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Ilse von Jacobi, a journalist living in Munich who wrote frequently about metaphysics and the paranormal, had read about Eduard Meier in a newsletter printed and circulated by a self-study group in Munich in the summer of 1975. Interested, she contacted the young man who edited the newsletter and, through him, began to monitor developments in the Meier story as reported by witnesses. A few months later, after seeing photographs Meier had taken, she decided to interview him for publication.
When von Jacobi arrived in Hinwil in December 1975, she found herself one of about eighteen people who had come to the Meier home to listen to the man speak. She stayed for two days.
"I was impressed," she recalled. "I was convinced that he had had the experiences he talked about. The facts he gave me, the pictures, the personal impression he created, there was nothing wrong. I wanted to make him known and to put his story in the papers because it was real. But something made him mad, and he told me I should not publish anything about him, so I left. But it was for his own good that he become known."
Von Jacobi took her article to Quick magazine, one of the two largest slicks published weekly in Germany, with circulation in Switzerland and Austria as well. Hesitant to run such a story without verification, the magazine editors assigned a staff member to Hinwil to interview Meier. When the writer returned with substantially the same information von Jacobi had given to them, the editors set the article for publication on July 8, 1976.
The magazine circulated rapidly through the town of Hinwil, carrying a story that astonished Meier's neighbors. For nearly a year and a half, they had observed and disapproved of his constant comings and goings at all hours of the day and night, but not one had confronted Meier about his purpose or attended one of the meetings at his home. The reason he now gave for his behavior made them angry and made them laugh all at once: Meier claimed that he had been telepathically contacted by alien beings from a planet in a star cluster known as the Pleiades. Through telepathy, said the article, the Pleiadians frequently had directed Meier to remote locations near Hinwil, where they landed a seven-meter silvery beamship, disembarked, and met with him face-to-face. Most of Meier's contacts were with a female named Semjase for the Pleiadians, according to Meier, had found that females seemed to be far less intimidating to earth humans. Meier met with her often, and she allowed him to photograph her beamship as it approached for landing and again, as it ascended.
Many people laughed. But others seemed awed by the clear, color daylight photographs of the beamships and captivated by the thought of space beings alighting on earth in a gentle and peaceful fashion. The July article in Quick led to a series of articles in various European magazines that appeared throughout the summer and fall of 1976. Il Giornale die Misteri, in Italy, published von Jacobi's original piece on Meier in August; then, in September, the largest tabloid in Switzerland, Blick, ran the front-page title "Zurcher verbluffte Erich von Daniken"-"Zurich Man Amazed Erich von Daniken." More articles followed in the German magazines Echo der Frau, in October and Neue Welt, in November. One of Meier's neighbors had a son living in South Africa who even read of Meier in a newspaper there.
The neighbors scoffed at the articles, certain that Meier somehow had perpetrated a hoax with his strange and seemingly purposeless perambulations about the countryside. But for those who visited the Hinwil house to investigate the claims further, Meier presented evidence that looked convincing. He showed scores of bright color photographs of Semjase's ship hovering just above a jagged line of evergreens or edged into the branches of a giant leafless birch. In his journal, he had recorded each of his meetings with the Pleiadians - detailed conversations, some thirty minutes, some longer than an hour. The journal now consumed several hundred pages and continued to grow rapidly.
One afternoon, at their request, Meier took a small group into a meadow completely surrounded by tall evergreens. He told them that several nights earlier, he had met with the Pleiadians in the same meadow and that he and Semjase had sat in the grass by the trees and talked for an hour. The people imagined the scene-a glowing, almost weightless craft suddenly descending upon the meadow, the luminescence from its shell pulsating against the wall of darkened trees; then, the alighting of a lithesome and humanlike creature, gentle in approach, and filled with wisdom.
And there, on the ground where the people now stood with Meier in the daylight, they saw three large circles, each equidistant to the others, peculiar, flattened swirls six feet across, perfectly symmetrical, perfectly rendered in the tall grass.
