You might know Berlin as the birthplace of European street art. Or perhaps you’re more familiar with it being described as the startup capital of Europe. But the two actually go hand-in-hand because of something you wouldn’t normally call an asset: empty space.
At the end of the Cold War in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and the two sides of the city were reunified at the same time as East and West Germany, the capital had a lot of vacant buildings. (It still does.) Rents were low, especially in the east, and artists, musicians and immigrants moved in, establishing new cultural hubs.
Then, in 1990, the East Side Gallery was established, opening up over a kilometre of the Berlin Wall to street artists. It was still mostly blank on one side because to reach it from East Berlin you had to cross the so-called “death strip”, which was patrolled by dogs and booby-trapped with over 55,000 landmines.
VoiceMap: Do you see potential for apps and other new technology to engage new audiences in Singapore’s street art?
Jaclynn: Singapore’s street art scene is relatively small and unknown – it’s not what you think of at all when you think about visiting Singapore! But visitors are starting to look beyond our typical tourist attractions, and for the independent traveller who likes discovering new things, apps and new technology like VoiceMap are a perfect fit as they allow users the freedom of choice and self discovery in their travels. This is especially important around the arts, which is a pretty subjective topic and different people engage with it in such varied ways.
VoiceMap: Do you see potential for apps and other new technology to engage new audiences in aspects of New Orleans’ culture and history?
Denise: Without a doubt, I see where recent and emerging technologies are truly offering opportunities to explore New Orleans culture and history in novel ways. I’m a traveler and a writer. For me, nothing beats meeting locals on their own turf when I travel. Their voices, their accents, their stories become part of my travel experience. So, on one hand, I would hope that audio tourists drop those earbuds whenever they have the good fortune to interact with real, in-the-flesh characters; on the other hand, I love wandering around new places on my own, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells. That’s where audio touring is such a boon. The voice of a local whispering in my ear and guiding me along a path is pretty darned enticing.
For school teacher and itinerant Third Culture Kid Eleanor Nicolás, creating an audio tour of The Hague helped her reclaim her fragmented childhood. The picture above is of a map at Paris’ Gare du Nord train station, taken before Eleanor relocated to her current home in the Netherlands. The airplane from Schiphol is taking off in the direction of the UK, where her family will settle permanently within a year or so.
When I was a girl, especially when very young, I didn’t think much about where I was. Everything was about the now. That changed as I got older, though I was largely focused on my education at school and university. I gave birth to my daughter when I was 33 in France. It was my 12th international relocation. It was then that a huge wave of unresolved and delayed grief hit me.
This grief is characteristic of high mobility third culture kids, who don’t have the time to process the erasure of their worlds and the disruption of a developing identity. I can only describe it as having long carried a broken heart, and finally letting it break. I heard all these bygone radios from my past. I held my daughter and asked myself if I would give her the same upbringing as I had. When the answer was no, I had to ask myself hard questions about what it was that I hadn’t had. One way I did that was to write down what was coming to me in a personal blog and in my first novel. I’ve just finished the first draft.
I love London. I’ve loved London ever since the first time I visited. I don’t remember exactly when or why that was, but my earliest memory of London was a trip around Buckingham Palace. As someone who lives in a town that isn’t the most exciting place on Earth, London managed to offer me a place where everything was happening. I’m a child of the internet generation and I can remember using dial-up when I was as young as 5, so I’ve always had the ability to access more than I lived with, which drove me to want even more.
I think that day at Buckingham Palace has stuck with me all this time because it was a clear reminder that there is life outside the small circle of my hometown, and London is the hub of a lot of it. Inside, Buckingham Palace really is as stunning as people say it is, and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. I can vividly remember listening to the audio walking tour my Grandma bought me, getting to learn even more details about the ornate carvings and beautiful paintings I was looking at. Social history has fascinated me from a very young age – it comes hand in hand with a love of everything that the Arts has to offer – and getting to explore it in such an aural and practical way amazed me. I didn’t have all too many other memorable trips to London though, until I saw my first West End show, Hairspray, about 8 years ago.
When I last visited London, I decided to take a guided tour. Strolling along the banks of the Thames, I came across the famous London Plane Trees. It was September, and they were stunning at that time of year: their bark was peeling off to reveal mottled, grey-green trunks. I stopped. Touched the bark; took out my camera. The tour guide smiled obsequiously: “Come along, plenty to see”. I put my camera away and was herded over to a curio shop. Plane Trees just don’t pay the same commission as mini-Big-Bens.
A great tour guide is irreplaceable, but sometimes you just need to stop and look at the trees. You need to get off the beaten track, and explore the hidden, lesser-known side of a city. Sometimes, you need a tour guide with a pause button.
Location-aware audio has an endless list of applications, but self-guided photography tours often seem like they were made for the medium. Having your hands free when a professional photographer suggests you pause in that exact spot to best capture a vista, getting advice on which settings to adjust, and then being led to another seemingly secret – and oh so photogenic – spot takes location-aware audio tours to a whole new level.
London is the first city where we’ve seen real demand for self-guided photography tours, and so far five have been released on VoiceMap’s walking tour app by two London-based photographers.
The devil lives here. Or at least that is what people believed, when the district was nothing more than fields, woods and the odd farm building – all to the west of the Gesundbrunnen district, where a spa existed in 1760. But once Berliners left the safe area of pools and beer gardens behind, they felt they were out in the wild. Since the Middle Ages, Wedding had been referred to as a ‘desert’, a wild place for demons. And there were witnesses (or accomplices). Dorothea Steffin, a miller’s daughter who had been imprisoned for her ‘negligent moral conduct’ in 1728 confessed to having met Satan in Wedding, looking like a ‘well-shaped gentleman’.
“Location-aware audio walk” doesn’t trip off the tongue, does it? It’s a phrase for a technical medium, with lots of moving parts, and sometimes VoiceMap’s storytellers get bogged down by all of our publishing tool’s many mechanics.
The result is a list of facts instead of stories, with the things that are physically most obvious at the forefront – the monuments, buildings, and landmarks that get mapped out right at the beginning of the process – instead of the stories that made the walk compelling in the first place.
Conventional audio tours tell a city’s story with only one or two voices, which doesn’t allow for diversity or individual perspectives. You can’t capture the essence of a place like Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap in the same way as the colonial Company’s Gardens or the Grand Parade, where Mandela addressed 200,000 ecstatic people after his release from prison. What brings these spaces to life, and connects you to them, is the personal opinions, anecdotes and sense of ownership reflected in the words, ‘I love’, ‘I remember’, and ‘I hope’.
The best travel experiences normally begin with a local showing you their city. It cuts through all the abstraction of being an outsider, making you a participant, with a point of reference that helps you identify with a place. You get to share somebody else’s feelings for their home – and that’s exactly what VoiceMap aims to do, with the help of our storytellers.