How new technologies bring the Berlin Wall to life

  • VR
  • Tuesday, 12 Nov 2019

Timeride's Rothe, a company offering Virtual Reality tours through a still-divided Berlin, posing next to Checkpoint Charlie on Aug 22, 2019 in Berlin. — AFP

Entrepreneurs are bringing Germany's history to life with the help of virtual and augmented reality apps. They are particularly useful as the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches.

For 28 years it divided the city, then 30 years ago the Berlin Wall finally fell. There are hardly any remnants of the wall left in many parts of the capital. A strip of cobblestones laid into the streets marking its former path can easily by missed.

Historically important places such as Checkpoint Charlie or Bernauer Strasse keep memories alive and are focal points for Berlin tourists. And now there are new technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) opening up a whole new way of immersing oneself in history and travelling back in time.

The app MauAR by Berlin developer Peter Kolski is part of the official programme for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was celebrated last week in the German capital.

The smartphone app uses AR to bring historical events even closer to the user. If they are in the vicinity of the former course of the Wall, the app shows on the smartphone camera screen what the wall looked like at that particular location.

Over 160 kilometres of the wall can be explored with the app. It tells the story using two fictional characters. Andreas from East Berlin and Johanna from West Berlin describe from their perspectives how they witnessed the construction of the Wall and its continuous extension.

For example, the tanks of the Soviet Union and the Western Allies, who suddenly faced each other across the Wall in hostility, can be seen in the street scenes.

The app is available for Apple's iPhone and iPad and the story it tells reaches its climax in the autumn of 1989. At five locations, including the Brandenburg Gate, Kurfürstendamm and Alexanderplatz, documentary films allow visitors to experience the fall of the wall almost exactly as it happened back then.

Any tourist using the app while exploring the city should, however, make sure that their phone is sufficiently charged, as the computing effort for the AR display requires a lot of power.MauAR can also be used at home. For example, the app shows how the wall was constructed. A model illustrates how it was erected through the streets of Berlin during its various construction phases and where the guard and control towers stood. Numerous photos and texts by the "Berlin Wall Foundation" provide further insights into Berlin's history.

Visitors to Berlin can now also travel back in time at Checkpoint Charlie with the help of VR. TimeRide GmbH offers a virtual journey through the divided Berlin. After a short video introduction to the time when the "Anti-Imperialist Protection Wall" still cut the city in two, visitors can choose a "contemporary witness" from three different characters who accompany them and talk about their own experiences.

The virtual journey starts directly at Checkpoint Charlie. With the help of VR glasses (Oculus Rift), visitors get onto a tourist coach. They are then driven along Friedrichstrasse, first over the old border post and its controls, then past Gendarmenmarkt, still in ruins after the destruction of World War II, and Leipziger Strasse with its magnificent GDR buildings near the wall. The journey ends at the Palast der Republik.

At the launch about two months ago, TimeRide founder and CEO Jonas Rothe explained that the goal is to convey historical knowledge in an emotional way. With the help of technologies such as VR, he is getting a whole lot closer to his childhood dream of time travel.

The office on Zimmerstraße near Checkpoint Charlie is just one of TimeRide GmbH’s locations. The company also offers virtual tours of the historic cities of Cologne and Dresden, and it also recently launched in Munich, where it’s now possible to travel through 7,000 years of Bavarian history. – dpa

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