Hundreds of human body parts have been found in the cellars of the institute of anatomy, apparently abandoned for years
The University of Cologne is investigating after hundreds of human body parts were found in the cellars of its institute of anatomy, apparently abandoned there for years.
The scandal has shaken the German academic world, especially as last month the former head of the anatomy department was found dead, apparently having taken his life when rumours began to circulate.
According to a first report made available to Spiegel Online, university staff discovered a room full of human adult corpses and animal cadavers, as well as a large number of plastic buckets, labelled "noses", "newborns" and "shark head". Evidence gathered by hygiene experts and fire safety officers accompanying the staff indicated that the room might have been left unused for a decade or more.
About 100 corpses of people who had donated their bodies to medical research, but who should by then have long been buried, were among the macabre discoveries. The institute has been trying to identify them using a highly muddled donor archive.
One of the staff, a man who wished to remain anonymous, said that at the time of the visit "the cooling system was broken, and the room smelt accordingly bad". He described the scene as "quite disgusting" and "reminiscent of a horror film".
According to the report, the group took mould samples from the walls and the corpses, analysis of which also indicated the room had been left unused for years.
The university rector, Axel Freimuth, has called the discovery "completely unacceptable" and said it had "deeply shattered and shocked" the university. He said the animal cadavers could be traced back to a past link between the institute and Cologne zoo.
A commission is investigating further, but the public prosecutor's office has said there is no evidence of any crime.
The body of Professor Jürgen Koebke, 66, the institute's former head, was found under a bridge in Cologne last month days after rumours began to circulate; police suspect he stabbed himself to death, and he left a note in which he made reference to the irregularities at his institute. He is said to have been respected by staff and students alike.
The scandal has brought into focus the practice of donating corpses to anatomical institutes for medical purposes. While long popular in Germany, the trend has greatly increased over the past decade since the government scrapped state support for funeral costs leaving people looking for ways to save money.
Institutes have had to find ways of ensuring they do not take more corpses than they need for the purposes of training medical students, as supply has greatly exceeded demand.