Live through incredible Berlin Wall escape stories with YouTube's VR history project     DATE: 2024-07-22 07:13:18

The world we live in today seems so polarised and divided that we often take for granted how much has changed in the space of a single generation.

A new YouTube Originals documentary project, made to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, is trying to bridge at least one of these gaps in history by using VR to transport viewers back in time.

Using oral histories and recreated photographs of individual moments of resistance — a group of students building an escape tunnel, a family fleeing their home, a young man celebrating the process of German unification in 1989 — Virtually Historyrelies on technology to retrace the steps of an increasingly forgotten recent history.

Created in partnership with Remarkable TV, the 30-minute YouTube Originals special features historian Emma Daibri guiding three people with a family connection to the Berlin Wall (as well as three YouTubers) through key moments in its history.

Mashable ImageA recreation of a 1961 photograph showing a family fleeing East BerlinCredit: YouTube originals

The experimental film bridges the generational gap, transforming powerful archival photographs into immersive 360-degree virtual snapshots in time. That way, a younger generation born in Europe, with unprecedented rights and freedoms, can experience how utterly different life was like not that long ago.

Here's one example, which takes you back to the beginning of the Berlin Wall, August 1961, when East German forces physically divided the East and West sectors of Berlin with barbed wire. You'll meet the family in the photograph above, who were forced to flee from their apartment as East German forces locked down the so-called "border building."

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Here's another, which transports you to a bakery cellar on Bernauer Strasse. There, you meet 23-year-old law student Klaus Von Keussler, who hatched a plan with fellow West Berliners determined to rescue people in East Berlin from the East German state.

How? They dug a 145-metre tunnel under the Berlin Wall and into East Berlin.

Among the most visceral recreations in the documentary is the heavily fortified and deadly "no man's land" zone running down the centre of the Berlin Wall, placing you at the heart of the Cold War and bringing a realm of modern history to life. Unfortunately, we're no stranger to walls today.

SEE ALSO:Trevor Noah tears down Trump's latest comments about his beloved wall

Today, walls are once again being used as tools of rhetoric to stoke political divisions and curtail people's rights. What is perhaps most shocking is that walls are springing up in unexpected places — for example, in the U.S., with Donald Trump's radical and controversial immigration plan. In what now seems like a parallel universe, just over 32 years ago, another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, linked the destruction of the Berlin Wall to the advancement of human liberties and peace.

The difference could not be more striking.

Mashable ImageNo man's land: the zone running through the centre of the Berlin Wall, as seen in 'Virtually History'.Credit: YOUTUBE / MASHABLE SCREENSHOT

For a company often criticised for providing a platform for disinformation and extreme views, YouTube's deep dive into reviving recent history with this project, could not come at a better time. It is important on this symbolic anniversary, one marking the symbolic toppling of a tyrannical political system, that we remind ourselves of the important role each one of us has in protecting democratic freedoms and rejecting authoritarian impulses. It is another question entirely whether social media giants, like YouTube, will choose to learn from these lessons from history and acknowledge the role they play in giving air to new currents of political division and polarisation.

This may be a history project, but not everything remains in the past.