Gunther von Hagens’ life reads like an archetypal scientist’s resume—distinguished by early precocity, scholarship, discovery, experimentation, and invention. It is also the profile of a man shaped by extraordinary events, and marked by defiance and daring.
Von Hagens’ two year imprisonment by East German authorities for political reasons, his release after a $20,000 payment by the West German government, his pioneering invention that halts decomposition of the body after death and preserves it for didactic eternity, his collaboration with donors including his best friend, who willed and entrusted their bodies to him for dissection and public display, and his role as a teacher carrying on the tradition of Renaissance anatomists, make his a remarkable life in science.
Anatomist, inventor of Plastination, and creator of BODY WORLDS—The Original Exhibitions of Real Human Bodies—von Hagens (christened Gunther Gerhard Liebchen) was born in 1945, in Alt-Skalden, Posen (in today’s Poland). To escape the imminent and eventual Russian occupation of their homeland, his parents placed the five-day-old infant in a laundry basket and began a six-month trek west by horse wagon. The family lived briefly in Berlin and its vicinity, before finally settling in Greiz, a small town where von Hagens remained until the age of 19.