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Saturday, 10 February, 2001, 15:55 GMT
Meet a latter day Dr Frankenstein
Prof Gunther von Hagens and a preserved human corpse
Prof von Hagens wants to encourage an interest in anatomy
An exhibition in Berlin is causing controversy even before it has opened to the German public.


I show the beauty of the body. I break with the tradition of Frankenstein

Professor Gunther von Hagens
Called Koerpewelten or Body Worlds, all the exhibits are human-beings - dead ones to be exact.

They have been mummified and then dismembered before being put on show.

It is intended to be educational, and to bring anatomy to the public but many people think it's ghoulish and degrading.

'Plastination'

Professor Gunther von Hagens, who is behind the exhibition, utilises a technology he developed at the University of Heidelberg in the 1980s.

A preserved human corpse sits in front of a chess board
Over 3000 people have signed up to be preserved by Dr von Hagen┐s' team
The 57-year-old anatomist discovered "plastination" - a way of preserving human tissue by replacing bodily fluids with synthetic resin.

At first sight the bodies look like anatomical models. Muscles, organs, the nervous system, and blood vessels are all frozen in time.

Some of the exhibits are quite disturbing. The sectioned body of a young woman reveals amongst her internal organs an unborn child within the womb.

Even though all of the exhibits gave their consent in life, for some the exhibition is disturbingly reminiscent of the experiments by the notorious Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele. Others compare him to a latter-day Dr Frankenstein.

But Prof von Hagens rejects such comparisons:

"In all human history - except for the renaissance - the human body was always exploited for disgusting feelings."

"I'm doing the opposite. Those plastinates show the beauty of our body interior. I break with the tradition of Frankenstein," he says.

Ethical debate

Visitors are divided however: some find the exhibition strange, others frightening, and a few say they are fascinated.

The interest generated has already led to negotiations for the exhibition to travel to London or New York.

And 3000 people have signed up with Prof von Hagens to have their bodies preserved after death.

But the churches have expressed their ethical objections and are intending to hold a requiem mass for the dead now on display.

The wider ethical debate has only just begun.

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Rob Broomby reports for the PM programme
"Prof Gunther von Hagens is a striking, though slightly chilling figure"

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