With all that’s new and exciting in the world these days, 21st century humans might begin to think that almost every truly remarkable innovation has happened on our watch. Look! We’ve got carbon nanotubes! Self-driving cars! 3-D printed food! I don’t want to take away from these modern marvels, but I have to say, while we were in Germany recently, we saw a wonder that could turn the world around.
Your first glimpse might not be all that striking (or all that understandable–is that a building on a tripod?), but consider the backdrop for this technology. When this mill was constructed, around 1766, it was part of a community of thatch-roofed dwellings where even the wealthy families were likely to be sharing their houses with their livestock, and where the smoke from the hearth did not rise through a chimney, but collected under the peak of the roof to cure hanging haunches of meat.
Consider the engineering talent that gave rise to this mill, built on a single axis. By moving an enormous lever, the entire structure can be turned so that the sails of the windmill catch the most wind. Consider, also, how impressive the trees must have been that provided the timber, both for the axis on which the weight of the entire building sits, and for the lever that turned it all. Liebling and I are well trained in photograph etiquette, so we’re smiling for the camera; otherwise we would have been standing and staring, gobsmacked.
The name of this amazing contraption is the Bockwindmühle, (I’m not sure which meaning of “Bock” applies here, but the rest is “wind mill”) originally built in Algermissen, in Niedersachsen, and later dismantled and moved to the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Freilichtmuseum, near where Liebling and Chiquito live. Those Germans–they spend letters like there’s no tomorrow (though maybe it’s just that they pack them into fewer, longer words?). Even more remarkable, a German will tell you that German pronunciation is simplicity itself–just say it how it looks!