Those who heard Meier speak on Saturday afternoons in his home and who read parts of his journal found the writings beautifully conceived, far more complex and sophisticated than a man of Meier's station would be capable of imagining. Semjase, said Meier, had told him of life elsewhere in the galaxy, the history of her people, and that of the earth. She had taught him to understand earth humankind's place in the galaxy. Order exists in the universe, she said, more advanced civilizations teach the less advanced, and spiritual evolution must parallel technological progress. "We, too, are still far removed from perfection and have to evolve constantly," she explained to Meier. "When we choose to come in contact with an earth human, we do so because we feel an obligation to the developing universe and to life which is already existing throughout the universe. We are not missionaries or teachers, but we endeavor to keep order throughout all areas of space. Now and then, we begin contacts with inhabitants of different worlds by searching out individuals whom we feel can accept our existence. We then impart information to those contacts but only when their race has developed and begins to think. Then, slowly, we and others prepare them for the truth that they are not the only thinking beings in the universe."
Meier claimed that he continued to meet with the Pleiadians in the forests of eastern Switzerland and that the telepathic signals warning him of an impending contact could come at any time of the day or night.
"It happens like a shot," he explained. "Like a cool wind going across your forehead, very, very weak, though." Following that came vibrations inside his head that produced symbols. "On the one hand, it is like pictures which appear, and on the other hand, it is like a voice. There are no words for it... it is as if you heard a voice in the symbols."
Meier could be in a room full of people when, suddenly, his eyes would close, his skin would grow pale, and he would begin to perspire faintly. He would then go to his room and dress in boots and a jacket if the air was cool or a gray leather coat if the weather turned bitter. Popi had made him a warm hat like those worn in the mountains of the Middle East, and she would fix him coffee; but if the coffee was not ready in five minutes, he would leave without it. He could be gone a half hour or half a day.
One afternoon, Meier told his wife that he was about to have a contact and that she and the children were to come with him. Also allowed would be two others who happened to be at the house, one of whom was Hans Schutzbach, a man in his late twenties. Skeptical of Meier from the beginning and watching him closely, Schutzbach had studied every photograph Meier had taken of the beamships and had helped him to catalogue the photos. He also had driven Meier on many of his night contacts. Although a few witnesses, including Schutzbach, had seen strange lights at night that could have been beamships, no one except Meier had seen one in daylight.
"I put everybody in my car as usual," recalled Schutzbach, "and Billy went ahead on his moped, empty-handed. He told us to just follow him, and he went every which way. Outside Hinwil, we finally came to a little hill filled with trees. It was very exciting."
Meier told them, "All of you wait here." Then he drove off.
"I don't remember how long we were standing there," said Popi, "when all of a sudden, Atlantis jumped up and screamed, 'Look, Mommy, over there!' We all got up and there was the ship about a thousand meters away. It was big and circular. We wanted to see more, but the ship soon disappeared."
When the child screamed, Schutzbach jumped up and saw something rising out of the forest into the air.
"I presume it might have been a balloon," he said later, "but I have no proof of that." He tried to take a picture, but he was so nervous that at first he forgot, and then, he shook so badly he jerked the camera. "That's why the picture is not sharp," he explained. "All you see is a little dot."
The neighbors were certain Meier was crazy. "No one took him seriously," one of them said later. The mayor of a nearby village said that Meier's stories were pure fantasy because he, the mayor, had never seen a UFO in the vicinity. People in Hinwil laughed at the mention of Meier.
"He is a Spinner," they would say, one who is nuts.
Or they called him "Verruckte," a lunatic.
"Are we blind," asked one couple, "or are we stupid because we don't see these things and he does?"
Now when they watched him searching the night sky with binoculars, the neighbors would snicker and say, "He is looking for his lady from the galaxies."
But the articles that, by now, had appeared in several European countries attracted dozens of curious people from all over the continent. They came to talk to Meier about the messages from the Pleiadians. To the surprise of the neighbors, these people appeared to be well-to-do, most of them driving Mercedes, many all the way from northern Germany. The neighbors could not understand how such people could be so taken in.
"For us and everybody else in the neighborhood," said Franz Hansler, who lived in an apartment overlooking the farmhouse, "it was a very questionable situation. We all thought he was a 'fantasist.' The whole house was a strange affair."
