this was the system that allowed them to make video calls 80 years ago

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In a few years, with the help of a device that will work wirelessly and is perhaps called Telephotophon, one will certainly be able to see and hear one’s partner speak at the same time. The ‘pocket models’ will allow you to continue a conversation started even on a trip or a walk“.

It sounds like the day before yesterday, reflections of the 70s, or perhaps, with luck, of some visionary of the 50s; but what you just read is part of a chronicle entitled “Miracles Our Children Can Still Experience” and was published in the German newspaper Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung in… -drum roll- 1928. nearly a century agoshortly after John Logie Baird began to fiddle with electromagnetic television and when here, in Spain, there were still large areas without public light.

Visionaries and people with good sense of smell have always existed. That is not new. What is surprising about the passage from Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung it is that almost the opposite happens: despite what it may seem to us today, its author was not so avant-garde when writing those lines. He was right, yes, and outlines with respectable aim what would end up being the modern smartphones; but his readers could find something similar to what he describes as early as the 1930s.

“A Dream of Mankind”

How? Easy. In Nazi Germany, a communications service briefly operated that, saving the distances, can be considered the precedent of modern google-meet, zoom either Skype. Throughout the second half of the 1930s, the country tested a videoconferencing system, a “Fernseh-Sprech-Verbindung”in German, which basically allowed us to do the same thing we have today when we connect Zoom: talk face to face with someone who is miles away.

It was not a service within the reach of all pockets, it was not implemented throughout the country and of course its quality left much to be desired; but of course it served Adolf Hitler’s Germany to show off its chest and show the rest of the world the muscle of its technological sector.

The service debuted nearly nine decades ago, on March 1, 1936during the opening of the Leipzig Spring Fair and at the gates of Olympics that that same summer focused the attention of half the planet in Germany. To launch it, the line that connected Leipzig with the country’s capital, Berlin, was chosen, and an act full of pomp was orchestrated. As “masters of ceremonies” of that phone conversation in which you had to take care of gestures, yawning and fuss exercised by the minister Paul Freiherr von Eltz-Rübenach and the mayor Carl F. Goerdeler.

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“Television entertainment at any distance ahead fulfill another dream of humanity: we can talk to a person in a faraway place and see them as if they were standing in front of us,” von Eltz-Rübenach noted. as the culmination of a speech loaded with epic rhetoric. He didn’t miss the shot; although to achieve this there was still a lot of work ahead.

If von Eltz-Rübenach and Goerdeler were able to have a “face-to-face” talk from a distance in March 1936, it was basically thanks to the advances of the previous decade. Inside and outside your own country. In the 20’s Baird and AT&T had already explored the possibilities of the videophone and in Germany, in 1929, during the Great German Radio Exhibition, G. Krawinkel showed that two people could see each other while having a conversation on the phone.

The first line took advantage of the television coaxial cable laid between Berlin and Leipzig and it worked with two pairs of intercoms located in recognizable buildings in both locations. That same year the cable and the stations were extended from Trebnitz to Nuremberg and, with the passage of time, it advanced to other urbanized regions of the country, such as Munich or Hamburg.

Fernseh Sprechstelle 1936 01 Copy

That it was more widespread does not mean that it was more implanted. video conferences, as the Deutsches Ferbseghmuseum recalls, were “exclusive and expensive”. A local connection cost 1.5 reichsmark and for a long distance one was charged twice as much as for an ordinary one of the same duration. The world points out that using the service represented 7% of the weekly salary.

Despite all its pomp and halo of modernity, the new service was not comfortable either: those who used it had to go to the offices of the ReichPost (“Fernsehsprechstellen”) and stand in front of the screen with the headset. Regarding the quality of video images, users were scanned with a beam of light mechanically controlled 25 times per second and a photocell capable of capturing 40,000 pixels. Neither one nor the other seemed to matter to the authorities, who, convinced of its potential, facilitated the technically polished with the years.

The “Google Meet” of Nazi Germany did not have much room for improvement in any case. With the change of decade, marked by the outbreak of world war iiThe authorities they left the service on the route between Berlin, Leipzig and Munich because the image signal interfered with other broadcasts. The conflagration itself prevented the service from benefiting from improvements such as the one that G. Krawinkel had tried in 1938 for storage.

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Fortunately, the end of his story did not mean the end of video calls. In 1952 he presented a new device during the London Radio Exhibition and in the 1960s the US operator AT&T launched its own system at the New York World’s Fair, the Picturephoneanother invention as novel and advanced as unlucky in her history. The company trusted in that at the end of the 70s, 85% of the meetings were already held by videoconference, an estimate that was far from reality. The new system was simply too expensive.

Neither in the 70s, nor in the 80s, nor in the 90s; but the history of video conferencing has ended with a happy ending. With the push of the pandemic, today more than ever we connect to chat with our friends, family, partner or, as AT&T predicted, co-workers. Perhaps the jackpot is not for the Reich system; but time has shown that they were not wrong in opting for a form of communication that mixed image and sound.

He didn’t. And neither, it has been verified, that old prophecy of the Berliner Illustrirte.

Images | Fernseh Museum

“In a few years, with the help of a device that will work wirelessly and is perhaps called Telephotophon, one…

“In a few years, with the help of a device that will work wirelessly and is perhaps called Telephotophon, one…

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