Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Garden of Orchids

The first issue of Weird Tales, March, 1923.

It is often claimed that the first magazines devoted to science fiction and the fantastic orginated in the United states and exerted their influence on the emerging fields of ufology, the paranormal and the fortean. The venerable Weird Tales was launched in March 1923 and is often held as the first magazine published devoted to the weird. But Austrian magazine Der Orchideengarten (The Garden of Orchids) preceded the American venture with four years.

First published in 1919 under the editorship of Karl Hans Strobl (1877 - 1946), an Austrian writer of dark and unusual horror tales who also was the publisher together with Alfons von Czibulka, it ran until 1921. Der Orchideengarten was more than a magazine devoted to the fantastic; appropriately founded in the year that across the ocean, Charles Fort would publish his Book of the Damned, the magazine too, devoted space to anomalous phenomena: "...we no longer dismiss as nonsense all things that are not explicable in terms of the known laws of physics. Mysterious connections between human beings, independent of spatial and temporal separation, spooks, the appearance of ghosts, all are again in the realm of the possible..." as the editorial in the second issue of Der Orchideengarten explained.

Der Orchideengarten featured some truly lurid and haunting covers, and since I originally wrote this post, has achieved recognition as 'the world's first fantasy magazine'. Many of its striking covers can be admired online such as the following ones, beautifully scanned by Will Schofield.

Some of the absolutely striking interior illustrations of Der Orchideengarten can be found here, also owing to the good grace of Will Schofield who has curated an incredible selection from his private collection. Seeing these images, one can only wonder what it would have been like, had Der Orchideengarten also published the tales of Clark Ashton Smith and Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Some of the interior illustrations in Der Orchideengarten certainly merit such a thought. Lee Brown Coye would have felt at home.

Strobl published his gruesome, unusual and haunting tales in a number of books with titles like Lemuria (1917) and Gespenster im Sumpf (1920) (Spooks on the Moor). Swedish science fiction magazine Hugin (1916 - 1920) preceded Der Orchideengarten with three years and Gernsback's magazines like Wonder Stories, Air Wonder Stories, Science Wonder Stories (first issued 1929) and Amazing Stories (started in 1926) with even a decade. Hugin's cover art though definitely lacked the dark fantastic and visionary strain so apparent in Der Orchideengarten. 

Hugin, October 1919, featuring a swastika in an advert for an electrotechnical company in Sweden. 
The editor of Hugin, Otto Witt (1875 - 1923) studied at the technical university of the German town of Bingen, at the same time that Hugo Gernsback studied there. Gernsback, born in 1884 as Gernsbacher, at ten years of age was an insatiable reader. At that time he found a translation of Percival Lowell's Mars as the Abode of Life. He devoured the book and went into a delirious phase that lasted two days, during which he rambled almost non-stop about the Martians and their technology, a theme to which he would return in later years. This experience would prove a pivotal point in the life of young Gernsbacher.

Covers and interior illustrations of Gernsback's magazines were predominantly done by Frank R. Paul (1884 - 1963).
In 1904, then still named Gernsbacher, he went to the United States and changed his name into Gernsback. There he would come to know inventors like Tesla, de Forrest, Fessenden and Grindell-Matthews. Gernsback would also publish an impressive list of science fiction magazines and coin the very phrase 'science fiction'. As such, a case is to be made for Germany as the birthplace of 20th century weird and science fiction magazine publishing.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Alien technology in Germany, 1920

Recent years have seen the emergence of a rumour that float around the internet like moths to a flame about a crashed UFO in the Black Forrest in 1936 which was spirited away to the dark heart of Nazi Germany. There it was to be dismantled and dilligently studied by, it is claimed, the members of the Vril Society. While no historically verifiable evidence for this tale has come to light, the idea of alien technology that has fallen into the hands of a select group, was already the subject of a film in Germany in 1920.

Just two years after the defeat of Germany in the First World War, a little known silent film was released. Entitled Algol, it tells the story of a superior extraterrestrial from the Dogstar, who donates incredible technology that enables a wealthy industrialist to enslave the world by this free energy device.

Lost for decades, copies of the film have surfaced in recent years. The first image is of the alien being, poised far away in the eternal blackness of the universe. The second the industrialist poised over the weird extraterrestrial technology.

One wonders how a film like Algol helped transform the ancient intelligences, the angelic beings and the demons of old, into alien entities from far away planets. All in the strange and feverish undercurrents of the German occult.

See the trailer here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

the roots of the Andromeda-Gerät

In the relatively modern variant of the Vril Society saga, it is claimed that, amongst others, in 1944 a huge, 139 meter long cylindrical mothership called the Andromeda-Gerat (depicted on the illustration at the bottom) was constructed by the Vril Society or by means of the technology of this highly secret society.

Again we stumble upon an echo of the large Adamski-type motherships, but a number of German language science fiction ideas preceded the Andromeda-Gerat. One of these is the cilindrical spaceship featured in Nils Meyn's Die Reise zur Venus (the Voyage to Venus), published in 1930. Obviously, the concept of an Andromeda Device is nothing new.

