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Traces of the Wall : A Citizen-Science Mapping Project

Tourists writing on the Berlin Wall / Image : Alamy

When the Berlin Wall was demolished in 1990, it become a symbol of a new era for Germany and renewed relations between the East and the West.

While much of the remembrance and commemoration of the border regime has centred around museums, memorials and monuments in Berlin, The Berlin Wall Foundation set out to record the unprotected traces of the wall with a new “citizen-science project”.

At the MuseumNext Digital Summit, Cornelia Thiele and Pia Eiringhaus from the Berlin Wall Foundation introduced Mauerspuren – their new online mapping tool designed to document traces of the Wall and record them for future generations.

Mapping the Wall

The Berlin Wall Foundation unites five historical sites: The Marienfelde Refugee Centre Museum, the East Side Gallery, the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Gunter Litfin Memorial, and the Parliament of Trees Against Violence and War. All of the foundation’s historical sites are central memorial sites reminding visitors of the division of Berlin and Germany.

The foundation aims to enable discussions on contemporary matters using historical context, bringing together issues of borders, border regimes, migration, the rule of law, individual scope for action and human rights.

Mauerspuren is a map-based online research tool developed by the foundation to record traces of the Berlin Wall still visible today. People can not only use the map for research but take an active role in the documentary project by noting how relics and traces of the wall are changing.

Tracking the traces

The Berlin Wall Foundation preserves the remaining pieces of the wall, for example, at popular tourist destinations like the East Side Gallery or the Berlin War Memorial. However, there are many other less-known traces of the wall in and around Berlin. Often, they are inconspicuous, well hidden, and less protected. Mauerspuren makes them visible to preserve online as a participatory project.

All data used by Mauerspuren is freely available for people to download and reuse and, to make the map work, the Foundation created a new digital photo collection. At present, Mauerspuren features 180 listings with 670 photos.

A key part of the tool was to make it easily searchable with clear navigation points, which relies on GPS technology.  When you click on the Mauerspuren map, it will take you to your current location, allowing you then to search your area. There is also a timeline built into the search facility to allow users to actively see how traces have changed.

The search function is constructed to cover three categories:  Mauerreste, Grenzpuren and Mauerelemente.  Mauerreste represents original relics of the border system such as wall, fences and lamps but also includes a list of buildings.  Grenzpuren represents traces of the border regime still visible today and finally, Mauerelemente is original pieces of the border wall now located in places other than Berlin.

Mauerspuren does not document historical photos although some elements are linked to historical pictures in the same place through a linked tool –  This helps to give users a vision of the present linked to the same site in the past to expand upon the level and type of information available.

Public Participation in Mauerspuren

Enabling participation in Mauerspuren is a key aspect of the mapping tool and there are two main options for users.  Firstly, upload a picture and add it to an existing item. Second, report new traces not listed on the map for other people to discover. This supports users in really interacting with the map as a discovery tool – becoming active historians, seeking out traces of the wall and reporting them as necessary.

The foundation considers Mauerspuren to be a citizen-science project. Digitally documenting the Berlin Wall to preserve what is left, whilst also enabling citizens to be sensitised to the history of their local environment. Mauerspuren also has a broader use for the city of Berlin in a tourism capacity, as well as for education.

The map is available in both German and English, and the foundation are planning workshops for city guides to help spread the word to tourists and visitors showcasing the value and functionality of Mauerspuren.

Cornelia Thiele and Pia Eiringhaus from the Berlin Wall Foundation spoke at the MuseumNext Digital Summit in June 2022.


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