German Town Invites Erich von Däniken to Combat Boredom; Plus: Australian Aborigines Want You to Know Their Art Does Not Depict Ancient Aliens
This has to be the saddest story about Chariots of the Gods author Erich von Däniken that I’ve read in a long while. A report in NGZ Online, a German news site, says that the ancient astronaut theorist is scheduled to speak in the German town of Neukirchen, in Grevenbroich, on March 3. He is coming to the small town of just 2,700 people at the invitation of Thomas Stenbrock, a restaurateur who confessed to NGZ Online that he hasn’t read von Däniken’s works.
“A good friend of mine knows him from Switzerland,” Stenbrock said (in my translation), “and at the (restaurant) counter the idea came to invite him one day. A bit of variety can’t hurt in the village.”
Wow. That’s a ringing endorsement: A lecture from him is better than being bored!
But it gets better! The town is so small that they don’t have an auditorium, so he’s going to be speaking in a carnival tent, where he belongs. For the price of 40 euros, guests will be treated to a lecture by what NGZ Online describes as “both a euro and (Swiss) franc millionaire many times over,” along with a free copy of von Däniken’s latest book and a buffet catered by Stenbrock himself. The restauranteur said that only about 50 tickets are left for the event out of the 200 for sale.
This wasn’t the only recent von Däniken news. An article from Australia earlier this month announced that some of the famous Wandjina rock paintings of Western Australia will be returning to Aboriginal ownership for the first time in nearly two centuries. According to the report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Aborigines who are taking back control of the paintings hope to educate the public on what they really mean—and especially what they are not.
Since the discovery of the images, which show human-like forms with large heads, bulbous eyes, and haloes surrounding their heads, Westerners have tried to argue that they could not be the original work of Australian Aborigines. Early efforts, from the nineteenth century, alleged that they were art done by shipwrecked sailors, or even colonists from China or the Muslim world.
Local author Mike Donaldson had some choice words for von Däniken, who infamously suggested that the art depicted space aliens wearing fishbowl-style space helmets. “It was just ignorance on von Daniken’s part, the kind of ignorance that goes back to the people who initially, 100 years ago, thought that Aboriginal people were not so sophisticated enough to do those paintings. Of course we soon learnt that they were very sophisticated, and could paint all these wonderful things … so that’s just one guy’s crazy story, that thought they were space men or something.”
Leah Umbagai, an Aborigine from the Worrora people, is the former manager of the Mowanjum Art Centre, and she told the ABC that von Däniken’s ideas weren’t just wrong, they were also hurtful to her and her culture:
A lot of the people that come into the art centre, they ask so many questions, and yes I suppose there have been UFO sightings in America and all of that, but it just really saddens me that they say things about it. […] It’s like people are making fun, or think we’re making things up, and it’s hurtful for us.
It’s a side of the story you don’t hear on Ancient Aliens, and one that we need to hear more often. Bad ideas have consequences, and cultural appropriation is hurtful to those whose culture has been hijacked in service to fantasies about space aliens.
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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