Chapter 10 / Germany
Chapter 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21
'The powers of this man are a phenomenon that in theoretical physics cannot be
explained.' (Dr. Friedbert Karger, physicist, the Max Planck Institute for Plasma
The end of Uri's harrowing, futile relationship with Yaffa came in the middle
of his extraordinary adventures with Andrija Puharich, but was not as result of
the bizarre turn Geller's life had now taken. It was a simple case of an illicit,
extramarital affair having finally become intolerable for the married party, Yaffa,
and it was she who decided they should not see one another again. Uri had no doubt
that he loved Yaffa more than Iris, and was heartbroken by her decision. Even
though he was often seeing, he says, two or three girls for one night stands besides
Iris, and Hanna Shtrang was still quietly in the background as Uri's on-hold marriage
partner, the Yaffa question tortured him day and night, and played a considerable
part in his decision to leave Israel in the summer of 1972, when he was 25.
Amnon Rubinstein had long ago counselled Geller to be tested scientifically overseas,
and now Puharich too was increasing the pressure on him to ease up on the showbusiness
razzmatazz and start becoming a serious fish in some bigger pools. It almost seems
that Puharich tacitly acknowledged that his own eccentric reputation precluded
Uri from being taken seriously until he had been tested by independent researchers.
Uri's experience abroad was minimal, however. He had not been very successful
as a performer in Italy, and was distinctly nervous about going straight to the
States and submitting himself to the scrutiny of scientists who might be a good
deal less friendly than Puharich. He was even worried that his powers might somehow
desert him outside of Israel. He decided he would like to go to Europe first that
summer, as a kind of step-by-step approach to America. He wanted to meet some
scientists there, who had expressed interest in him, and perhaps try some performances.
seem an odd place for an Israeli to decide to go to further himself, but several
factors led him to be at Ben Gurion Airport boarding an El Al flight one June
morning. An Israeli friend of Uri, a singer called Zmira Henn, had a boyfriend
already working in West Germany as an impresario. She suspected Uri would get
on with her friend, Yasha Katz, and could come to a good business arrangement
with him. Another factor was that, in common with many native-born Israelis, Uri
did not have quite the post-Holocaust horror of Germany which so many European
Jews understandably are haunted by. Germans tended, as they still do, to respond
to the friendliness of Israelis by being especially welcoming in return. A further
small point which made Geller comfortable with going to Germany was that his mother
had been born in Berlin, so he felt some affinity with the country.
Uri was seen off by an odd party of well-wishers, consisting of his divorced parents,
Shipi's parents, Hanna - and Iris. With Uri on the flight was Shipi, who had left
school, but still had some time to go before he was required for his army service.
It looked very much as if Shipi was going to be Uri's personal and road manager.
Now a smart 17 year-old, Shipi was to all intents Uri's kid brother, and the partnership
would last to the present day, when he is both Uri's brother-in-law and all-purpose
manager. Iris would have gone to Germany with Uri, but her parents, who still
disapproved of the relationship, would not permit it; the good bye at the airport
was effectively the end of their affair.
It was, for many obvious reasons, a particularly poignant parting from Israel
for Uri. He had a lot to think about. 'I like to have these in-built safety devices
in my mind. So I made two vows as I walked up the steps of the plane. I swore
that every day, whatever happens to me, I will look at my life as one big holiday.
The second thing, I would thank God for what he had given me, and when the moment
comes when it ends, I will always be grateful. You see, in the back of my mind
I always kept a little room of fear that it might end and I might have to go back
and work. To me it was such a splendour and a privilege to wake up in the morning
whenever I wanted to, I didn't have to go to work. The days of me running around
in Tel Aviv being a messenger boy on my Vespa really were over. I could do whatever
I want, because everything around me was paid for.'
Uri and Shipi did not fly initially to Germany, but to Rome, which Uri was familiar
with, and where a friend had lent them an apartment. Uri rented a car in Rome,
and he and Shipi took a leisurely drive north, stopping off in St, Moritz, where
they met two Australian girls they spent some time with. Greedily devouring the
mountain scenery, the luxury and wealth all around them compared what they were
used to in Israel, they continued to Munich, where Katz was waiting for them,
a friendly-looking man of nearly 40, Uri observed, with a crinkly face. Uri liked
him immediately. Katz had an entire show tour already planned, but more importantly,
he introduced Uri to something he took an immediate liking to - indeed, became
quite addicted to: friendly tabloid newspaper coverage.
