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Forget Mozart — it's Elvis week in Vienna

Austrian festival just one of many in Europe to commemorate singer's death
/ Source: The Associated Press

Mozart would be mortified. Beethoven would probably spin like an LP in his grave. But for next week, at least, they ain't nothing but hound dogs to Austrians obsessed with The King.

Vienna's Hilton becomes the Heartbreak Hotel on Monday, when “Elvis Week” — seven days of live music, memorabilia and screenings of Elvis Presley films — kicks off for those who love him in Europe, where he never gave a concert.

The festival coincides with the 28th anniversary of Presley's death on Aug. 16, 1977. But it underscores the singer's huge popularity in Austria, Germany and other countries where he's still got fans all shook up.

“For me, he was the only unique entertainer in the world,” said organizer Wolfgang Hahn, who runs Elvis4You, a new shop in downtown Vienna that sells Elvis music, memorabilia and trinkets. “My mission is to tell people in Central Europe how good he really was.”

Presley's popularity in Europe has grown even though he never performed publicly on the continent.

The only time he spent in Europe was a 1958-60 stint in the U.S. Army in Germany, during which he visited Paris twice while on leave and stopped briefly in Scotland when the military plane carrying him home was refueling.

Harald Molan, a 23-year-old Vienna university student, calls himself “a medium to huge fan.”

“It's no different than someone who's crazy about Mozart, who has been dead for even longer,” he said. “At least there's footage of Elvis on video, which you don't have if you like Mozart.”

Taking Elvis seriouslyHahn, who's 42 — “the same age Presley was when he died” — takes his Elvis seriously.

He calls himself Wolf Memphis, drives a car that bears an “ELVIS9” license plate (one through eight were already taken by other fans), wears an Elvis guitar pick on a cord around his neck and is the lead singer of Little Memphis, a band that does Elvis covers in English and German.

No pompadours, mutton chop sideburns, lip curls or hip swivels for him. Hahn, a friend of Presley's widow, Priscilla, makes regular pilgrimages to Graceland and sees Elvis impersonators as sacrilegious.

“There was just one Elvis. I think it's strange to imitate him,” he said Friday. “It's a gag for a birthday party, but we take Elvis very seriously. He started a musical revolution.”

Vienna's Las Vegas-style festival, which is expected to draw hundreds of fans, isn't the only Elvis event on offer.

French fans plan to gather in Fontainebleu on Aug. 25, and Elvis enthusiasts in England will assemble in Bristol on Sept. 6 for United Elvis Meetup Day.

Elvis still rocks Britain
Elvis rocks on in Britain, where a rerelease of his 1959 hit “One Night” soared to No. 1 on the country's singles charts in January. Over the years, Presley tunes have topped the U.K. charts 20 times, beating out The Beatles, which only managed 17.

In Italy, where a fan club based at the Memphis Cafe in Milan boasts 430 members, about 70 people recently headed to Memphis, Tenn., on a trip they organized to mark the anniversary, spokesman Maurizio Falletti said.

Presley is also hot in Germany, where fans on Thursday kicked off the 4th European Elvis Festival in Bad Nauheim, where the singer was based as a soldier, with a weekend of karaoke performances and Elvis impersonations.

In Austria, the Elvis frenzy might have prompted the Von Trapp Family Singers of “The Sound of Music” fame to head for the hills. But Hahn says he can't understand anyone who isn't crazy about Elvis, an obsession that began when he was 13 and first heard “All Shook Up.”

“I just froze. I said, ‘This is my guy,’” he recalled. “I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”

Hahn's most prized possessions include a Gibson guitar signed by the singer, an original Elvis tour jacket, a framed autograph and a photograph of him with Priscilla Presley.

“He was 10 times better than what you hear on a CD or see on a DVD. He could do everything — rock, but also gospel and ballads that are so untouchable,” he said.

“Even at the end, he had presence and charisma.”