Wizards use real magic

Nothing is what it seems

The magical lady of diamonds? Dissolves into thin air in the hand of the magician. The supposed Jack of Hearts? Disappear with the savings over the mountains. The ace of spades ready to play? On closer inspection it only turns out to be two of spades. About magic, charlatanry and the human senses on the wrong track.

Playing cards are Logemann's magic tool. He prefers to call them his friends. © Eva Häberle

Tack, tick. Something is wrong here. It wasn't that late yet. Tack, tick. According to the clock in the foyer of the Magiculum magic theater in Hamburg, the performance should have started ten minutes ago. Tack tick. But what does it say on the clock? "Sometimes everything goes wrong". And the hands are running ... Tack, tick. …backward. In fact, the performance won't start for ten minutes. And yet one hears newly arriving guests screaming in horror over and over again: “What? Are we too late? ”A few moments later, a relieved“ Ah, this is a fun watch ”follows. The first illusion of the evening - the magical loss and the magical finding of 20 minutes of life - takes place even before the performance.

Jan Logemann is on time. Today he stands in front of around 30 spectators on the small stage in the Magiculum. Immediately before their eyes, playing cards in Logemann's hands change their image. He guesses randomly drawn cards blindly, steals other cards secretly from many a hand and pocket. At the end of the performance, he makes the wedding ring disappear from a spectator who does not know what is happening to him. The ring finally reappears in a sealed bag of gummy bears. A pre-arranged game with an assistant in the audience? No, it was the author of this text's ring. After 90 entertaining minutes you can only see two expressions on the faces of the audience: Some smile happily, others shake their heads in disbelief at what they have just seen.

Double game

Logemann had already explained to the audience at the beginning that of course he cannot do magic. Everything is tricks, finger games and clever diversionary maneuvers. And everyone knows: That's true. One almost hopes for one or the other explanation - but instead Logemann flirts: Of course he has playing cards that could change their surface. He also uses special household elastic bands that have a Velcro fastener for his tricks. And again everyone knows: that is of course not true. Only one spectator escapes a disappointed "Oh." At some point in the course of the evening no spectator knows what is faked and what is not. And you can see from Logemann's nonchalance that he knows: his double game - presented with a lot of humor - works.

Logemann was both world champion of card art and magician of the year. However, he prefers to call himself: a magician. He specifically emphasizes the artist. He doesn't like to play with the words sorcery and magic. “In our profession, many colleagues actually ask themselves: Am I focusing on sorcery and magic - and pretending that unearthly powers are involved? Is it even allowed to do that? Or is it not enough if the audience knows: I'm lied to you in a nice way by me tonight. Long practiced, handcrafted tricks. Most of the time preparing a new act is actually spent practicing the hand movements, over and over. “The best thing about every new trick is: at some point there comes a moment when I believe myself that I have made the card disappear. Even if I know it's just a trick - for me it's real magic right now. "

Is it all just tricks? Regardless, the audience of the magician Jan Logemann is still enchanted. © Eva Häberle

Logemann could have used his ambition and talent differently. Anyone who walks across the Ramblas in Barcelona or through Montmartre in Paris immediately sees what is meant: cone players who present their tricks almost as perfectly as Logemann and not only make small balls disappear under nutshells, but also some notes from their wallets innocent tourist. “Maybe you could even learn something from a technical point of view. But ultimately I couldn't reconcile something like that with my conscience. I wouldn't be unscrupulous enough for that. ”You don't have to travel to Spain or France, in Hamburg, too, magic and lazy magic are geographically close to one another: if you stand in front of the Magiculum, you just have to turn around and see the prison towers of the notorious“ Santa Fu ”protruding as the Fuhlsbüttel correctional facility is affectionately known.

Prestige, power and money

Sonja Veelen researches the topic of impostors. © Katrin Binner

A famous former inmate of the Santa Fu is Mike Weppler, known as Billion Mike. One of his many offenses: He sold villas that - well - didn't actually belong to him. While most would call him a con man, he likes to refer to himself as a storyteller in interviews. "Many impostors present themselves very colorful afterwards, in order to make their deed appear less reprehensible to themselves and others," says Sonja Veelen. She is the author of the book "Impostors - how they deceive us" and works in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Philosophy at the Philipps University of Marburg. According to Veelen, high-stacking is about fooling others into thinking that you hold a higher social position than is actually the case: “Imposters pretend to be richer, more knowledgeable, more educated and more respected. In doing so, they usually hope for prestige, power and money - or simply live their dream job without permission. Sometimes it is felt that there is great social pressure that drives people to pile up, for example, tempting the failed medical student to start his professional life as if he had passed the exam without any effort. "

