The 1920s Berlin Project
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The 1920s Berlin Project is an historically accurate online interactive model of 1929 Berlin created within the virtual world of Second Life (SL). The project is designed to allow visitors from all over the world to explore, experience and immerse themselves in daily life in this city during the Weimar Republic. It is similar to real world Living history except that it is built inside a virtual world. It strives to give the appearance and feel of authentic 1920s Weimar culture. It was created and is mostly managed by a historical consultant from the Netherlands who goes by her avatar name, Jo Yardley.
The virtual online world Second Life allows people to build their own 3D surroundings and share them with other people all over the world via the use of avatars. The 1920s Berlin Project is a so-called Sim (short for simulation) that uses Second Life to recreate a historical location and situation.
The main goal of the project is to give visitors the chance to immerse themselves into the past via what Jo Yardley calls "Virtual Time travel". The experience is entertaining but also educational. The Sim is used for classes in all sorts of historical subjects but simply 'experiencing' what life is like here, people can learn all sorts of things.
The neighborhood shows a wide range of buildings, some exact replicas of real buildings, such as the exclusive Hotel Adlon, Berlin Alexanderplatz station, the Zum Nußbaum inn and the Brandenburg Gate. There are also reconstructions of made up buildings, used to show people another aspect of life in the 1920s even if such a building was not really in Berlin in that location. For instance there is a large Bauhaus-style apartment block in the city; it wasn't there in 1929 but is a great opportunity to teach people about this 1920s type of architecture.
There are many realistic signs and posters hanging on the city's walls, and visitors are expected to wear period clothing and behave in period appropriate ways. The neighborhood includes tiny apartments, shops, a cinema where people can view real 1920s movies, school, hotel and night club called Der Keller where people can listen to original 1920s music. Several participants "live" in local apartments, and have virtual jobs. Though there are many English-speaking visitors and residents present, several other languages are regularly spoken within the city. It is, however, common for residents and visitors to use German phrases to greet one another, regardless of preferred language.
The simulation has rules for all visitors. People should dress in 1920s period style (free 1920s clothes are provided), the law must be obeyed and if you harass other visitors, you risk being banned. Nazi simulation is generally not allowed as it is against the Terms of Service of Second Life but also because in 1929, the Nazis were not yet that big a part of daily life in this city. A Dress code is strictly enforced in this world and failure to comply will risk ejection from Berlin. The idea is to see that all visitors and inhabitants feel as though they belong to the time period. In the entrance square, where visitors arrive by teleportation, there are free clothing boxes that allow avatars to change into virtual period costume.
The project is known for its arts and entertainment. Der Keller Tanzlokal (Night Club), The Asta Cinema, Cabaret Eldorado (based on a real 1920s club for gay people and cross dressers), The Odeon Theatre and The Hindenburg Schule all boast either educational activities, films, dancing, lectures or live entertainment. The most exciting and active place is the night club, Der Keller, located in one of the city’s back alleys in a basement. Most people gather at 2:00 pm Second Life time to "drink" at the bar, chat and dance with others. In Der Keller, anyone can dance the Charleston and most are willing to join in on the fun. In the Asta Cinema, a cartoon, newsreel and feature film are shown. Cinema in Germany was “an opportunity and temptation". The fact that an audience "member could sit in front of film screen and be enshrouded in darkness, made intimacy sociable and expanded the idea of unfamiliar identities.”  "German Expressionism was taking root in film and eventually influenced American Film Noir."
The 1920s Berlin Project has been expanding and upgrading continuously and keeps being updated. Starting small, it has always managed to pay for its own upkeep regardless the high costs of virtual land, especially thanks to the tenants who live in the sim, supporters and random donations from visitors. The more than 80 residences in the city are almost always occupied and recently new land was added to the sim where people could live; this new area is called Tiergarten.
In March 2013, The 1920s Berlin Project was the subject of an episode of machinima documentary series The Drax Files.
Because 1920s Berlin is one of the few sims in Second Life that is build to a realistic scale, it has gotten a lot of extra interest in 2013 after Oculus Rift visitors realised that this made the sim the perfect place to try out their new VR headset together with the CtrlAltStudio viewer.
Jo Yardley has plans for more historically-themed role playing sims.
- Berlin's Public Space in the 1910s and 1920s/Flickinger,Brigitte/Film Studies,Issue 10/2007/74,82
- http://www.1920sberlin.com Official website
- https://www.facebook.com/1920sberlinproject Facebook page
- http://www.flickr.com/groups/20sberlin/ Flickr group
- http://draxtor.com/2013/03/the-drax-files-go-to-1920s-berlin/ Drax files visits 1920s Berlin, with video
- http://www.secondlife.com Second Life website