Germany’s “Blind City”, which gave birth to Grimm’s fairy tales, shows the epitome of future smart cities

Marburg is a city in Hessen, Germany, with approximately 80,000 inhabitants. It is said that the Grimm brothers came to Marlborough University to study law successively, and during the study they began to sort out fairy tales and legends. On the Grimm-Dich-Pfad tour route with the theme of Grimm's fairy tales, Marburg is an important stop. Fairytale elements such as the brave little tailor, Cinderella's crystal shoes, the wolf and the seven little goats are distributed in the city.

▲ Part of Grimm-Dich-Pfad. Picture from: deutsche-maerchenstrasse

In addition to being quite related to fairy tales, Marburg also has a self-proclaimed "Blindenstadt" (Blind City). As a city suitable for the visually impaired, Marlborough’s friendliness and respect for the visually impaired is reflected in all aspects. It is common to see blind people walking slowly on a quiet road with a guide dog or just a white cane, and no passersby will deliberately disturb , Support or stay away.

▲ White walking stick. Picture from: deutschlandfunk kultur

More than a hundred years ago, Marburg established the Blindenstudienanstalt (or Blista), an educational institution and research center for the blind, to provide opportunities and accommodation for young people who were blind during the war. Since then, the institute has created countless inventions for the blind, including the first edition of mathematics and chemistry books for the blind, a hearing library for the blind, acoustic traffic lights, city maps for the visually impaired, etc. They are still working hard.

▲ Blista location, cobblestone strips help positioning. Picture from: Am Grassenberg

This school for the blind is a microcosm of the daily life of the visually impaired in Marlborough.

Today, every traffic light in Marlborough’s city centre is equipped with special acoustic and tactile support, bus drivers have received parking training, ATMs with headset jacks, buildings with raised maps and floor plans, castles and The miniature bronze models in major attractions such as town squares allow visually impaired visitors to intuitively experience the whole of each landmark.

▲ Miniature bronze model. Picture from: Alamy

Barrier-free leisure facilities are located throughout the city. The Marlborough Municipal Theater provides audio descriptions of dramas, restaurants produce Braille menus, supermarkets provide purchasing services, and shop assistants often deal with blind customers. The visually impaired can also freely participate in equestrian, rowing, football, mountaineering and ski clubs.

The cultural atmosphere here has already adapted to the needs of the visually impaired. One third of the blind university students in Germany study here. Marburg has the highest proportion of blind students in Germany and the widest range of degrees obtained by the blind.

▲ Marlborough. Picture from: Frank Rumpenhorst

For the visually impaired, law and psychology are often the most popular course options, because these subjects are based on a large amount of text and can be learned with assistive tools such as screen readers. And now, Blista is pioneering the field of natural science that has kept the visually impaired from the door for a long time. The dangers of laboratory work and the ubiquitous images, charts and graphs are obvious obstacles.

Beginning in 2013, chemistry teacher Tobias Mahnke has invested in the development of a series of multi-sensory tools for teaching natural sciences, with the support of the Department of Chemistry at Marlborough Phillips University. One of them is to use thermal expansion paper to help visually impaired students explore how candles burn. The laboratory also meets the needs of visually impaired students, using electric burners with perforated metal shells instead of Bunsen burners with open flames.

▲ Picture from: Blista official website

The 3D printed plastic model of the curved riverbed developed by Mahnke colleague Tanja Schapat allows students to feel where the water flow is faster or slower, how the water flow shapes the contour of the riverbed, and which parts of the riverbed can attract fish and grow reeds.

In fact, many accessibility features of Marburg are not absent in other places, but they rarely appear in such a comprehensive "network" form. The buzzing of traffic lights, conversations at bus stops, and people with normal vision who are accustomed to interacting with blind people form a friendly network that broadens the world of visually impaired friends.

▲ Marlborough. Picture from: BBC

Uwe Boysen, a retired blind judge, studied law in Marburg in the late 1960s. In his view, Marburg’s sense of community and self-help play a vital role in stimulating innovation:

It gives you courage and allows you to dare to try new things.

Of course, Marburg still has room for improvement. For example, electric vehicles that have emerged in recent years are very quiet, but many blind people rely on their ears to locate them in traffic. One direction for improvement is to issue a special audible warning signal when the electric car approaches the roadside. To be sure, acoustic traffic lights will not be the last innovation of the "Blind City".

▲ Malbork Castle. Picture from: PhilippN

Bahaddin Batmaz, a software developer and accessibility trainer for the blind in Marlborough, believes that these accessibility features actually provide important experiences and lessons for urban innovation. Good design is good for everyone:

It is very beneficial to associate technological innovation with human and social factors.

▲ Marlborough traffic lights.

The voice broadcast of the bus station also brings convenience to ordinary people. When it is easier for a screen reader to access the website, its search ranking will usually rise, and accessibility is what everyone needs.

Dago Schelin, a media research scholar at Phillips University, described Marburg as a "smart city for the blind." This kind of intelligence does not revolve around digital technology, but is more people-oriented. It uses supportive interaction and accessible services between different groups of people. center. At this level, Marburg may become a "reference for future smart cities."

▲ Reference: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210916-the-school-that-change-a-city-into-a-place-for-the-blind

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