Thinking about the concept of ‘time’ and our insignificance in the grand scheme of human history can be both daunting and depressing. Even understanding our complex perception of time is entire field of study within psychology, cognitive linguistics, and neuroscience. So in what ways could your average person understand the passage of time, or begin to perceive future events far outside of one’s own lifetime?
In 1993 contemporary German artist Manfred Laber (b. 1932) kick-started a project that would form a visual reputation of the passage of time in relation to the city of Wemding, Bavaria, Germany. Known as the Wemding Time Pyramid (or Zeitpyramide), Laber’s vision coincided with the 1200th anniversary of Wemding in 1993 as a way to conceptionally represent the length of time the town existed.
Every decade since 1993 a new block has been (and will continue to be) added to the Time Pyramid, with the fourth and most recent block scheduled to be set on 9 September 2023. When completed, the pyramid will have a 64 block base, a second tier of 36 blocks, a third with 16 blocks, and a top tier of 4 blocks, making the entire structure 120 blocks in total. Laber recognised future difficulty in material consistency, so each decade’s block isn’t limited to any particular material. Presumably the only criteria is that it lasts a long time. Twelve-hundred years to be exact.
With a decade per block and 120 blocks in total, Zeitpyramide isn’t scheduled to be completed until the year 3183 CE. To put this into perspective, the majority of us won’t even see the first row completed. In fact, it will take an average of eight lifetimes (or 640 years) for just the base to be finished. Our children, nor our grandchildren, nor our great-great grandchildren children… or great-great-great grandchildren will see the completion of the first tier. Laber himself only lived to see the addition of the current three blocks before passing away in 2018. The Foundation Wemdinger Zeitpyramide commented “this shows for the firsts time that his work goes beyond him… as it will also go beyond all of us who are currently involved.” (source)
By the time Zeitpyramide is completed in 3183, Polaris will no longer by our most northern star, that honour will go to Gamma Cephei. The average length of a day on Earth will be 1⁄30 longer due to lunar tides decelerating our planet’s rotation. This means we’ll have to compensate by adding a ‘leap second’ to a number of days during each month. Twelve hundred years is 438,291 days and 10,518,984 hours. If you watched the extended version of Lord of the Rings trilogy back to back from the time between the first and last block of Zeitpyramide being set, you could do so around 914,694 times. Cars have only been around for a little under 140 years and the printing press, arguably the single most important invention in human history, has only existed for a little over 580. We’ve only been technologically capable of sending a human into space for the past 60 years, and we’ve only accepted the fact that Earth orbits the sun (and not vis versa) for less than 400 years. With such major progress happening in less than 600 years, what will 1200 more years of progress bring humanity and our planet?
While Laber didn’t set out to answer this question, he certainly gave us the capacity to reflect on it. Humans are naturally visual creatures so Zeitpyramide, even if it’s more frightening the longer you think about it, is an affective way of representing time and our sheer insignificance in the grand scheme of human existence. Has your existential crisis begun to set in yet?
Above: The first stone being lowered in October 1993 (left) and the second stone in September 2003 (source).
The Foundation Wemdinger Zeitpyramide recognises the artwork’s obvious and difficult future. The Foundation is now focused on ensuring the Zeitpyramide tradition continues to be passed down through the generations by bringing Zeitpyramide to the world’s attention online. A website has been launched detailing the project (though it’s unfortunately only available in German) and the Foundation encourages visitors to use the hashtag #zeitpyramide when posting photos of the artwork on Instagram. To celebrate the installation of the fourth block in 2023, a kick-off event will be hosted on 17 September 2022 to promote and share the story and future of Zeitpyramide to anyone curious enough to get involved with the creation of a gift for the future of humankind.
Sources and Additional Reading
Donau-Ries-Aktuell – Die Wemdinger Zeitpyramide wächst weiter (2022)
NASA Earth Observatory – Planetary Motion: The History of an Idea that Launched the Scientific Revolution
Wemding Die Fuchsienstadt – Zeitpyramide (German)
Wikipedia – Time perception / Zeitpyramide / Timeline of the far future
Zeitpyramide (official website)