Zeitfenster / Time Window

General information

Domain: Historical places and buildings (city history)
Title: Time Window (Zeitfenster)
Launch: 2011
Country: Germany
Website: http://www.zeitfenster-app.de

Project focus

Zeitfenster (Time Window) is a mobile augmented reality application for smartphones that allows residents and visitors of cities to perceive the historic changes of the built heritage and other urban environment in a novel way. The first Zeitfenster app has been developed by creative students for the city centre of Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg.



The mobile augmented reality application Zeitfenster has been developed in the years 2009-2011 by five master students of the Hochschule der Medien Stuttgart. The project leader has been Patrick Burkert and the other team members – Diana Bullmann, Nils Fröhlich, Benjamin Schaufler and Sven Straubinger – took care for different technical and other aspects of the project. In a CreativeCH interview Patrick Burkert highlighted: “Creators, designers and developers work together. This gives the whole project a creative and interdisciplinary character.” Content for the pilot application has been provided by public media archives (see below).

Financing / funding

The initial project costs were covered by the team of master students. The students established a company and sought sponsors and clients to develop the project further and cover also other towns. In January 2013 they launched a time travel app commissioned by the City of Nürtingen. In July, Zeitfenster opened an office in Berlin and also were awarded the title of Kultur- und Kreativpiloten Deutschland 2013 (Culture- and Creative Pilots Germany). Along with new institutional partners and clients, the creative entrepreneurs also intend to involve an online community to collect historical photographs also from private owners.

Content & IPR / licensing

Content for the initial Zeitfenster product has been provided by Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Haus der Geschichte Baden-Württemberg, and Deutsche Kinemathek - Museum für Film und Fernsehen (Berlin). While the virtual tour guide can be downloaded for free via the Apple iTunes Store, the developer (Zeitfenster GbR) and the content providers retain the respective rights.

Technologies used / innovative features

Zeitfenster provides augmented reality that offers an extension of the user’s perception of urban sites and buildings. The application uses digital images which are rendered in smartphones in combination with Global Positioning System (GPS). Zeitfenster goes beyond other available touristic applications by offering a “time travel” experience of urban sites and buildings that is based on the difference between their present and historic appearance.
The user can choose between a “tour mode”, featuring different pre-defined themes and routes, and a flexible “discovery mode”. The latter modus allows the user selecting on a map particular places as well as the time period and, when a place is reached, automatically provides the available historical images. The images are delivered in real time according to the position of the user which is identified through GPS. The user can change the transparency and frame of the image to overlay it exactly with his or her view of the place.
The historical photographs often present features of the urban environment that either have been extensively altered or even removed. Therefore, the Zeitfenster project also wants to contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage by showing the loss in built and other historic environment.

Target users

Zeitfenster addresses local residents, domestic as well as international tourists. In 2012, over 21 million Germans used apps on their smartphone, twice as many as in 2010. Especially city break tourists show an increasing interest in mobile apps. Stuttgart, for which the first Zeitfenster app has been created, is regularly among the top 10 German cities in terms of overnight stays of domestic as well as foreign tourists.

Lessons learned

Cooperation: The project manager Patrick Burkert emphasises the challenge of bridging the “two worlds” of on the one hand historical experts working in museums and archives and, on the other hand, creative designers and developers. The historical experts want to ensure the authenticity of the historical material while the creative team members are eager to explore novel design and technical capacities. (cf. the CreativeCH video of the Zeitfenster application).

Content: In the CreativeCH workshop at the INVTUR 2012 conference in Portugal the project manager noted the difficulty of receiving from cultural heritage institutions licenses for using historic material. Sometimes the copyrights are not cleared or the institutions are concerned about making available digital images, fearing that they might be captured and used in inappropriate ways.

Overall, Zeitfenster is an encouraging example that creative students can become entrepreneurs with a convincing technology-based product for perceiving cultural heritage in novel ways.

Sources and links