Anne Frank left footprints all over Amsterdam. Now the Anne Frank House has developed an app that links the past with the present and offers locals a whole new perspective on their own city.
Since 1960, the Anne Frank Museum has been telling the history of the Holocaust through the personal accounts of the young Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis within its walls and was ultimately murdered in a concentration camp. Now the museum in Amsterdam has released a mobile phone application that shows users the city from Anne's perspective.
The museum's digital media manager, Ita Amahorseija, says the aim of the app was to make Anne Frank's story relevant for the people living in Amsterdam today. “What we wanted was to get people to make a connection between the past and present. So when they are standing in central Amsterdam or near their own house, and they see this picture within the context of the street as it is now, they will realize that this really happened,” Amahorseija said.
Anne Frank was one of millions murdered in the Holocaust. She wrote her famous diary while hiding in the Amsterdam house, together with her family, during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Only Anne's father Otto - and her diary - would survive the Holocaust.
Blending past and present
The Anne's Amsterdam app aims to capture the history of the Dutch capital by bridging the past with the present, for instance, by showing contemporary photographs of the city superimposed with historical war-time images.
With GPS, users navigate their way through Amsterdam on a tour of 30 significant sites that have some connection to Anne Frank: where she lived and went to school, the annex in which her family hid from the Nazis, and the book shop where her father bought her the famous diary, to name a few.
Within 100 meters of each site, users can access multimedia information about it. Just across from the museum, for instance, the app shows the location where Jan Gies, a friend and helper of the family, witnessed them being arrested by the Nazis. Users can listen to an interview with Jan Gies talking about his eyewitness accounts, while they stand at the very place it occurred.
Amahorseija says the app enables a museum to expand beyond the walls of a museum.
While most sites are clustered near the Anne Frank House, visiting all 30 sites in typical Dutch style - on a bicycle - takes around two-and-a-half hours. The site furthest away from the city center is in southern Amsterdam, where Anne lived before her family went into hiding.
Harald Krämer, museum communications expert and lecturer at the Zurich School of Arts, says the app's navigational element effectively engages people because the viewer decides which sites to view and in which order. “It's not navigation to just lead someone from one point to another point. There is a personalization with this story, and this contributes to the content,” he said.
Though the app can be downloaded for free at the museum, its reliance on GPS makes it more attractive to locals than to international tourists, who would have to pay steep roaming charges.
Ruben Vis, director-general of NIK, which represents the Jewish communities in the Netherlands, says the app is an effective tool to help educate Jewish children about their heritage. “Different times need different approaches. The app is a way to communicate to young people about the history of Anne Frank,” said Vis.
The Anne Frank Museum joins a growing list of museums around the world that are offering mobile apps, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Louvre, and the National Gallery in London. Krämer, however, says using an app is not a complete experience in itself but rather "an opener" to get people interested in learning more about history.
“The aura of Anne Frank's diary cannot be reproduced. The real presence of the artifact is indispensible,” he said. Krämer encourages visitors to still view the actual diary at the museum and not just rely on the virtual experience.
Anne's Amsterdam is currently available in English, Dutch and German, though the Anne Frank Museum says it hopes to add other languages soon. The app was donated to the museum by organizations LBi and Repudo which designed and developed the app respectively. Released last month, the app has already received significant interest, with around 12,000 downloads in the first week alone.
Author: Charlotta Lomas
Editor: Kate Bowen