Panamarenko and the Nazi hoax

Was one of Panamarenko’s most iconic pieces inspired by a ’70s Nazi hoax? Follow me across a weird and wonderful story past twentieth century legends and pop-culture folklore. At the very least, you’ll learn about a few sensational tales and have a more profound appreciation for my favorite artist’s work, I promise.


Panamarenko was born on December 5th 1940 and experienced World War II in his early infancy. During his formative years, he studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Initially inspired by pop-art, he quickly developed a keen interest for airplanes and human powered flight. Using the pseudonym Panamarenko, allegedly an acronym for Pan American Airlines and Company, he started making models and technical drawings of imaginary vehicles. The question whether his creations could actually work, became part of their appeal.

My absolute favorite Panamarenko piece is titled Adamski’s Schotel (‘Adamski flying saucer’) which looks like a practical sketch on squared paper, complete with annotations, measurements and hasty calculations.

Another one of my pet interests are historical conspiracy theories. While my interest should not be mistaken for belief, their mix of historical events, imagination, speculation and the fact that these pieces are (at least partially) concocted by enthusiasts who consider them to be fact, fascinates me. If art can be defined as an application of human creative skill that evokes emotional power, the lively discussions that these theories ignite, almost qualify them as a collective accidental œuvre. Outsider art in the truest sense.

About a decade ago I was reading up on Nazi flying saucers. Elaborate theories claim that the SS was developing flying saucer technology during the war, as part of the German Wunderwaffe program. Such craft were supposedly operational and the source of the alleged Foo Fighter observations. Some die-hard tin foil hat fanatics allege that after WWII, the technology was both kept at a secret base in the Antarctic and taken to the United States under Project Bluebook, where they were coined as a possible explanation for the Roswell incident. Great fun to read such wild and uninhibited speculation.

One of the ‘documents’ that were listed as ‘evidence’ of these theories appeared in the 1970s. ‘Photocopies’ of ‘SS documents’ depicted technical drawings of saucer-shaped aircraft. The documents labelled them as ‘Haunebu’. Obviously, they were later identified as a hoax. The name ‘Haunebu’ originated from a misinterpretation of an ancient Egyptian mural by an Austrian protestant priest. In 1953, Jürgen Spanuth saw a depiction of a battle between the army of Ramses III and a people from a country called Haunebu, in the Temple of Medinet Habu (Egypt). He conveniently misinterpreted Haunebu (‘Island in the North of Egypt’) as Nordic Germanic tribes. Neo-Nazis appropriated the incorrect story as proof of the superiority of Teutonic German culture. However, with the error originating in the fifties, the name would have never been used in Third Reich Germany. Later discovery that the documents contain a seventies type writer font, finally buried the hoax.


What caught my eye was the remarkable similarity between one of the depicted saucers and the imaginary craft in the iconic Panamarenko piece, illustrated by the overlay in the first image in this post.

During further research, I discovered that I hadn’t been the first person who had spotted a similarity in the exact same line diagram, albeit with a completely different saucer-shaped design. The hoaxed Haunebu II was identified as identical to a UFO design in a book titled ‘Inside the space ships’ by author George Adamski. Indeed, the very same Adamski referenced in the title of Panamarenko’s piece.

George Adamski was an American citizen with Polish roots and a rather dubious background. In 1920’s California he was attracted by the occult and founded the Royal Order of Tibet in the early thirties. The order met up in its Temple of Scientific Philosophy and used wine for sacramental purposes, which it produced by means of a government license. With the United States in the middle of Prohibition, this religious exemption proved to be highly lucrative. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Adamski moved on.

By the ‘40s he had relocated to the area of Palomar Mountain, home of the famed observatory, where he operated a camp ground and lectured about Eastern philosophy and religion. Adamski claimed that, during a meteor storm on October 9th 1947, he witnessed spacecrafts landing. Their alien passengers supposedly conveyed a message of peace and danger of nuclear energy to Adamski and his friends. On a similar encounter one week later, Adamski allegedly snapped a picture of the visiting flying saucer that would eventually become the most famous picture in the history of ufology. As the first ever contactee, plenty of media attention came his way.

Adamski Picture

Adamski cashed in on his fame, with the publication of three books. His story obviously became heavily contested. In 1952, a photographic expert concluded that his infamous picture featured nothing more then a close-up of a streetlight.

With a striking resemblance between the hoaxed SS documents and a reference to Adamski in the title, Panamarenko must have known this exact story when he made Adamski’s Schotel, in my opinion.

Accurate or not, it adds depth to the story of the piece. Truly at the intersection of pop-art and technology, it conjures up quite a tale. Isn’t that the essence of art?

Thanks for the interesting voyage, Pana. One day I hope to verify if my speculation is valid, in person. For the time being, I’ll keep saving to obtain my personal copy. This model might have to do, in the mean time.

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