Secrets to long life revealed at Body Worlds and The Cycle of Life

Posted on 23 May 2013

Gunter von Hagens’ Body Worlds & The Cycle of Life in South Africa

The waiter asked seven-year-old Robert, ‘So, what did you do today little boy?’

Robert replied, ‘I saw a man’s head cut in half, and a real brain … it was also cut in half!’

Robert’s parents sat quietly at the table, grinning inside, as the waiter’s jaw began to drop! Little did he know that Robert had just been to Gunter von Hagens’ Body Worlds & The Cycle of Life.

Johannesburg currently has the privilege of hosting a dozen or so plasinates from Gunter von Hagens’ Body Worlds & The Cycle of Life at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown. This travelling exhibition of preserved human bodies has been causing a stir worldwide, attracting 36 million visitors so far.

Yes, you read right, the touring specimens are real! They have been flayed (a procedure whereby the skin is stripped off) revealing the inner workings of the human body, and then preserved through a technique called Plastination.

Hagens’ exhibition takes you on a journey from the spark of conception through maturity to old age. The exhibition deals with the complexity, flexibility and vulnerability of the human body, illuminating how it reacts in both health and disease. To witness how our muscles, bones and organs have been woven and knitted together is quite a sight. The human body is nothing less than an ever-evolving, moving masterpiece.

For me, it was incredible to see beneath the skin and then to realise that it is our skin that grants us our external uniqueness: ‘Like no other organ the skin bears witness of our journey through time.’ It is our canvas with marks and scars that gives credit to our individual narratives.

Masters of the Art of Ageing

About half way through the exhibition there is a passageway entitled Masters of the Art of Ageing. These masters are a celebrated and rarefied circle of the longest living people on earth – approximately 450 000 out of a worldwide population of six billion. These senior citizens are healthy and active, in body and mind, and are still participating in life and family. Surprisingly, the largest conglomerate of these elders is found in Pakistan.

The passageway is lined with their portraits and quotes revealing their secrets to long life. Here are some of their noteworthy pearls of wisdom:

Secrets to long life from the Masters of Ageing

– Eat a rainbow – a rich diet of colourful foods packed with nutrients, minerals, antioxidants and drink a glass of red wine.

– Hara hachi bu – the Japanese principle of eating until you are 80% full.

– Mean something to someone

Optimism – a mantra for longevity

The exhibition ends with these words from Dr Gunther von Hagens: ‘I hope for Body Worlds to be a place of enlightenment and contemplation, even of philosophical and religious self-recognition, and open to interpretation regardless if the background and philosophy of the viewer.’


Body Worlds & The Cycle of Life is on until the 30 June 2013 at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre.

Open seven days a week, from 09h00 – 20h00.

Tickets start at R90 and can be purchased at the venue or online at

For more information visit:

Ed’s note

I visited this exhibition while I was in Berlin and it truly is an incredible experience, one that’s worth travelling for. Even if it’s just for a day or two, head up to Johannesburg and work a visit to the exhibition in with some inner-city winter exploring (check out 16 of Johannesburg’s best winter bars and pubs or street art walking tours in Johannesburg). And if you’re looking for accommodation while you’re there, check out these affordable accommodation options in Johannesburg, starting at R100 a person a night.



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