Representations of the Body: The German Hygiene Museum
Dresden, May 2010

By Ann Hostetler


A trinity of giant boxes.
Scale anything but human.
The central box rises from two wings
like a temple or mausoleum.

A bronze giant out front greets all
who approach. We creep
past the daisy-sprinkled lawn,
mount wide stone steps.

Inside a lofty empty space.
The emptiness is the point.
On one side, the gift shop.
On the other, the Lingner Café,

named for a mouthwash millionaire
who wanted to spread the gospel of hygiene.
Delicious cuisine with wine
and beer, if you have the appetite.


Two-story windows bring in slabs of light.

The Nazis took over three years
after it was built, dismissed its female
director of Jewish descent. She moved
to New York. We will do away
with the old, boring science of statistics,
Hitler announced. For the people,
feelings are much more real.
Yes, the museum was fully implicated
in eugenics experiments, the signs
say in German and English. After the War
it was renamed the Museum of Man.

Much remains untranslated.


The glass woman lifts her arms
and throws back her head as though
opening to the power of knowledge.
Her pedestal rotates and her organs
light up when visitors press buttons
connected by electrodes to labels
for liver, pancreas, heart, lungs,
large and small intestines, uterus.

In the same room a leather vulva
shows between stumps of legs how birth happens,
a white rag doll dangles by a cord
from slits of folded leather.
Across the aisle, a birthing video
plays—mother panting in a birthing chair,
infant squirming and squalling in the slime
of vernix, blood and shit.

The glass case on the side displays
old slides of embryos,
tea stains in Lucite. At the room’s other end:
death masks. In between lie
idealized Greek figurines,
plaster impressions of aborigines,
models of disease, starvation, obesity.


The next room is devoted to the food industry.
In the laparoscopic video, the digestive system
pulses, a clean pink passageway washed constantly
with fluid. The viewer tunnels through
the moist, warm water park of the body.
“Mann ist was Mann isst.”


What was your first sex like?
Below the questions a giant bulletin board-like
display of answers. Paper and pencils are supplied
if you’d like to add your answer. Ads for condoms,
posters for sex education, military precautions:
“I take one of these everywhere I take my penis.”
A painting of a crucifix hanging over
a bloodstained sheet, a bucket at the foot end.
A burka and a chastity belt.


There’s nothing left but the brain.
You can put on a headband with electrodes
and compete with another player
to move a silver ball to a goal.
The one who wins is the one who’s most
relaxed after seeing all of this.