In Israel, the popular newspapers were always a little prickly about him, although
not necessarily in the good sense of being cautiously sceptical. There is, as
so many Israelis point out, a jealous streak in their national culture which manifests
as a desire to be spiteful about anyone successful. Geller fell foul of this,
and as part of the same syndrome, of the perils of what might be called the instant-expert,
black-and-white school of journalism, which dictates that if an academic - almost
any academic - with halfway decent looking qualifications is phoned up and is
prepared off-the-cuff to be derogatory about someone, what he says instantly counts
as the totality of expert opinion.
In Germany, almost from his first day, thanks to Yasha Katz's introduction, Uri
Geller hit on the other side of the same coin - newspapers who saw him as good
news, and would not naively assume that because one scientist dismissed him as
a fraud, all would do the same. In Uri Geller, the Munich newspaper Bild Zeitung,
the first in Germany to go big on him, found a fascinating story of the paranormal
personified in a character of a tabloid editor's dreams - young, handsome, heterosexual,
earnest, articulate and even from a favoured country - Israel being all the more
favoured after the terrorist massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics,
which co-incidentally occurred while Geller was living in the city. Had Uri Geller
been Polish or Nigerian, or ugly, or just a bit shy, his career would have been
stillborn. Indeed, the only extra thing he really could have done further to oblige
the international press in 1972 would have been to be female and gorgeous on top
of his other assets; but even a psychic has his limits.
Bild Zeitung went ahead with a six-part Uri Geller series, and even managed to
get some informal scientific back-up for him from a serious physicist. During
the work on Bild Zeitung's series, one of the paper's journalists asked if he
could do some really big stunt, such as stopping a cable car in mid-air. 'My powers
were in tip-top shape,' he says, 'And I wanted to prove myself. I wanted to show
the Germans the power of the mind and I did things for them that I doubt I can
do today, but they just happened, one after the other. After several unsuccessful
tries, Uri managed to do just what the journalist had suggested, with a cable
car-load of journalists in tow. The car controller told the reporters the main
power switch had simply flicked off. It was a most unusual incident, he said.
The story made headlines all over Germany; Uri repeated the same electrical interference,
or whatever it was, with the escalator in a department store, and stopped it dead.
More headlines. He bent the wedding ring of the mayor in the middle of Munich,
and a set of handcuffs at a police station - after he had been, with his agreement,
strip searched for any illicit conjuring aids. Then Bild Zeitung took Geller along
for an informal meeting in a hotel with a 32 year-old physicist who worked at
the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics at Garching, just outside Munich.
was infinitely more mainstream than Andrija Puharich, Dr. Friedbert Karger, it
is fair to say, was still not quite an everyday physicist. A specialist in thermonuclear
fusion research - the study of hot temperatures - he has also studied psychology
and philosophy, and has spent most of his professional life examining paraphysics,
and especially poltergeist and other psychokinetic phenomena, alongside his conventional
work at the Institute. Five years before Geller arrived in Munich, Karger was
one of two physicists from the Max Planck Institute allowed to use the Institute's
apparatus to assist in the investigation of what remains the most validated poltergeist
case in parapsychological history. (Anxious not to lose government research grants,
the director of the Institute at the time, a believer in some aspects of the paranormal,
permitted the equipment to be used so long as it was clear that the two young
scientists were doing the poltergeist research on their own behalf rather than
the prestigious laboratory.) A 19 year old secretary in a law firm in Rosenheim,
a small town in southern Germany, was causing unparalleled havoc without seeming
to do anything deliberately, disrupting electrical supply and telephone lines,
sending hanging lights swinging as she walked down a corridor and so on. Fraud
was never proven despite intensive sleuthing by scientists, journalists and the
police, the effects moved with the young woman when she changed jobs until they
finally faded out, and Friedbert Karger's whole perspective on physics changed.
were really a challenge to physics,' Karger says today. 'What we saw in the Rosenheim
case could be 100 per cent shown not to be explainable by known physics.' Because
he had been brave enough to say so, it was natural that Bild Zeitung looked to
Karger to do a preliminary an assessment of Uri Geller. He came prepared with
a ring, which he handled cautiously, never taking his eyes off it or letting it
leave his hand. Uri touched it gently in Karger's palm and concentrated on it.
The ring rapidly bent out of shape and cracked in two places. His colleague from
the Institute, Manfred Lipa, also examined the ring for tool marks and found none.
Karger also brought a diving watch, which Geller altered without any detectable
trickery. The journalists asked Karger if the damage to the ring could have been
caused by strong pressure. He said it could not. By a laser? No, Karger replied.
The only possibility was that Geller had tried some form of hypnosis, but he considered
that unlikely. Karger summed up: 'The powers of this man are a phenomenon that
in theoretical physics cannot be explained. It is like atomic science. At the
turn of the century, it was already known as a reality. It was just that at that
time, one could not yet explain it in terms of physics.'
