Hypermedia Berlin: Mapping Time, Coring Urban Space

UCLA Professor of Germanic Languages and Jewish Studies Todd Presner introduces his project, Hyper Media Berlin, in the Spring, 2006 issue of VECTORS: Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular:

“Hypermedia Berlin” is a collaborative, multimedia, web-based research and curriculum development project, which investigates, analyzes, and maps the architectural, cultural, and historical layers of Berlin’s city space. The project can be understood as a multimedia descendent of Walter Benjamin’s famous attempt to map the Paris of the nineteenth century in the Arcades Project. Explicitly disavowing any kind of linear, chronological, or teleological model of historiography, “Hypermedia Berlin,” like the Arcades Project, is organized topographically in order to examine the complex relationship between cultural production, mobility, and space.

Presner teaches a course by the same name, requiring students to develop online contributions fueled by their research on the specific cultural histories of chosen city sites; unfortunately, student projects are only accessible to the UCLA community. For the VECTORS website, Presner has created a 15 minute Flash film that introduces the project’s features, along with its theoretical and practical implications. Hypermedia Berlin uses a GIS (Geographic Information Systems)—enabled database for search queries, and all content is time-space stamped. Users may search both synchronically (proximity-based) and diachronically (time-based).

Upon launching the application, Users may access maps dating as far back as 1237 and as recent as 2003. A single click on a given point allows users to view photographs, historical texts, and biographies of the cultural figures whose work contributed to the chosen site or district. As I have been searching for clear, usable historical online maps of Berlin—not low grade scans slapped onto a page at 72dpi—I am thrilled to have found this project. UCLA seems to offer this course frequently, and I’ll be eager to see how Hypermedia Berlin develops; it appears to be growing in scale, with a full advisory board, funding roster, and support from the UCLA Center for Digital Humanities.

Christian Boltanski’s Missing House on GrosseHamburgerstrasse, via

My criticisms are few:

While the application includes subheadings for “places” and “people,” I would suggest separating out a category for projects (and perhaps districts, too, given that Berlin is so commonly referenced in those terms, regardless of its de- and re-territorialization over time). Christian Boltanski’s Missing House is mapped, as is the Love Parade, but I’d like to see this project expand to include a greater number of such site-specific installations and goings-on. Given its competency, however, I feel confident that it will grow to encompass these aspects of contemporary Berlin. Hypermedia Berlin responds to the exigencies of its users, not unlike the city itself.


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Filed under Academia, Built Environment, Cartography, Places, Technology, Visual Culture

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