Marie Hansler often spoke to Popi, the only neighbor who did. She bought eggs from Popi and considered her "a very, very nice lady. But," she added, "I wanted nothing to do with her husband!" Often Popi came to her crying, and Hansler would teach her to sew and knit.
"She was not a woman to be envied," said Hansler. "She suffered."
Meier himself did nothing directly to offend the neighbors. But his teachings, his telling of fantastic stories that they felt were untrue, would "aggravate" them. And sometimes, so many cars trailed from the Meier driveway into the street that they blocked traffic. One of the town administrators, Rudolf Ruegg, thought that all of Meier's stories were "imagined, invented. I think he invented it all." Ruegg received many calls from neighbors near No. 10 Wihaldenstrasse, most of them complaints about the presence of so many cars. Once, a worried mother called town officials because her daughter had gone to the Meier home.
In the beginning, Popi tried to talk to some of the neighbors. "But I noticed they didn't believe me," she said, "and I started to ignore them. At that time, I had my own problems."
One Saturday morning, as she walked in the village with her two sons, she saw two elderly women in front of the town hall. "I didn't know them," she said later. "The children knew them, I think, from kindergarten. So they started to play with the children. Then they asked, 'What's your name?' Bashenko could not yet say his name so he always said Baschel. Then they asked, 'And your last name?' 'Meier.' One of the women made a long face, and the other one asked me if I was the wife of that Meier. And I said, 'Yes.' And she said, 'Are you as crazy as he is?'
"The children even had problems in school," continued Popi, "because the parents of the other children did not believe in all this. Atlantis went to kindergarten and the children always made fun of him. They called him 'UFO' Meier. He came home crying so many times. I told him to go to the teacher, but the teacher didn't believe in all this either. He told me that my husband and I were doing weird things with UFOs and that this wouldn't be the best influence for the kids. I told Billy it would have been better if none of this had happened."
That summer, 1976, just before all of the publicity on Meier's alleged contacts with the Pleiadians, Hans Schutzbach had accompanied Meier one afternoon to a secluded meadow not far from Hinwil. There, in the presence of Schutzbach, Meier held out a tape recorder and captured the sounds made by one of the beamships. The sound, an eerie and grating noise, like a high-pitched cross between a jet engine and a chain saw, thought Schutzbach, seemed to emanate from a point in open air about thirty feet above Meier. When Meier raised his hand and circled it, the sound increased; when he lowered his hand, the sound softened. Then the two, loud and soft, interlaced in an ethereal resonance. Suddenly Meier made an angry gesture and the sounds stopped altogether. Schutzbach turned and saw a game warden and a policeman, one with binoculars, plus another policeman with a dog and two men on motorcycles.
Before Schutzbach left the scene, he had "a real good look around," combing the nearby landscape, walking to the few trees dotting the meadow and examining their branches. He saw no speakers, cables, or balloons, nothing.
Two days later Schutzbach secretly returned to the same meadow with two friends, and the three of them tried to re-create the sounds using the tape he had made with Meier. They hung speakers high in the trees and used amplifiers, but the apparatus was obvious and the sound weak and distant.
Hans Schutzbach drove Meier to perhaps twenty of his contacts in the forests outside Hinwil, many of them on cold, damp nights. A self-proclaimed nosy person, he watched Meier closely, but never saw him make anything or handle any materials that could have been used to fabricate the sounds or the photographs. Schutzbach's biggest problem, though, was the strange landing tracks. Whenever the beamships left them in the tall grass, he would help Meier measure and photograph them. Schutzbach thought about them often. He saw many people try to prove Meier a fraud by duplicating the tracks, but they always looked much different. "The tracks made by Billy were perfect," Schutzbach said, "The ones by other people were a bad copy."
On the night of June 13, 1976, several people accompanied Meier to a clearing in the forest where he was to have a contact with the Pleiadians. It was 2 a.m. when they arrived. Meier told them that to demonstrate the Pleiadians' existence, Semjase had consented to a light display where the ships would take on color and fly in erratic patterns. Among those who waited was Guido Moosbrugger, the principal of a small school in Austria.
