A trend-setting tourism offer has just been launched in Luxembourg: tourists drive through the city with Virtual Reality (VR) glasses and find themselves back in 1867. This innovative journey through time is the world’s first mobile VR city tour.
Luxembourg/Kaiserslautern. Anyone who meets people in Luxembourg these days who pretend that they just came from 1867 should definitely take them seriously. They are not spinners or extraterrestrials, but tourists who have just completed a city tour of a special kind. Recently you can experience the Grand Duchy on a virtual bus tour into the past. „Totally crazy“ says one of the first time travellers who got into a minibus to leave the year 2019 with the help of virtual reality glasses and experience Luxembourg in 1867 on a historic carriage ride. After a brief introduction to the futuristic VR glasses, the coachman gives his horses the command and the spectacular journey through time begins. „Wow“, a passenger is amazed when he notices that the glasses allow him a 3D view in all directions. He quickly puts the glasses down again to make sure that ‚out there‘ everything is still the same – the impression and the feeling of having really disappeared completely into another world was so real. „The visitors are always totally blown away by the tour and the authenticity of what they have experienced. And they are fascinated by what is technically possible,“ says Johannes Berdin from Urban Timetravel, software developer and project manager of the innovative VR tour.
Some people stretch their hands forward to the coachman during the trip to test whether he is real. While the coachman steers the carriage through the old town and the surrounding Pfaffenthal, he tells – on request in German, English, French or Luxembourgish – what was going on in old Luxembourg 150 years ago. Cats run around and birds fly through the air. You can see the imposing bulwark, which cannot be occupied – the fortress, which no longer stands today. In 1867, Luxembourg trembled before Napoleon III, who wanted to buy the Grand Duchy, which he fortunately failed to do. The date marks the end of Luxembourg as a fortified city. A city that had long suffered from power struggles and sieges by various European states. The resulting demolition of the fortress was an important act for Luxembourg, which in the following years emancipated itself more and more as an independent, neutral state.
Will glasses simply belong to life in the future? Johannes Berdin is convinced that this is „quite certain“. „And VR glasses will surely become even smaller and more powerful over time. Our experience is that people get along incredibly well with the glasses and after a while don’t even notice that they’re wearing one. There is a similar development in museums, for example. Nowadays it is hard to imagine a guided tour without an audio guide. In the beginning, people looked a bit funny,“ says the expert, who commutes between his offices in Kaiserslautern and Luxembourg.
After about two kilometres, the journey ends in front of the (no longer existing) historical first watch station. „The coachman is asked „What are you doing here?“ by the guard, who says in the command tone: „Better take off your glasses now!“ In a glazed panorama lift, the visitors glide comfortably into the upper town and back into the real world.
The pioneering tourism innovation was developed together with the „Service des technologies de l’information et de la communication“ of the City of Luxembourg and the luxembourgish start-up company Urban Timetravel. With its time travel idea, the company is a spin-off from the DT:Hub of DDG (Digital Devotion Group), an innovation and starter centre in Kaiserslautern.
The „Time Travel“ project also includes a smartphone app developed by Urban Timetravel called „VdL-AR“. It is the starting point of the time travel package, where a tour guide first walks through the city and the visitor gets a small foretaste of the later dive into the past by means of a tablet. During the pre-tour, buildings, such as the town hall, are faded over with pictures or films from the past.
What distinguishes the Luxembourg VR project from virtual reality tours in other cities? „So far, we are the only ones offering a mobile tour,“ says Berdin. „Behind the project is a great creative achievement. Since, despite all the historical precision that the archives provided, we also had to use a lot of imagination to model buildings, facades, roofs and decorations“. Berdin and his eight colleagues, all 3D artists and VR developers, completed the tour in just six months. More than 1,000 photos, survey maps and census data from Pfaffenthal were available. Historical population registers provided information on where, for example, a butcher, a baker or a shoemaker was located. „Together with historians, we have searched through archives and also tried to get an idea of the places where we had no written or visual clues,“ says Johannes Berdin. On the basis of historical city maps, the surroundings were then reconstructed in detail on the computer.
Lydie Polfer, Mayor of Luxembourg, is also enthusiastic about the project: „Thanks to virtual reality, several innovative projects have been realized and our vision of a Smart City has come much closer,“ says Polfer, who is already looking to the future: „Further joint projects are planned with DDG, which has adapted to the characteristics of our city.
Physicists such as Steven Hawking and Kip Thorne have repeatedly asked themselves whether time travel is physically possible. Urban Timetravel’s time travel concept does not solve the question physically, but with a huge entertainment and experience value whose fascination cannot be ignored.
„Our basic idea is to jump through different epochs. And of course this would not only work with the past, but also with the future,“ says DDG boss Alexander Fridhi. Technically, for example, it’s no problem to reopen the Berlin Wall for virtual sightseeing.
I’m going to build a new one. And the Great Wall of China, 6,500 kilometers long? „This is also possible“ says Fridhi. „Everywhere where we know something about history and where we have picture and sound material at our disposal, you can get an idea of what it looked like back then.“ So there are endless possibilities when it comes to VR sightseeing. „Just as well you could look at the Colosseum in Rome 2000 years ago and then get out and touch today’s walls,“ says Fridhi. „One could revive whole Mayan sites, experience the construction of the Empire State Building and Greek temples could also be experienced virtually in this way. Luxembourg is only the beginning of the new fascinating age of time travel.
„Our Luxembourg project is proof to us that we can. The next step will be to bring it to the surface. To all cities that are interested in such a project,“ says Johannes Berdin. Enquiries from Stuttgart, Dubai, Qatar, Boston and New Orleans are already on the table. „Our clear goal is to establish our system in the world’s metropolises in a few years‘ time“.
VR trips through Luxembourg take place every Sunday at 1.30 pm and 2.30 pm.
Price: children 10 Euro, adults 15 Euro
Duration: Approx. 20 minutes
Maximum 5 persons
Order tickets online at urbantimetravel.com
Copy Editor: Ariane Lindemann