A quarter of a century on, had Friedbert Karger altered his view at all? He had,
after all, become quite sceptical about some of the indiscriminate enthusiasm
surrounding supposedly paranormal phenomena. 'I came over to England to go on
a David Frost show on firewalking,' he laughs. 'I demonstrated that it has nothing
to do with paranormal abilities, and that anybody can do it. One can explain it
with physics. But of course, after I had done firewalking myself on the show,
people said, "Oh, you must also have paranormal abilities." It was very
funny. But Uri Geller? No, the pre-experiments I did showed me that there were
really some abilities in his case. Now, I didn't do anything in laboratory. And
I think what he does on TV may be something else - it's a pity he uses his abilities
in shows and that kind of thing - but what I saw him do, especially in one case
with a diving watch which is extremely difficult to change the time on, was very
impressive. He moved the hands by one hour, and we could observe both him and
the watch at all times, so it was not possible for him to do any tricks. Naturally,
many of my colleagues said the usual thing, that he was doing good tricks and
nothing else, but they had not done experiments with him, and I had.'
'I think he has both psychokinetic and telepathic abilities,' Dr Karger maintains.
Asked what the physical mechanism might be which explains how Uri's effects work,
he cautiously prefers not to speculate - but hints at the way his thinking has
been going - which is that the Uri Geller effect, poltergeist effects, and even
stranger paranormal anomalies might all be one and the same. 'It seems that we
have really to change our way of looking at these phenomena,' Karger says, 'Because
I have found that they are connected with such strange things as life after death.
It's unavoidable that you come into contact with these things when you investigate
such cases. Things like psychokinesis don't exist in isolation - and you are totally
helpless when you use only known physics. Many very well known physicists have
done this work, you know. Einstein investigated spiritistic mediums, and Pauli
and other Nobel prize winners did similar experiments. If you are ignorant of
these phenomena, it's easy to dismiss them, but if you have seen the phenomena
you have to ask the questions I have.'
Uri Geller as a poltergeist phenomenon?
It is certainly a new and interesting idea which could explain many of the bizarre
things which seem to have happened to when Uri and Puharich were together in Israel.
Poltergeists (German for 'noisy spirit') have been known and spoken of in dozens
of cultures, and are regarded as a major area for parapsychologcal research -the
problem being that the majority of cases parapsychologists examine are easily
discovered to be fraudulent. Most poltergeists are centred, as was the one in
the Rosenheim case, on adolescents or young adults - the very people who, spurred
on by horror films and TV documentaries, are the most likely to fake poltergeist
phenomena as an attention-seeking strategy. The kind of children and adolescents
in the better documented poltergeist cases, however, tend to be genuinely unhappy
as well as attention seeking. Uri, of course, was unhappy and lonely at times
as a child. He was also an admitted attention-seeker. What is most curious when
pursuing this line of thought is the number of friends of Uri who characterise
his boundless enthusiasm and energy, his impatience, his incaution and often crazy,
ill-advised ideas (along with his affectionate nature, generosity and many other
good qualities) as being distinctly adolescent in nature. Now if Uri, as an unhappy
child, did by any chance attract the attentions of a particularly strong poltergeist
(rather than those of the crew of the spaceship Spectra), is it possible, then,
that he still is haunted by such a presence? He often speculates, when pursuing,
as he still doggedly does, his 'controlled-by-extraterrestrials' theory, that
he might be under the power of some maverick UFO crew, who are, basically, having
a laugh at his, and humankind's expense. This, he feels, explains the trivial
- or 'clownish' as he calls it - nature of so many of the effects that 'happen
around him'. But how much better, perhaps, would be a poltergeist explanation;
that it is a poltergeist around him, not an alien, which has the sense of humour,
and continues to exercise it through Uri Geller, the world's oldest teenager?
Oddly enough, as a showbusiness tour in the summer of 1972, rather than
as a publicity bonanza, Geller's German interlude was not really very successful.
In Munich, he appeared at the Hilton Hotel and was the hottest ticket in town,
but elsewhere, the tour's success was mixed. In Hamburg, Geller found himself
booked for ten days into a magicians' spectacular, which he was most unhappy about,
although, he was gratified, he says, to find his fellow performers were fascinated
by how he did his 'tricks' without any special equipment or sleight of hand. That
was the first sign to date he had received that some magicians might one day come
to accept him as not being one of their own.
The real difficulty in Germany for Uri was that Yasha Katz had rather overextended
himself with promises. 'He was a good man, but he did want to earn a lot of money
through my talents. He and another guy who worked for El Al who he worked with
both had these tremendous dreams and visions of becoming multi millionaires from
Uri Geller, and they planned the big shows and auditoriums and record deals. Yasha
promised me a lovely little sports car, an Opel GT when I arrived, but it never
happened, so from the financial point of view, it was all a little disappointing.
