Last Friday Giorgio Tsoukalos told readers of his “Ask Me Anything” Reddit session that a number of alternative and fringe authors as well as thousands of members of the public had gathered to celebrate Erich von Däniken’s eightieth birthday. I found more details about the event on the German-language website of Erich von Däniken’s German publisher, who sponsored the event. According to the report, the celebration was billed as the Great International Erich von Däniken Congress and was held in a dramatically-lit theater in Sindelfingen, Germany on April 11 and 12. More than 2,500 von Däniken fans and fringe history “experts” filled a theater to listen to five lectures on ancient mysteries in honor of pseudohistory’s most famous proponent.
To celebrate von Däniken’s birthday, his publisher announced the release of a new book, Erich von Däniken’s Winged Words, a collection of his most memorable bon mots and quotations. (“Winged Words” is a Classical allusion to Homer and in philology refers to literary phrases that have fallen into common usage.) I imagine they left out the ones about Black people being a “failed” race or how today gender roles are too fluid. At the event, von Däniken received a gift of an eighteen-volume leather-bound edition of his most important works, and copies were also available for purchase to his most dedicated fans. Hundreds of attendees lined up to get von Däniken’s autograph, yet strangely almost no word of the event escaped Germany. Why is that?
The event was sponsored by Kopp Verlag, a German publisher of New Age, ancient astronaut, conspiracy, and fringe history books. Kopp Verlag is current Erich von Däniken’s European publisher. The publisher is controversial for promoting rightwing causes with its conspiracy and ufology publications, particularly books with anti-Islamic themes. Kopp Verlag is the German distributor of the works of Jan Van Helsing, the rightwing author whose books on the glories of the Third Reich and the evils of Judaism saw him convicted in France of inciting racial hatred, leading to a ban on his books in several European countries. Other Kopp Verlag authors have received criticism for claims that Barack Obama is a gay man married to a transsexual and that Muslims were planning a “fecal jihad” to poison the German food supply by having migrant workers smear excrement on harvested food.
In Germany it is illegal to explicitly promote Nazism or Nazi-inspired ideology, so elements of the German rightwing have used New Age ideas, ufology, and conspiracy theories as a way to discuss Nazi-associated themes without running afoul of the law. Decrying gray aliens who just happen to act like and work with Jews is, for example, different from attacking Jews directly.
Perhaps Kopp Verlag’s rightwing conspiracy reputation is why so few media outlets outside Sindelfingen covered the von Däniken conference. However, it is fitting since von Däniken has been promoting rightwing causes since at least the 1970s, when he attempted to use his celebrity status to influence then-U.S. President Gerald Ford to take more aggressive action against “socialism.”
The five speakers lecturing in honor of von Däniken on day one of the conference were said to be “not conspiracy theorists” but rather “ambassadors between science, brave ideas, and the so-called laity.” The first speaker was Robert Bauval, who repeated his long-debunked Orion Correlation Theory claims. The second speaker was Peter Fiebag, who asserted that evolutionary theory cannot explain the origins of language because he believes the changes to the larynx that created the capability for language would have had to happen all at once, while “the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin thinks in small steps.” Michael Tellinger spoke third, and he repeated his claims that natural stone formation in South Africa are really the remnants of a lost civilization, and that his audience should continue paying him money to hear his theories about how money will soon have no meaning or value thanks to aliens. The fourth speaker was Luc Bürgin, who offered “mysteries” about who or what carved patterns on the walls of Chinese caves. The final speaker was Graham Hancock, who repeated his belief that the end of the last Ice Age destroyed a technologically advanced coastal civilization. He claimed that evidence of this can be found in Egyptian sarcophaguses, which are made from granite. According to Hancock, the Egyptians should not have been able to hollow out blocks of granite using only simple tools; therefore, an advanced civilization must have existed. It doesn’t follow, but I suppose we should trust that it made more sense before being translated into German and then back into English.
The publisher declared that “all the lectures combine to offer powerful evidence for the validity of the theories of Erich von Däniken,” despite the fact that several lectures had nothing to do with space aliens, and several of the authors have purposely downplayed their belief in ancient astronauts (Robert Bauval) or have publicly declared the ancient astronaut theory to be unnecessary or wrong (Graham Hancock).
And while we are on the theme: A Nazi apologist swiped part of my blog post on Red Ice Radio and Nazis in order to gin up controversy about me among racist Neo-Nazis because she believes in a multi-racial Nazi utopia with a Hitler of peace and love, as opposed to a racist Nazi empire of hate. Sigh.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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