musical idol – and he repeatedly obliged them with additional greetings from his window. Although the King of Pop never performed in Hungary again after the 1996 show, the memories of his visits here remain cherished by his faithful fans, and also by the Kempinski management – which preserves Michael Jackson’s elaborate autograph in the opening pages of their official hotel guestbook.
When news of Michael Jackson’s untimely death spread around the world on June 25th of 2009, his heartbroken Hungarian fans returned to the corner of Erzsébet Square where they had delighted in the superstar’s attention over a decade before, and held an impromptu vigil. Some of his grieving admirers posted pictures of MJ on the trunk of the tree that they gathered around once more, lighting candles and offering flowers to the superstar’s memory. Budapest officials let the memorial tributes remain around the tree, and over time more and more fans came here to contribute to this spontaneous shrine – and so the city’s Michael Jackson Memorial Tree became a permanent landmark, lovingly maintained and embellished to this day.
A captivating visual experience of communal devotion awaits visitors to this vibrant temple of Michael Jackson worship – varied pictures of the King of Pop from all stages of his career are pinned to the tree trunk more than three meters high, with plastic roses and sparkling stars interspersed throughout them. The ground below is planted with healthy live flowers and candleholders emblazoned with Michael Jackson imagery – and if you spend more than a few minutes relaxing on one of the benches surrounding the tree, it’s quite likely that one of MJ’s dedicated Hungarian fans (identifiable by a button of his face pinned to their jacket, or by their white socks and black shoes) will stop by for a few moments of reverent reflection.
On two occasions every year, the Michael Jackson Memorial Tree is the nexus of soul-stirring displays of homage for the King of Pop – on the June 25th anniversary of his death, and on his birthday on August 29th. The nature of some Michael Jackson tributes on display here can be endearingly kitschy (like his image Photoshopped with angel wings), but the genuine commitment of his fans is easily evident in handwritten notes to the deceased musician pinned to the tree, and we are proud of this living memorial to the enduring legacy of a historic superstar who shared his authentic appreciation for the people of Budapest.