German anatomist opens corpse museum in Berlin

2015-02-17 21:08
(John MacDougall, AFP)

(John MacDougall, AFP)

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Berlin - German anatomist Gunther von Hagens, dubbed "Doctor Death" for preserving and displaying dead bodies as artworks, opens a museum on Wednesday in Berlin to showcase the grisly exhibits.

After 20 years of touring the world with his show and often courting controversy, Hagens is giving 20 complete corpses and about 200 body organs a permanent home at the foot of the Television Tower, a landmark at Alexanderplatz square in the German capital.

Possible future stars of the show, which aims to educate visitors about the complexities of the human body, were guests of honour at Tuesday's unveiling of the new museum by Hagens and his wife Angelina Whalley.

Donors such as Detlef von Wengler, 61, have volunteered to offer their own bodies for the "plastination" process after their death.

The process involves skinning the body parts and preserving them with a synthetic resin, laying bare the naked muscles, nerves and tendons.

"Some years ago I watched an American TV show where a photographer placed his camera in a coffin and every day it took a photo," Wengler said.

"It was absolutely revolting to see the maggots feeding in that way and I said to myself: 'I don't want that'," he said at the new museum's presentation.

"I've also seen how a cremation works... I didn't find that great either and then I saw this exhibition and thought to myself, that's what I want," he told AFP.

40 million visitors

Despite his decision having divided opinion in his family, Wengler said he carried a donor card in his wallet that explicitly states who is to be the beneficiary of his corpse when he dies - Hagens' "Body Worlds" project.

Organisers say more than 15 000 people are currently on the books worldwide as donors, the vast majority of them in Germany.

Japan hosted the first exhibition of the plastinated bodies in 1995.

Since then, around 40 million people have visited shows in 23 countries, Whalley said on Tuesday.

She added that opening the new Berlin showcase was a big day for her and her husband, who have faced legal opposition against the museum's opening on the grounds it contravened interment laws.

Exhibits are shown in active poses such as skating, dancing or doing gymnastics to fully display the physical complexity of the body.

Hagens is suffering from Parkinson's disease and has said he plans to have his own dead body put on display.

In 2009, he put on an exhibition in Berlin showing dead bodies having sex.

France's highest court a year later confirmed a ban of a plastinated bodies exhibition there.

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