Moosbrugger had first come in contact with Meier a few months earlier when he traveled to Munich to attend a series of monthly lectures on UFOs. At one of the lectures, Meier had been invited to speak and to show some of his photographs. "I was so fascinated by those pictures," recalled Moosbrugger, "I sent a letter immediately to him in Hinwil and asked him whether I might visit him." Meier had consented and Moosbrugger visited Hinwil in mid-May 1976. During his stay, Moosbrugger had followed Meier to a contact, Meier on his moped, Moosbrugger and Schutzbach in a car. The three men had driven along a dirt path through a field until Meier signaled for them to stop. Then, he had told Schutzbach and Moosbrugger to wait there.
"He took off on his motorbike to where the contact would take place," remembered Moosbrugger. "After he left, I thought to myself, I wonder what would happen if I would follow him to see where he went. When he came back from the contact he said that Semjase had welcomed him with the words, 'You brought two men with you. Mr. Moosbrugger had a thought for a short moment what would happen if he would follow you. It didn't concern me though; that was just his honest interest.'"
The two men had sat in the car waiting for Meier to return when high above the tree line two miles away they saw a fire-red disk "as big as the headlights from a distance of one hundred meters." The red disk moved back and forth, then suddenly disappeared. After a few seconds, a rotating silver ball spun into view, then two smaller silver spheres appeared beneath the first, also spinning. At the base of the central and largest of the spinning spheres, a large drop formed and hung lower and lower until it broke free and plummeted, disappearing in two or three seconds. Suddenly all of the lights had disappeared.
"After another pause," Moosbrugger explained later, "the very same disk appeared again, became bigger and bigger, and we thought it flew toward us. Then it shrank and disappeared."
Moosbrugger had seen exotic fireworks displays before, but what he saw that night seemed more solid and vivid, like a color cartoon taking place in the blackened Swiss sky; not little explosions of gunpowder, but more the brilliant illumination of strangely behaving physical objects. Later he wrote, "Of course, I cannot be angry if somebody does not believe this story, if they cannot or do not want to accept it as reality. I don't mind if people call me crazy or say I have lots of imagination, but I do not want to be called a liar."
Moosbrugger knew nothing about using a 35mm single lens reflex camera, but he would not return to Hinwil without one. From a friend he borrowed a Pentax, a tripod, and a telephoto lens and had his friend load film into the camera for him, and set the adjustments for nighttime exposures. Three weeks later, Moosbrugger had returned to Hinwil, and he now stood in the dark beneath tall pines at the edge of the clearing, his Pentax and his telephoto lens mounted on the tripod. Out of his sight, Hans Schutzbach and his brother, Konrad, also had positioned themselves in the woods, each with a camera. Nearby, the rest of the group ate cake, sipped hot coffee, and watched the dark sky from a knoll. Suddenly, over the forest, they saw first a red disk, then a silver disk. The lights hovered, then grew, then just as suddenly disappeared. Moosbrugger got the red disk on film. He then bent over his tripod to adjust the angle of his camera when a third disk-shaped object appeared, this one alternating brilliant colors. When Moosbrugger looked up again, this disk had gone, but immediately, very high in the sky, he saw another silver disk edge on, a bar of intense light, with a "glittering rain of fire falling straight down." Moosbrugger captured this last disk on film, an image that looked like a huge brilliant jellyfish with tentacles drifting across the sky. Before and after Moosbrugger photographed the disk, the intense yellow-white bar changed its form several times, then softened to a glow, and the observers on the ground saw the luminous ball fly slowly away until it was only a bright red speck in the distance. Then, it ascended rapidly and disappeared. Meier had had his fifty-fifth contact.
The articles released in the summer and fall of 1976 persuaded more and more people to travel to Hinwil to see Meier. Every weekend, visitors came to the house, sometimes as many as twenty, some of them familiar, some of them new. All of them wanted to see Meier's photographs of the beamships and to hear about life elsewhere in the universe. What is the Pleiadian culture like? Their government? Their society? How advanced is their technology? How do they communicate with Meier? What do they look like? Are their intentions peaceful?