It's almost a bit of a paradox: the bigger the dizziness, the more likely we are to believe the impostor. One example is the juggling of Victor Lustig: In 1925 the impostor had read in the newspaper that the Eiffel Tower was falling into disrepair and should possibly be torn down. Without further ado, he posed as the Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Post and forged a tender that offered the Eiffel Tower for sale. He sent out invitations to negotiate sales to Paris scrap dealers - and one of them actually bought the 7,000 tons of Eiffel Tower steel for around $ 50,000, which is roughly $ 700,000 today. Lustig went to Vienna with the money. The scrap dealer meanwhile did not go to the police out of shame, which prompted Lustig a month later to try the trick again, but it failed. However, he was not captured for the coup.

We are all too easily caught by impostors. According to Veelen, this is mainly due to the fact that they manipulate certain mechanisms and automatisms that we have to rely on to function in everyday life. It is a bit like the clock in the foyer of the Magiculum, which we naturally assume that it does not want to fool us. “We always assume that the person we are talking to is telling us the truth. If he then also uses certain symbols with which we associate expertise, for example talking medical jargon or wearing a judge's robe, then he strengthens our trust even more, ”says Veelen.

The drama becomes reality

Seen in this way, there are clear parallels between the impostor and the magician: “Both are masters of deception and use similar techniques. For example, the emotional distraction: With their charm and wit, they get their viewers or victims not to look where the trick is happening, but only where the illusion really works, ”says Veelen. And like with the magician who suddenly believes in the magic in his piece himself, impostors sometimes trick themselves because of the perfect impression. "The most convincing thing is a con man who believes in his own lie," says Veelen. “Anyone who flies a passenger plane without a license is mistaken for a pilot and treated that way. As a result, the self and the role merge more closely. "

The reason why we cannot expose impostors or disenchant magicians in most cases also has to do with how our brain works. “We only ever perceive a very simplified world,” says brain researcher John-Dylan Haynes, who works as a professor at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience at Charité Berlin. “Our brain is constantly busy compressing information in order to create a meaningful picture. Attention control is an important tool to prevent the flood of information from getting out of hand: We usually focus our attention on things that are unusual. For example, if we live in a remote forester's house, we become prudent to every passing car. But if you live on a busy street, at some point you can barely hear the passing cars. ”In other words, the magician who lets everyone watch his right hand can do whatever he wants with his left hand. According to Veelen, the impostor once again used uniforms and titles to distract his audience from the non-existent with the sheen of the noble.

Brain researcher John Dylan Haynes knows: Nothing and nobody deceives as well as our brain. © Eva Häberle

Basically, the picture we have of the world has nothing to do with reality, but only with different brain states. As a layperson, one can imagine that what we see through the eyes and hear through the ears is a perfect reflection of reality. Today we know that the brain, as a mediator between the senses and reality, simplifies, changes and distorts - until everything makes sense. “The best example are the eyes: we have a two-dimensional image on our retina. Nevertheless, our brains believe we are seeing the world in 3D, ”says Haynes.

The Müller-Lyer illusion is one of the most famous optical illusions. At first glance it is very clear: the line with the arrows pointing inwards is the longer one. It is only when we measure that we are amazed to find that both lines are of the same length. In fact, our perception of reality was distorted.

The world in our heads

“With optical, acoustic or other meaningful illusions, a real thing of reality is distorted in our heads. Each of us is subject to illusions in everyday life. It looks different with the phenomenon of hallucinations: Here something non-existent is only created in the brain - be it through drugs, diseases or other errors in the brain, ”says Haynes. It becomes particularly clear that only our brain determines what we perceive as reality. The New York neurologist Oliver Sacks has collected some interesting cases of such phenomena in his book "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat". In one case, a brain tumor patient repeatedly saw scenes from her Indian homeland in front of her eyes. They always seemed real to her at the moment of the hallucination - and fortunately, beautiful. It was only after the seizures that she realized that she had been in the hospital the whole time. In another case, an elderly lady in a nursing home heard music from her childhood days in her head overnight - so loud that she could hardly hear anything else. Such felt truths cannot be created by magicians or impostors. Only the biggest juggler in the group can do that: our brain, in which ... tack, tick, tack, tick. ... sometimes everything goes wrong.

Jan Logemann enchants his audience with amazing tricks, Silke Kettner exudes positive energy as a clinic clown. Read our story about them here.