July 1, 2022

Inside the “fortress of death”

Dr Gunther von Hagens and his controversial Body Worlds exhibitions of plasticised human bodies and body parts have been out of the news for a couple of years. An interview in Wired with von Hagens at his German factory suggests that financial difficulties and illness are the reasons why.

Dr Gunther von Hagens and his controversial Body Worlds exhibitions of plastinated human bodies and body parts have been out of the news for a couple of years. An interview in Wired with von Hagens at his his “fortress of death” — his factory in the German town of Guben — suggests that financial difficulties and illness are the reasons why.

“Revenue from Body Worlds had begun to taper off [in 2010], and sales of body parts to universities had always been propped up by the exhibits. His plastination plant in China was nearly defunct, and his would-be partnership in Siberia had ended in a scandal. Here in Guben, the operation had gotten to the verge of bankruptcy. The staff would have to be cut back, von Hagens said; two-thirds of his employees would be let go.”

Von Hagens is also suffering badly from Parkinson’s disease and is contemplating his own immortality as a plasticised figure in one of his company’s exhibits.

The German anatomist pioneered the plasticisation of the human body. His figures, partially dissected and flayed of their skin, leave nothing to the imagination and treat the body “as a finely engineered machine”. People who donate their bodies to his company have no say in how they are exhibited. They could end up as a rider straddling a rearing horse or in mock coitus. According to Wired, people are eager to donate their bodies and the company’s database is “overflowing”. 

MIchael Cook
Creative commons
Gunther von Hagens
human dignity
plastination
respect for bodies