By Pamela Roi – October 25, 2019
Jonas Rothe, in Checkpoint Charlie’s photo, states that his virtual reality tours draw on the desire for “authentic”, interactive and engaging historical tourism
A crowded bus approaches Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous Cold War border crossing, while Germany’s gloomy face guards whisper to each other whether to hold back for questioning.
After a harrowing few minutes, you and your traveling companions are free to move on to smog, soot and the obscure intrigue of East Berlin 80.
Even 30 years after the fall of the wall, time travel is not yet possible. But a German startup that uses virtual reality technology offers history buffs what it defines as the best thing to do.
“Our idea was that if we can’t bring you back in time yet, let’s try to create the perfect illusion,” said TimeRide founder Jonas Rothe, 33, at AFP.
“This is not a museum and we don’t want to be. We want to let you lose the feeling of being a participant in history.”
TimeRide Berlin opened in late August ahead of the celebrations for the thirtieth anniversary of the triumphant fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989 in a peaceful popular revolution.
It draws on a growing desire for “authentic”, interactive and engaging historical tourism, Rothe said, especially in an urban landscape that has undergone a dramatic transformation in these three decades.
Where’s the wall?
Many tourists are disappointed to find few traces of the detested barrier that divided Berlin for almost 28 years, which was quickly demolished in the race for reunification in 1990 and its consequences.
Journalists face Timeride tours using VR glasses: choose from a trio of characters to “guide” them around town
Rothe, who was born in the eastern city of Dresden but was only a child when the Wall collapsed, said he wanted to give his customers a vivid sense of a lost world.
TimeRide guests have a quick introduction on how defeated Germany was divided into sectors after the Second World War and how the communist authorities in 1961 sealed the border at night to stop a mass exodus to the west.
In the next room, three protagonists – a rebel layer of tiles, a real disillusioned believer and a West Berlin punk who spent a long time in the underground scene of the east – present themselves through a video screen.
Visitors choose one of the trio to “guide” them during the tour, then board a mockup bus and wear a pair of VR glasses.
The “cavalcade” includes the crossing of the border, the elegant Gendarmenmarkt square with its two cathedrals that continue to suffer serious damage during the Second World War, and new prefabricated skyscrapers on Leipziger Strasse which were at the same time. pinnacle of residential luxury.
Stasi agents monitor citizens from unmarked cars, while consumers queue up for scarce fresh produce and communist propaganda spits from megaphones.
Rothe said he wanted to create a totally immersive experience.
“Obviously the smell has the strongest connection with memory, but it is not easy to recreate it without giving people a headache”, he joked, thinking in particular about the unmistakable stench of East German Trabant cars .
The journey by bus ends at the Palazzo della Repubblica, a pleasure palace and seat of the rubber stamp parliament that was demolished in 2008 and presents real footage of the joyful fall of the Berlin Wall.
“Those images never stopped moving people – it was a turning point in the history of Germany, Europe and the whole world”.
The founder of TimeRide Rothe, whose tour includes footage of the fall of the Berlin Wall, states that the goal is to create a completely immersive experience
“Old spy movies”
Business has been rapid in the weeks leading up to the anniversary.
Colin MacLean, 47, a Scottish IT professional, said he came to learn more about East Germany because his wife grew up under communism and is a fan of Cold War thrillers.
“I like the kind of melancholy feeling you get from old movies and spy stuff – big squares with only two people walking on them, that sort of thing,” he said.
Robert Meyer, a 55-year-old German, used to visit the family that lived on the other side of the wall.
“The way they showed the crossing of the border was so real,” said Meyer, who works in aviation security.
“You would have had these guards and you were helpless before them – they could treat you the way they wanted.”
His wife Iris Rodriguez, 47, a restaurant owner originally from the Dominican Republic, said the “happy ending” touched her.
“It was as if everyone was in jail and eventually they got rid of,” he said. “Thank God all that’s over.”
The founder of the TimeRide experience said he could imagine offering a tour of the Nazi era, but that historical taboos would make it more risky
& # 39; Be really careful & # 39;
Despite the hubbub of border crossings and the surveillance of the Stasi if viewed from a historical distance, the suffering of the real life of dissidents under communist rule should not be taken lightly, said Rothe.
“What we don’t show are the escapes, and in particular the deaths at the Wall.”
An estimated 327 people have died trying to cross the border between eastern and western Germany for freedom, according to a study commissioned by the government whose results, however, remain disputed.
Rothe said that given the potential interest he could imagine offering a tour of the Nazi era, but that historical taboos would make him more risky.
“You should be really careful about what you would show and how respectfully you would do it,” he said.
“You should light a light on all sides so that there is no problem glorifying something or showing something unbearable.”
Anna Kaminsky, head of the publicly funded fund for the study of communist dictatorships in eastern Germany, said that although young Germans were not always very well informed about the cold war, they told pollsters they were very interested.
“It is important to use new technologies to teach the next generation of that period and to give them an idea of what it feels like to live behind the wall,” he told AFP.
From the death strip to the green belt & # 39; of life