- Professor Günther von Hagens has been referred to
as Frankenstein, the modern Mengele and the Galileo of anatomy. When asked
how he would describe himself he pauses for a moment, then says: "Inventor
- call me Mr Plastinator."
- The youthful 57-year-old anatomist has Berlin holding
its breath. Today his highly controversial exhibition Körperwelten
- or Bodyworlds - opens in the German capital.
- Two hundred preserved human corpses and body parts
will be on display for six months in east Berlin's old postal depot and
a million visitors are expected.
- Twenty years ago "Mr Plastinator" discovered
a method by which bodily fluids could be replaced after death with silicone,
epoxy or polyester polymers, thus preserving every single body part in
its original form down to the last sinew, cell and vein.
- Plastination has enabled the professor, he says, to "democratise
anatomy" and bring it to the masses.
- The corpses are obtained through a donor system from
people who bequeath their bodies to Prof von Hagens to "plastinate"
when they are dead.
- At first glance the exhibits resemble clinical medical
models. But a closer look reveals how real they are: a woman in the fifth
month of pregnancy, her slashed abdomen revealing the curled up foetus,
her lungs blackened by years of smoking, her blue eyes starring out of
- Next to her stands a naked man, his muscles and bones
exposed as he carries his entire skin over his arm like a coat. Further
down the room, a brown-haired tattooed male is cut vertically into five
sections and hangs from a frame.
- Other exhibits include tumorous lungs, alcoholics'
livers, a seated corpse playing chess, and a skin-stripped man on a horse,
offering up his brain in his right hand, the horse's in his left.
- At the entrance to a back room a notice reads: "Anatomical
Cabinet. Think before you enter here, because plastinations are on display
that could seriously hurt your feelings."
- Inside, glass cases show real foetuses, some severely
deformed, from 13 to 33 weeks old. The centrepiece is a reclining pregnant
woman in the eighth month of pregnancy.
- This is the most controversial aspect of the entire exhibition
and has caused an outcry from the Roman Catholic and evangelical churches
many of whose members have called for it to be banned.
- "From the Christian perspective the Bodyworlds exhibition
throws up questions that the exhibition itself cannot deal with, and from
its popular scientific perspective simply does not want to deal with,"
says Reinhard Lampe, spokesman for the evangelical church.
- He describes the exhibition as yet another attempt in
German history to redefine human dignity.
- "The Nazis tried to define it so that the majority
of people were no longer even humans and could therefore be destroyed,
suppressed, and experimented on. Professor von Hagens is beginning again
to create a new definition."
- In response, a requiem mass for the souls of the dead
in the exhibition is being held in Berlin next Wednesday, and the two churches
have organised a series of alternative events called "My Body",
which they hope will explore some of the questions raised.
- Prof von Hagens, who describes himself as agnostic, responds
by saying that his opponents "fail to respect the feelings of the
- "The church thinks it has a monopoly on what should
happen to our bodies when we die," he says. "I'm offering them
- To support his claim, he produces the signed testament
of a particular female donor, born in May 1949. "The sense of my being
must not end with my death," she wrote.
- "The thought that after my death I could be part
of a museum is comforting and fascinates me. What a shame that I'll never
discover how my dead body will be used."
- Prof von Hagens says that, for legal reasons, he will
not be drawn on which exhibit the woman has now become.
- In 1968 the professor was jailed by the East German authorities
for attempting to flee communist repression. After two years in jail he
was "bought" by the west .
- The experience, he says, greatly shaped his life and
motivated him to openly express his opinion and allow others to share in
- Over a period of 15 years, 3,200 bodies - mainly German
- have been received, and an average of five bequests now arrive every
- Prof von Hagens says he is still waiting for his first
English corpse but hopes he will have one by the time he brings Bodyworlds
to London early next year.
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