News and Events

05. July 2022

CHIC start-up develops history lesson of the future

The Historicity agency wants to use playful learning to teach about history

Livening up history: Nele Diekmann und Marcel vom Lehn ©WISTA Management GmbH

The aim is to inspire new users for historic content by using apps and tablets. The two founders agree that good storytelling helps to make knowledge stick.

The young boy with the messy red hair is a bit cheeky. But he is made immediately likeable by his liveliness and cunning. The small guy is called “Frederick”. Together with his sidekick, a talking dog, he is on a mission through medieval Kaiserslautern. What mission? Finding the wooden fish, he so carelessly lost. Only by recovering the talisman can he earn back his father's favour – and become his heir to the throne. The young boy is Frederick I., who entered the history books as King Barbarossa: ruler of the Holy Roman Empire in the 12th century. The search for the wooden fish, while not completely true to historic sources, is accompanied by the user on their smartphone screen.

The “Discovering Kaiserslautern” app is but one of the projects developed by Nele Diekmann and Marcel vom Lehn, who founded “Historicity”. Headquartered at the CHIC Charlottenburg Innovation Centre, the agency wants to liven up teaching content by using audio guides and augmented reality, where tablets and smartphones complement the real-world environment with digital content.

“Barbarossa founded the so-called Kaiserpfalz, the imperial palace, in Kaiserslautern in the Middle Ages and has left his mark on the city to this day,” says Diekmann. Users of the app can tag along with young Barbarossa and get to know historical places in Kaiserslautern, including the Humberg Tower and Fruchthalle, an indoor market. Both buildings were, in fact, constructed after Barbarossa’s death. However, strict adherence to chronology, or dialogue that is completely true to historic sources, are both not necessarily what knowledge transfer is about, says historian Marcel vom Lehn: “We use fictional dialogue in a playful way to convey real-life knowledge of history.”

The two founders are sure: Whether children or adults, entertaining stories make any history lesson more fun and memorable. “There is a tendency in this country to be slightly suspicious towards entertainment in education,” says Diekmann.

In the museum sector, text-based and thus complex mediation frameworks prevail. “In an age of streaming and the internet, we must think histories in a much more visual way to make them stick.”

A way of thinking that is increasingly high in demand. Across the country, Historicity works with city councils, museums, and other cultural institutions to showcase historic content in an exciting way, either browser-based on via an app. Vom Lehn and Diekmann cooperate with a network of professionals – graphic designers, speakers, app designers – to develop tailored multimedia guides for their clients.

For Berlin’s tourism campaign, Visit Berlin, they developed an app about modern architecture. In Herrenberg, Baden-Wurttemberg, they are currently developing interactive elements for tablets used by town museum, which guests can then use to interact with the exhibits in the museum.

When drawing up a concept, Marcel vom Lehn is typically responsible for the historic research, while Nele Diekmann takes care of the storytelling part. “But our responsibilities are not rigid,” says vom Lehn. “We're all about bringing the stories to the forefront and making the content more accessible as a result.”

After his tour of Kaiserslautern, little Fredrick is glad to have found his wooden fish and nothing stands in the way between him and his legacy as the new king. All the better that he showed app users the city of Kaiserslautern while doing so.

Shea Westhoff for POTENZIAL

Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine. Edition: Curiosity / July 2022