In Germany in 1908, readers were introduced to Captain Mors who flew through space with what may be considered the precursor to the Andromeda-Gerat (depicted on the illustration at the top). Captian Mors was a proto-science fictional hero who encountered various aliens, crystal robots with strange devices and discovered new planets with extraterrestrial life between 1908-1911 in 165 adventurous installments published in Germany. As with the Andromeda-Gerat, we find blueprints of Captain Mors' spaceship on many of the installments of the series.

Blueprint of Captain Mors' Lenkbares Luftshiff 
Nils Meyn, Die Reise zur Venus, 1930
Before Captain Mors took flight, there was the beautifully produced book Mac Milfords Reisen Im Universum. Von Der Terra Zur Luna Oder Unter Den Seleniten. Astronomische Erzahlung, (Mac Milford's Voyages in the Universe. From the Earth to the Moon. Or under the Selenites), published in 1902. Written by Oskar Hoffmann, it also features a cylindrical spaceship as seen in the left upper corner on its cover.
A cylindrical spaceship in 1902
As such, the fabulous Andromeda-Gerat of the Vril Society, Captain Mors' Lenkbares Luftshiff (manoeuverable airship), his Meteor, a Weltenfahrzeug (World vehicle) and the cylindrical spaceship of Mac Milford may be considered as exemplary extrapolations in a fantasmagoric world where the occult, avant-garde science and the sense of wonder meet.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The occult technology of the Ark

In their article Re-engineering the Ark which was published in Fortean Times 207, authors Michael Blackburn and Mark Bennett speculate on the Ark as being a source of electrical energy.

This theory appeared much earlier in Nazi Germany. In 1936 a slim book written by Konradin Aller was published, entitled Moses Entlarvt: die Wunder Moses als Luftelektrische Vorgange (Moses Unmasked: The Miracles of Moses as Atmospheric Electrical Events), with a series of evocative drawings by Werner Graul. The booklet appeared as part of the series of the Werner Graul Bildbucher. The premise of the book was that Moses was a hoaxer; all the divine miracles that accompanied him were the effects of laws of nature. Thus the Ark was nothing more than a repository of electricity. This knowledge Moses had acquired in ancient Egypt.

Aller also alluded to the work of Estonian engineer and inventor Hermann Plauson. Plauson was director of the Fischer-Tropps Otto Traun Research Laboratories in Hamburg during the Weimar republic in the 1920’s. He built on Nikola Tesla’s ideas of connecting machinery to the wheelworks of nature, and 1920 saw the publication of Plauson’s book Gewinnung und Verwertung der Atmospharischen Elektrizitat (Production and Utilization of the Atmospheric Electricity). Plauson’s ideas were also published in the March, 1922 issue of Hugo Gernsback’s Science and Invention magazine. Gernsback was an intimate friend of Tesla – he arranged for a death mask to be made when Tesla had died.

Metropolis, film poster design by Werner Graul
Friedrich Hermann Werner Graul (1905 - 1984), was a sketcher and engraver by profession. Graul gravitated towards volkische circles and became a member of the NSDAP in 1933. He founded the periodical Sigrune and a publishing house of the same name. He specialised in drawings which represented the conversion of the ancient Germans to Christianity - drawings which clearly demonstrate his affection for the old religion. Graul also had designed the film poster for Fritz Lang's 1926 dystopian classic science fiction film Metropolis. The film was produced by German film production company UFA.

Gate drawing by Albin Grau, published in Saturn Gnosis
From Graul to Grau: A design and set painter named Albin Grau worked at UFA around that time. Grau, a mysterious person to whom we shall return in a later installment, was a freemason and a spiritualist with a deep passion for the occult. He became a member of the Fraternitas Saturni, founded in 1928 after a rather tumultuous visit by Aleister Crowley to Germany. The order specialised in an unusual mixture of avantgarde technology and magical ritual partly based, or so it claimed in the pages of its official organ Saturn Gnosis, on Tesla’s theories. Aller had not postulated a new theory; Tesla wrote in his article A Fairytale of Electricity, published on September 9, 1915 in Manufacturers' Record:
"...Moses was undoubtedly a practical and skillful electrician far in advance of his time. The Bible describes precisely, and minutely, arrangements constituting a machine in which electricity was generated by friction of air against silk curtains, and stored in a box constructed like a condenser. It is very plausible to assume that the sons of Aaron were killed by a high-tension discharge, and that the vestal fires of the Romans were electrical..." 
 Grau's paintings and drawings adorned several of the five lavishly produced Saturn Gnosis issues. The last issue was published in 1930, the Berlin order disbanded not long afterwards, due to the prohibition imposed by Nazi Germany on the esoteric societies. Grau would die at Buchenwald concentration camp in October, 1942. To conclude in biblical terms; UFA had its ateliers at Babelsberg.