Best-selling Swiss author Erich von Däniken has enlisted a group of creationists, pseudo-scientists and ufologists to revive interest in his Mystery Park.
The speakers took part in the World Mystery Forum that coincided with the opening of a new exhibition, “Unsolved Mysteries”, at the Interlaken theme park.
“I wanted to create a place where scientists and laymen – as long as they are reasonable and not crackpots – can come to inform the public about their discoveries even if they don’t fit into the scientific model,” von Däniken told swissinfo.
Von Däniken is perhaps the world’s best-selling pseudo-scientist, having written several popular books, including “Chariots of the Gods”, about unexplained phenomena.
He says the mysteries, which form the basis of his theme park, could be evidence of man’s prehistoric contact with extraterrestrials.
The scientists and laymen were invited to expound their theories on crop circles, the use of electricity in ancient Egypt and visitations from the Sirius star system.
Speakers included a lecturer from an American institute that aims to have scientific evidence for the biblical Creation, and a Swiss who has written a book on UFO sightings by the Swiss air force.
The forum coincided with the start of the Unsolved Mysteries exhibition, which showcases more than 300 objects of unexplained origin and runs until March 7.
Visitors are asked leading questions such as: “Did seven-metre high giants exist in the dinosaur era?” and “Have we been visited by astronauts from distant galaxies?”
But the biggest question mark concerns the financial health of the park since ticket sales began flagging about a year ago.
The opening of the park in the spring of 2003 was accompanied by unprecedented media coverage, which helped draw thousands of visitors each day during the first few months.
Von Däniken’s project seemed destined to become a commercial – if not critical – success.
But management has now been forced to downgrade its forecast to a minimum of 270,000 visitors by the end of the second full year – a considerable drop from the 440,000 paying customers who came in the first 12 months.
Von Däniken told swissinfo that the park was still financially sound and that plans for new exhibits were going ahead.
“Of course, we will present new mysteries. We’ve also been preparing another big exhibition on climate [change],” he said.
“I was in Egypt about six months ago filming another mystery with a crew in a subterranean tunnel in Sakhara [pyramids near Cairo].”
He said this would be one of the highlights next year, along with the climate exhibition.
“We have the money and we will produce new shows,” he insisted. “We will be innovative.”
The 69-year-old writer still speaks about his theories with a fiery passion, nearly 40 years after his first book, Chariots of the Gods, hit the stands.
He told swissinfo about his most recent visit to Turkey where he visited subterranean cities.
“Some of them have been known for 30 years but new discoveries have been made,” he explained.
“There are now 38 subterranean cities and some of them are connected to each other.
“I was walking underground for seven kilometres and I asked myself, ‘who did it and what for?’ Because there is nothing down there. No bones or treasures. Nothing.
“It will be one of the new mysteries in the Mystery Park.”
swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Interlaken
Mystery Park is the brainchild of best-selling Swiss author, Erich von Däniken, and examines unexplained phenomena.
It was built at a cost of about SFr80 million ($68 million).
The Mystery Forum is planned to become an annual event at the park.
The temporary exhibition Unsolved Mysteries showcases more than 300 objects from around the world of unusual or unknown origin.
The exhibition runs until March 7, 2005.