The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Invading the body snatcher: Body Worlds creator opens up

Love is born of violence. If you are Gunther von Hagen, love is born of an iron door cracking your skull open and pouring your six-year old blood on the floor.

“I remember thinking, ‘I guess I am going to die,’ and feeling completely, totally calm. I remember the doctor saying, ‘this child is not going to make it.'”

He lived. He survived through the miracle of modern medicine and that began the torrid love affair which begat Body Worlds, arguably the most groundbreaking scientific exhibition in the world.

He knows it’s crazy, but then again, he likes that.

“We spend our whole lives being taught to fear our own bodies. As children we are told not to explore our bodies, to keep our hands off and out of our ears and the like. Then we are adults, and such things are suddenly inappropriate,” he said.

When asked why people call his science art, he responds with an answer as stoically German as his comically heavy accent: “I can’t help that. These people think that just because it evokes feeling it must be art. I am no artist. But nobody has seen science this way, so they call it art.”

Some try and steal his thunder. Competing exhibitions have used similar techniques, and he himself has been accused of secret body deals with the Chinese government to plastinate executed criminals.

After two hours of nothing but straight, hard truth, Hagen’s answer comes out just as you would want it to. He doesn’t mind the competition. The other shows are democratizing knowledge; he just wishes they had the same quality procedures he did.

Like the rest of the world, he first heard the news from American Tabloids.

All the bodies in his exhibits are catalogued as European submissions, and none of the Chinese volunteers have died yet.

After seeing all his work, even if I thought he was lying, I wouldn’t care. To be shot in the head by an evil communist regime and then transformed into a groundbreaking scientific experiment may be Twighlight Zone, but it’s still a much better deal than most peasants get.

Someone asked about religion, which is where Hagen unintentionally becomes a philosopher. As he put it, there’s nothing to prove the Bible, resurrection, Moses or God, but nothing would make him happier than for his soul to come back to stare at his own plastinated body.

As it stands, he’s lived four lives. Growing up in East Germany, his scientific ability earned him a prison cell for a long time, until he was-get this- sold by Russia to East Germany for money. During his second life as a German citizen, he decided to learn English to complement his fluency in German and Russian. Now, in his third reincarnation, that of an international intellectual celebrity, he’s still working on English and picking up a little Chinese on the side. The Chinese is used in what he calls his fourth life, living in an apartment near his plastination factory.

He has plans for more Body Worlds exhibits. It will be worth going to, because he hates repetition. He’s got plans to plastinate a giraffe, a gorilla and a few other things. Right now though, he’s after more bodies. The yearly Heidelburg convention for living donors gets about 800 attendees a year, but as he says, he needs the bodies that stand out. Older people are used for their nervous systems, which are easier to access because they have less muscle. Athletes are used for their brawn. Anyone with any kind of deviation from the norm is cherished for the ability to teach without a textbook.

He hates forcing lessons on people. Sure, he’s got a black lung next to a clean one, but at no point does he ever say, “Don’t smoke.” If the lesson is clear enough, no punch line is needed.

If Frankenstein had grown up in a loving household without mommy issues, we’d have had Body Worlds a long time ago. As it is, I think we’ve got a Nobel Prize winner.

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