First published: Spring 2003
Tucked behind the southern Austrian hills in a farmhouse outbuilding sits the Weltmaschine (the World Machine). Created over 23 years by Franz Gsellmann, the machine is made up of hundreds of separate parts, including a ship’s propeller, two gondolas, a Dutch windmill, a Persian goblet, a salt and pepper set, five crucifixes, 560 wooden beads, a glass Jesus and a glass Mary, eight lampshades and a barometer, held together with a brightly coloured lattice of wire, pipes and gear wheels. Once powered into action the 25 motors, one-armed bandit, 64 bird whistles, 20 fan belts and 14 bells, whistle, clang and whirr. The 200 coloured lights flash. The poky Austrian farm building is filled with a blaze of noise, colour and light.
The creator of the machine, Franz Gsellmann, grew up dreaming of becoming an engineer, but with just four years of schooling, he seemed destined to spend his life on the family smallholding. His life changed in 1958: seeing an article in the local newspaper about the Brussels Atomium, a huge structure symbolising a crystallised molecule of iron, created by the engineer André Waterkeyn for the International Exhibition, Gsellmann travelled out of Austria for the first time, visited Belgium, and studied the architectural structure for himself.