Educational project Eshkolot has launched “Dérive in Berlin,” a unique online platform inspired by Franz Hessel’s cult guidebook from the 1920s.

Hessel’s ‘Walking in Berlin – A Flaneur in the Capital,’ was originally published in Germany in 1929. A prominent German Jewish writer, Hessel was also renowned as a flâneur – a man at ease strolling and people-watching, taking in the sights and sounds of his city. ‘Walking in Berlin’ has since been praised for capturing the essence of Berlin in the 1920s, as well as the foreshadows of political unrest and unrest that lay in store. Hessel’s own wanderings were tragically cut short by his exile shortly before Kristallnacht, which would see him eventually forced into a French internment camp. He died shortly after his release.

The Dérive in Berlin platform is now bringing Hessel’s legacy to a new generation of flaneurs. Inspired by his explorations, 50 visitors from Russia and Europe have participated in their own ‘digital drifting experience.’ Like a form of digital lego, they have built up their own virtual construction of the city, using pictures, videos, city sounds and experiences. Now viewers from around the world can join them on the journey and see the city through their eyes on the online platform, which is available in Russian and English. 

For so many of us unable to travel at present, the website provides a portal into other people’s unique experiences of Berlin. Quotes from Hessel’s iconic guidebook are mixed with the first hand impressions of the project participants, with added musical accompaniment from composer Alexy Nadjarov to further enhance the views and sounds of Berlin today.

For anyone who is able to experience the city first-hand, 10 different itineraries are also suggested, all inspired by the locations described by Hessel nearly a century ago. The platform divides the city into blocks allowing participants to connect their impressions and experiences with different areas.

“Instead of a linear city tour you suddenly get a multi-dimensional image, a virtual lego construction” explain the project curators. “This digital wandering through Berlin creates an additional experience for the visitor, shaking apart the narrative with a sound of an alarm siren, the image of a bridge reflecting in the water, the flashes of a train lights, the chat of people passing by”.

Ilia Salita, President and CEO of Genesis Philanthropy Group told us, “This is a stunning achievement by the Eshkolot team, which we are proud to support. At a time when the world has been forced to slow down and reflect, the project has brought the work of the iconic observer Franz Hessel to a new, contemporary audience. In doing so, it provides a unique way for young adults to explore Jewish culture and identity through the complex history of Berlin, on the eve of WWII.”