Bioethics Blogs

Gunther von Hagens’ Menschen Museum: The anatomical circus has found a home at the heart of Berlin

Lawrence Burns discusses the controversial nature of the permanent Body Worlds exhibit in Berlin.

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Gunther von Hagens’ traveling Body Worlds exhibits showcase plastinated bodies in action in lifelike poses. A permanent version of the exhibit is expected to open in Berlin this month after a Berlin court recently ruled that there was no legal obstacle to doing so. The prospect of this anatomical circus, to be called the Menschen Museum, coming permanently to town has caused significant outcry in Berlin. Like the other Body Worlds exhibitions before it, the Menschen Museum raises fundamental questions about the use of dead human bodies to educate and entertain. The Mitte City Council (which has jurisdiction over the relevant district in Berlin) had announced that it would not permit the museum to open because it would be in breach of the state’s burial laws that prohibit the public display of corpses without special authorization. Concerns were also raised about human dignity. In particular, some people objected to the idea that donors had no control over how they would be posed in the exhibition.

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The Menschen Museum is not the only permanent exhibit of von Hagens’ plastinated bodies. Another such exhibit, called Plastinarium, opened in 2006 in Guben, Germany. However, given its remote location, Plastinarium is largely “out of sight and out of mind.” The Menschen Museum, by contrast, will be located at one of the most iconic sites in Berlin. Moreover, the controversy around its opening is enhanced by the compounding effect of Body Worlds scandals.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.