Interview with 'Body Worlds' Founder Corpse Museum "Isn't a Chamber of Horrors"

Gunther von Hagens, 61, who has gained fame with his exhibitions of preserved corpses, defends his new workshop in the eastern German town of Guben from criticism and talks about how his corpses came to star in the latest James Bond film.

SPIEGEL: Herr Hagens, there's a lot of criticism of your new exhibition project in Guben. Critics are speaking of a "horror show" of "voyeurism", of an "infringement of human dignity."

Hagens: The Plastinarium isn't a chamber of horrors. On the contrary, if it were, it wouldn't meet with such approval from visitors.

SPIEGEL: Brandenburg's Education Minister Holger Rupprecht is advising school classes not to visit your Plastinarium. Wouldn't it make sense to impose an age restriction?

Hagens: Children are quite capable of confronting the issue of death. Below the age of 14 they must be accompanied by an adult, and one should leave it up to parents to decide.

SPIEGEL: Do you really want to expose young children to the sight of sawn-up bodies?

Hagens: We will show the conservation and preparation process. We haven't decided yet whether we will be preparing cuts of animal or human bodies. Only an expert can distinguish between a detail cut of a human forearm from that of a pig's leg.

SPIEGEL: You appeared in the Love Parade, conducted a public autopsy in London and are talking about projects like having a copulating couple portrayed by corpses. Do you not know the limits of good taste?

Hagens: The majority of our male body donors and a minority of our female donors can imagine being plastinated in such a pose. More than 60 percent could imagine being used in portraying religious scenes. I would only consider something like that if a convincing didactic message could be conveyed.

SPIEGEL: You assure your donors that you use anatomical specimens "only for research and educational purposes." But despite that assurance, specimens are on show in a Body Worlds exhibition recreating a scene from the latest James Bond film -- hardly educational purposes.

Hagens: That's Edutainment. The film appearance is in line with my aim to make anatomy popular by aesthetic and didactic methods. The producers had asked for an exhibit. We rejected them and built a full exhibition in Prague especially for the film.

SPIEGEL: Did you get a fee for the film work or did you have to pay for the advertisement?

Hagens: We got some of our expenses reimbursed but the cost of the exhibition was higher.

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