According to Meier, the Pleiadians lived to be one thousand years old; Semjase herself was comparatively young, 330. Her home planet, Erra, was only slightly smaller than Earth, yet was populated by far fewer people, less than 500 million. Upon discovering Erra's hospitable but young environment, the Pleiadians themselves had engineered the planet to support life, and today its landscape looked much like the countryside found on Earth, with hills, grass, trees, and running water. They located production and processing facilities in remote regions, away from the population, and utilized nearby uninhabited planets for mining. The Pleiadians told Meier that were he to travel to Erra, he would find species similar to the horse, cow, rabbit, and fish.
Robots and androids performed most physical labor on Erra. The androids looked and acted so human that the only way to distinguish them from humans was by their dress. Each wore a uniform, the color indicating the job the android was assigned to perform. They appeared unusually lifelike because their skin was made of living protoplasm, and their brain, too, was an organism capable of natural responses and conversation.
Families not only existed on Erra, but they were purportedly tight and caring. Though sexually mature in their early teens, Pleiadians did not marry until after they had completed their education, a process that began when they were four years old and lasted until they reached seventy. By that time they would have acquired specific skills in fifteen or sixteen disciplines, or, in the case of Semjase, as many as thirty.
There was no government.
"They have, what you call here, 'spiritual leaders,'" Meier told those who came to see him. "And the highest form that they have for their leadership they call Horralft. It's a form of life that's not hard face and body, and not a real spiritual form. It's a middling between both of them. If you put your hand into them, it will go through. The Horralft will not give out orders. They give out something else, what we call 'suggestions.' And then, each one on the planet, by his own wisdom in evolution, tries to do his best out of this."
With all of the people coming to her home, to see her husband, taking up his time, Popi felt as alienated as she had when she first moved to Switzerland. When she was only seventeen, Popi had met Meier on Christmas Day, 1965, in the city of Thessaloniki, Greece. Meier was then nearly twenty-nine. Only a few months earlier he had lost his left arm. A month after they met, Meier had asked Popi to marry him, and when the girl's mother would not consent, the two of them fled to a small town where they were married on February 13, 1966. For four years afterward they had traveled from Switzerland to India and back again, working and living in Pakistan, on the Isle of Crete, in the mountains of the Middle East, and in India. When they returned to Switzerland, Popi understood little of the Swiss German spoken in her husband's country. A few years later, when the contacts began, she communicated better in Swiss German, but she still knew so little High German that she found her husband's writings about the contacts difficult to read. "I tried to read them," she remembered, "but I just didn't understand anything. So I made myself a wrong picture of all this.
"It got bad," she continued, "when all these people began coming to Hinwil to see my husband. Most of them were women, and he used to take many of them to the contact sites. I was very jealous at that time. Not that I was thinking he would see another woman. It's just that nobody ever said they would watch my children so I could go with him. They just came to him and said, 'Let's go!' So I was very angry."
One of those who now attended the meetings regularly was Bernadette Brand, a computer technician. In July 1976, she was riding the train home from work one evening, reading Quick magazine, when she saw the article on Meier.
"I remember saying to my colleague," she later recalled, "'Another crazy who says he is having contact with extraterrestrials.' He asked me whether I believe that baloney. I said, 'Of course extraterrestrials exist, but why would they come here? If they went anywhere it would be to a place where they could learn something, but not here.' I thought it was awful that somebody said he was having 'contact' and fooling people. You should put them behind bars. All of them."
Brand knew the Schutzbach brothers, Hans and Konrad. When they told her about an invalid they knew who claimed to have contact with beings from another star system, she failed to connect their story with the article she had seen in Quick. She said to them, "Another crazy around here!"
Konrad tried to tell Bernadette about Meier, but she would not listen. "Don't be so stupid," she said.
"You don't understand," said Konrad, "you have no idea."
And the two of them argued about Meier for the rest of the summer.
One Saturday evening in the fall, Konrad brought his friend Jakobus Bertschinger to Bernadette's apartment for dinner. "The whole time," remembered Bernadette, "they were talking about some woman, like, 'Don't take her seriously. When she's jealous she makes everybody crazy.'"
After dinner the three of them drove to Hinwil to see a "friend" of Konrad's who lived in an old farmhouse in the middle of several apartment buildings. He did not tell her the friend was Eduard Meier, though as they turned off Wihaldenstrasse onto the long alleyway, Bernadette guessed who lived there. By now she was willing to meet the man.