His few months in Germany were successful for Geller, however, for social
reasons. Those parties back home at which the elite of Israel gathered and clamoured
around him represented an extraordinary social boost for a young man, but Israel
is a small, villagey place with only a very fuzzy and indistinct class system.
In Germany, Uri began his assault on the Matterhorn of social climbing - the world
of jet-setting European socialites. In Munich in particular, he found himself
being invited to every reception and cocktail party worth being seen at. And thus
it was that he came to be enjoying a passionate affair with Brigitte Bardot's
sister-in-law, Eleanor 'Lo' Sachs. Lo Sachs was married to Ernst, whose brother
Gunther was married to Bardot. Gunther and Ernst were the only shareholders in
a huge motor accessories business, and were both among the richest men in Europe.
While Gunther amused himself as an international playboy, Ernst was a quieter,
duller workaholic, who was 39 at the time, and usually away on business. It is
not hard, then, to see how a flamboyant young Israeli psychic superstar of 25
exploding onto the Munich social scene would have provided an interesting summer
distraction for the older Frau Sachs. The Sachs lived in a huge, antique-laden
mansion in Grunwald, close to Franz Beckenbauer, the German football star. Uri
and Shipi were invited to the Sachs place frequently before his affair with his
gracious social hostess began.'
'I guess in Yaffa, I had seen the mature woman. She was older and wiser she really
wanted me as me and not for anything else,' Uri says now. Maybe this is why I
was attracted to Lo too, except she was German and very beautiful and very, very
rich. I was looking for security and a mature love affair. Lo must have been close
to 40. It was an astounding thing for me, because In Israel, although I was making
good money and I managed to buy my mother a penthouse, but a tiny one, suddenly
I was brought into this palatial house in the outskirts of Munich with its indoor
swimming pool, outdoor swimming pool, suites, silver and gold everywhere. She
introduced me to all the Guccis and Schmuccis and Fendis. I had no idea about
such things. I was totally drunk in these surroundings and I liked it. It was
almost power; she was mingling with Royalty and politicians and singers and actors
and there were football players going through the house, and parties with caviar
'You must understand that Iris and Hanna and Yaffa were all beautiful young girls
but we were all very simple. We didn't know more than what was around us in Israel.
At those times, the late 60s and the early 70s, it was even a big deal to have
a black and white television, never mind dishwashers and washing machines. Those
were unheard of , and then suddenly you are catapulted into surroundings where
those things are totally normal and standard. It was ridiculous. I also loved
the openness and the cleanness and the meticulous Germanic ways, everything working,
the streets clean, the Post Office working. I liked the clinical cleanness. All
that appealed to me.'
'Lo was still married to Ernst, but he had an Italian girlfriend and didn't seem
to be living in the house. He even gave me his cufflinks as a gift, 22 carat gold
studded with diamonds. And, yes, the gigolo in me woke up. When I was still struggling,
I sometimes had this notion that I would marry someone rich, and if that didn't
work out, I would just become a gigolo. Lo and I used to go to restaurants, and
she would order caviar and she would buy me shoes and clothes. One day, we walked
into a shoe store and she bought me these beautiful long boots. Then as we were
sitting in the restaurant she tucked five or six hundred Marks into my boots under
the table so that I could pay the bill, so it didn't look like she was paying
it. I was living a fantasy. There was a total detachment from my past. I disconnected
myself from Iris who loved me madly, and from Hanna and from everyone in Israel.
For a while, I didn't want to hear about Israel any more.'
The summer idyll
could not last long. Andrija Puharich was urging Uri to get on a flight to the
States and start seeing a line-up of interested scientists he had contacted. And
then, while Uri was hanging out at the Sachs home one afternoon, something happened
to jolt him, to remind him sharply of his roots, and to make him realise that
he needed to be getting on with the more serious side of his life. 'Lo had a ping
pong table,' he relates, 'and I was in the attic either looking for the balls
or the rackets to play ping pong and there I stumbled on these pictures of Gunther,
Ernst as boys with their father - and Hitler. It was unbelievable. There were
all kinds of Nazi swastika signs and documents and books that blew me away. You
can imagine a 25 year-old Israeli standing in an attic with all this Nazi paraphernalia
around me, and I am sleeping with this woman and I am taking her money. I think
it shook me back into reality and out of the fantasy I was living. I didn't raise
it with Lo, though. She was good to me and I couldn't blame her for her husband
sitting on the lap of Hitler. But it was enough for me.