Open up to your Insides; at Body Worlds Museum, Amsterdam
Visiting Amsterdam in the near future? Want something a bit different to do? Up there among the weirdest things to do in Amsterdam is the Body Worlds Museum. This place uses the inside of the human body to explain life to medical students… Or that’s what they say they do. We all know that it’s really still upon because people are dark, deep down.
This place was the result of a weird collection, which came about because of one man’s particular darkness. It’s a strange story with a weird twist. We’ll ruin the twist for you straight away; at the moment they are running a happiness themed exhibit… It’s bonkers.
So if you like the dark and macabre, stick with us! Before long, we will have fully explained why there are figurative mummified bodies in the heart of Amsterdam city. If you tend to faint a lot? Maybe give this one a by… We have a lovely article about Amsterdam Comedy Walks that might suit you better as a unique attraction?
Body Worlds All Began in the 1970’s
Although the museum itself hasn’t been open that long, this is where our grizzly talk begins. A man named Gunther von Hagens. Hagens studied extremely hard to become a doctor. He was born in Germany as a Haemophiliac child and this prompted him to study medicine to within an inch of its life. He was also an avid socialist, a borderline communist, in fact. He protested the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Although he started off at the University of Jena, he then went on to get his doctorate in 1075 at the University of Heidelberg. He continued working there right up until 2004. In addition to his day job, he has been a visiting professor in China since ‘96. He recently announced he has Parkinson’s Disease and is dying… When he goes, we will have lost an important figure in medicine.
Why was he famous? Gunther von Hagens developed plastination. Although you have likely never heard of this, it is a vital tool used to understand biology and the way our bodies work. To begin with, Hagens developed a technique whereby a four-step process allowed him to replace the tissue, fats and blood in a body with certain plastics. This froze the body as it was and allowed scientists to study what had killed it.
Now: although this technique initially took something like 1,500 hours per specimen, and although it was only used on small creatures; it was only a matter of time before things progressed. In the 1990s, the technique was so fully developed that they were able to start using it on humans.
Once the compounds in the body have been replaced with plastics they do not rot, and they do not smell. Silicone, Epoxy, and formaldehydes are used to replace the body’s more vital components. This preserves them in full anatomical correctness, for medical students everywhere to study.
Body Worlds on Tour
Seriously, this is an actual world tour… The first exhibition of the newly plastinated bodies went on in Japan in 1995. Since then, more than 100 cities have hosted the exhibition, which had been viewed by 26 million people all the way back in 2008. Since then? Who knows? There comes a point when you just stop counting because of all that hype.
Obviously, the exhibition has caused some pretty serious controversy. Religious groups, who mostly believe bodies should be sacrosanct, have huge issue with turning them into plastic, instead. The man behind it all is defiant; insisting that understanding the nature of life is more important than sanctifying death. He might be on to something. At last known check he was working on a way to slice plastinated bodies down into super thin sheets. These could then be sent to medical facilities all over the world to help us understand human biology and anatomy better.
The Man Himself…
We had to add a little more than we normally would, just to talk a little more about this arguable nutter. According to Wikipedia, von Hagens works in a room concealed behind a staircase in his apartment. As if that weren’t weird enough, he regularly does stuff that makes entire cities uncomfortable.
Let’s turn back time briefly to London in 2002. Von Hagens booked out the London Theatre to perform a live autopsy in front of an audience of 500 people. This is something that hasn’t been done since early 19th century medicine… it was open to the public, for goodness sake! Naturally it was a sell-out… as we say, humans are dark.
Worse than performing the autopsy on stage; it was actually picked up and run by Channel 4. Does anyone remember the public outcry? OFCOM reported more than a hundred complaints during the show. That same year charges were brought against him concerning the illegal purchase of 56 bodies. It turned out the coroner selling them hadn’t received permission to sell cadavers outside of Russia.
In 2003 he admitted to plastination of 9 corpses from Kyrgyzstan. That same year an animal rights charity filed suit against him for failing to provide papers for a gorilla he had treated to his technique. Later in 2003 the University he worked for turned against him. They claimed he had misrepresented himself as a professor. This was finally dismissed in 2007, presumably when people’s memories of the documentary had faded. Since there are no other charges recorded, we can guess that the documentary sparked debate, which in turn led to his persecution somewhat. As soon as it was forgotten, it all went away. Arguably, the autopsy on live TV both made, and broke, his career. Support for Gunther von Hagens is firmly either yes or no. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between
The Amsterdam Exhibit of Body Worlds
Now that we have covered the rather gruesome life and works of the Master; let’s skip over going into Plastination in any great detail and get right on to the exhibit. Amsterdam is one of the permanent exhibits of the world tour of his plastinated bodies. The exhibit has covered several different themes in the past, like health and sports. At the moment it is focused on happiness and the effect it has on our bodies.
So happiness from the inside out… If that makes sense.
Anatomically Correct, Plastic, Human Bodies
The main attraction is the (more than) 200 bodies that are on display. They are anatomically perfect because the plastics used have essentially replaced the tissue in a painstaking process. The effect is to leave you with a very, very detailed plastic doll of the human body. Except these are specifically correct – even in their faults – because “medicine”.
The Happiness Project
During this exhibition, the Body World’s permanent exhibit seeks to examine the link between our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. It explores how happiness acts to perk up more than just our mood. This type of exhibit is perfect for the partner that doubts the link between emotional moods and physical health.
The Happiness Project seeks to educate the public about how neurological issues impair our health, in the same way that happiness boosts it. Depression makes you more than just ‘sad’. Depression makes your whole-body act differently. The Happiness Project is one of the best physical representations we have of the link between mood and health. Regardless of how much it may (or may not) disgust you; you cannot deny that there is a place in medicine for this type of work. Whether there is a place for it on display in Amsterdam, however, is a matter we will leave up to you!
What we Love about body Worlds
If you ignore the dead people and the creep factor; this is a fascinating must-see for any Amsterdam tourist that is interested in medicine. It inspires the same weird, morbid fascination that we have when we watch those American crime shows. Someone died – but we care more about how the case went than we do the actual death.
The plastination method allows us to see the human body in a way we would never have had the chance to. Without it, medical science would have taken a lot longer to get to where it is today. Our understanding of our anatomy, and of the anatomy of the world around us, is one of a handful of things that sets us apart from the animals… Even if it seems beastly within itself.
And if you don’t like anatomy, human bodies that never decay (how would you kill them when the Zombies come?) or exhibits given by mad scientists who keep their labs behind hidden staircases: then check out the Dirty Chicken Club. The burgers are delightful and the bar is 100% corpse free.
When to Visit Body Worlds in Amsterdam?
You can find the Body Worlds exhibition at 66 Damrak street. They are open Sunday – Friday, from 9AM to 8PM and Saturday 9AM – 10PM During holidays they run extended opening times, which is pretty cool. We love that they are open at night-time. It seems like a place that would be packing them in around Halloween time…
Last entry is an hour before they close, and they seem to be open through the weekends at peak times. It’s all a little complex to be honest, but you can view the opening times for yourself by following this link.
…Don’t forget to check out Lilly Likes HQ for all sorts of things to do in the Dam. We won’t see you bored. Check it out.