A woman met them at the front door and said, "Wait here. You can't come in yet." Then she whispered to Konrad. When they finally entered the house, Konrad told Bernadette, "We can't go into the living room; there is a discussion going on in there."
In the kitchen, Bernadette brewed coffee for the people in the living room, and while the coffee percolated, a woman ran though carrying a large container of water swirling with coal dust. Most households kept this especially fine grade of coal dust for emergencies, to induce vomiting in children. Bernadette wondered, has someone tried to commit suicide?
Then, Meier himself walked into the kitchen and told Bernadette to come into the living room with the coffee. Immediately, she saw a woman with long dark hair slumped over in a chair, and another woman washing her arms and forehead with cold water and patting her on her cheeks to keep her awake. But the woman in the chair was "white, like snow," her head drooping. Popi had swallowed close to fifty sleeping pills. A second woman replaced the first, continuing to bathe her in cool water and pat her on the cheeks. Bernadette thought, if these people keep on doing it this way, this woman is going to die.
When the second woman complained of being tired, Bernadette offered to take her place. She was not as gentle as the other two. She slapped the woman across the face as hard as she could. Then she slapped her again and again. The woman started to whimper and said to stop hitting her; her teeth hurt so bad.
"If you keep your eyes open," said Bernadette, "I won't hit you anymore."
But the woman again nodded off, and Bernadette slapped her face hard. She wanted to make her angry. For three hours, Bernadette slapped the woman's face.
Then suddenly, the woman leaped out of the chair, grabbed Bernadette, and knocked her to the floor. The woman, though slight, was unbelievably strong, and tossed the 160-pound Bernadette around the living room until Meier stepped in and helped Bernadette subdue her. Then, Meier wrestled his wife into a bed and told her if she fell asleep she would have to come back into the living room. But she closed her eyes again, and Bernadette slapped her across the face. The woman hit her back, screaming and cursing her husband. Using only one hand, Meier whipped off his belt, got it around her wrists, wrapped it quickly around the back of her knees, and fastened her to a chair. Popi continued to curse him and the others, then closed her eyes and started to nod off again. Bernadette slapped her. Then again and again. Suddenly, Popi strained against the leather belt and broke it, but just as suddenly, she seemed to calm down. It was almost 6 a.m. She had last vomited at midnight, and the toxicology center had told them to keep her awake for six hours after she had emptied her stomach of the remaining pills. Bernadette quit, and the other two women went back to washing the woman's face and limbs in cold water.
One Saturday afternoon, a few weeks after Popi's attempted suicide, Bernadette accompanied Konrad to a meeting at the Hinwil house with about fifty other people. Though she had expected to despise Meier, she found him gentle and honest, not the Schwindler she had imagined him to be. And this caused confusion because what the man said of his contacts and his trips into outer space still sounded crazy to her. In a short while, she was coming often to the Hinwil house. And late one night, after she had been to see Meier, she was driving home from Hinwil alone.
"As I was driving, I got this feeling all of a sudden that I had to stop. I thought, you are crazy. All these ships and stuff make you crazy. So I drove on. But that feeling came again, a very strong feeling that I had to stop, so I stopped the car and stayed inside, locking all the doors. Then, I waited in the dark, curious what would happen.
"I was looking out the window from my side when I saw a light rise above the forest. It was snow-white, about the width of my hand from where I sat. It stopped for a moment, then went back down, and when it sank back, it was fire-red. I thought somebody was playing with fireworks, but this was so precise. Rockets don't do that. I waited awhile and after one or two minutes, it rose again. Then, all of a sudden, it was gone.
"I thought: should I drive on? No, wait a little longer. And indeed a little farther away, it is hard to estimate, maybe five or six hundred meters, an orange light rose, again from behind the forest. It rose very slowly, and it was very big. I would say it was a quarter the size of the moon. This orange light rose and then looked like it was going up stairs, zigzag, and then very quietly it flew away. I could see if for about twenty minutes. From that area, you are able to see the Alps, and I saw it disappear in the Alps. It got smaller and smaller."