Imagine a republic in a spherical house located on a small hill.
There you have it, a Kugel on a Mugel
Edwin Lipburger was an artist with a dream. Born in Vorarlberg, Austria, his 1969 dream developed into something real, a spherical space that could be inhabited, it even had a name, Sphaera 2000, inspired by the ancient Greek for ‘ball’. Riffing about spheres was a very 60s kinda thing (think Melvyn Sokolsky’s iconic photos of models floating down the Seine in bubbles). Together with his son Nikolaus he built a 7.8-meter diameter kugel (a globe or sphere) in 1970, in a peaceful meadow, on private farmland, in Katzelsdorf, just south of Vienna, in Austria (already a republic). This hardly resonates as an aggressive act however it fell foul of the law but not in the way you might imagine, yes there was a planning issue but not just about right to build, it was about the shape of the building. Lower Austria bans spherical dwellings.
Chris Mavric, a curatorial board member of the Die Republik Kugelmugel, has been an invaluable resource in understanding a story 40 years in the making that puzzles anyone unfamiliar with some of Austria’s more arcane laws.
At first the authorities must have been mystified watching from the sidelines, because you have to wonder how the building of the sphere managed to be completed, the kugel was gently cooking (in Yiddish “kugel” is a dish made from potatoes), but then the atmosphere began to get distinctly overheated when Edwin Lipburger was ordered to tear the ‘illegal structure’ down. So many possible courses of action in response and Lipburger chose a novel one, he declared his sphere had township status and called the place Kugelmugel, meaning sphere on the hill (or potato’s dish on the hill).
Chris shares, ‘Father and son created their own street signs surrounding the sphere, which were very similar to official signage issued by the Austrian government. However, it was not their intention to found their own republic at the outset. Once they embarked on their journey Kugelmugel became the “tenth state of Austria” and eventually the Republic of Kugelmugel. This did not go down well with the authorities.
The situation spiralled out of control. Chris reveals that reports suggest as many as 25 police with dogs and armed with machine guns, raided Kugelmugel only to find that Lipburger was not at home, he was down the road in the pub. What went down that day, he suggests, has become folklore. Lipburger ended up in jail for eight weeks in ’79 (two weeks short of his ten-week sentence). The Austrian authorities got him for putting up imitation Austrian street signs. He was later pardoned by President Kirchschläger, however, his name was not fully cleared and he was actually not rehabilitated.
‘It is important to understand that Lipburger’s resistance and his founding of the Republic of Kugelmugel itself was an artistic intervention” Chris notes, “done in order to protect the spherical house from being demolished. Out of an act of resistance came energy which sparked interest in creating Kugelmugel art and design including the famous 1978 (and 1994 edition) Kugelmugel stamps (close inspection showed an overlay on existing Austrian Stamps), the ‘ball hill’ paintings photography and even flags’.
A breakthrough came in 1980 when politician and later Mayor of Vienna, Helmut Zilk, hearing that the kugel was going to be demolished, suggested that a suitable location for the Republic could be in the Vienna Prater, a large well-known public park, familiar to film buffs as its home to the Ferris Wheel where Holly Martins agrees to meet Harry Lime in The Third Man. Lipburger accepted the suggestion although he innately did not like the location (surely he cannot have pictured his republic in close proximity to an amusement park however sophisticated it is) but by now he was in no position to negotiate if he wanted to save his project. Arguably the finding of a solution was not as one-sided as it might seem, the state had a hot potato (kugel?) on its hands and needed a quick fix as the national conversation had turned to the right to artistic freedom of expression.
Chris recalls ‘Essentially all 128 wooden elements were taken apart and reassembled in the Wiener Prater. Access to tap water, electricity and sewers were promised as part of the move, and that was essentially the reason why the Lipburgers went for it. The promises Zilk made were never fulfilled which is a key reason why Kugelmugel is in the midst of a long-running dispute with the City of Vienna’. Zilk later became embroiled in accusations that during the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, he had passed information to the Czechoslovakian Secret Police. If I were writing a sequel to The Third Man I’d definitely weave into the plot a well-known politician creating of a bolt hole in plain sight beyond the jurisdiction of the police; a kugel instead of the Vienna sewers used by Harry Lime.
As early as 1982 Lipburger disliked the sphere’s location close to the Wurstelprater, where the Ferris Wheel and amusement park is situated. This placed Kugelmugel with family attractions rather than the artistic act of resistance that it had evolved into. Today Kugelmugel remains in the same location within a small square protected by a barbed wire border. Its address, which has been formally adopted, created by the artist is 2.,Antifaschismusplatz.
Edwin Lipburger died in January 2015 and his son Nikolaus Lipburger assumed the Presidency, today presiding over its 600+ citizens.
Chris, clarifies ‘Citizenship is an “idealistic” one and not a physical one, as all of the citizens could not fit in the Republic at the same time’
Since 2016 Chris Mavric together with Markus Sigl has been creating a rich programme of performances and exhibitions.
Need To Know Before You Go
- Visiting the interior of the nation is strictly by arrangement or when it is open for exhibitions
- The current Head of State is President Nikolaus Lipburger who succeeded his father Edwin
- It has 600+ citizens
- Official language German
- Currently unable to process new passports
- State Emblem features Lipburger’s image in black on a white circle
- National Flag shares the same colours as the Austrian National Flag
All images Copyright © of Kuratorium Kugelmugel