Just shy of its 30th birthday celebrations, the aging dome theater in Berlin had to be completely renovated and its content revised from the ground up. Tim Florian Horn has been managing one of Europe’s most modern science theaters in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district.
Tim Florian Horn simply adores the stars. Originally from the northern German city of Kiel, he discovered his passion for planetariums as a young boy. “It’s not often you get the chance to see the stars shine as brightly outside as you do in a planetarium,” says the astronomer and multimedia producer enthusiastically. He has been managing the large ZEISS planetarium since 2013. His enthusiasm is something he’d also like to share with the visitors he welcomes to his planetarium – especially the children and young people. “Expanding the educational possibilities for students is one of the key goals I set myself four years ago.” Horn previously worked at planetariums in Hamburg and San Francisco, where he put together shows and hosted them live. That’s how he knows what visitors really want. Horn believes visitors both young and old are looking for the following things when they come to a planetarium: “To get closer to the planets, fly through the galaxy on a rocket ship and explore the moon, or accompany Charles Darwin on one of his expeditions.”
“It’s not often you get the chance to see the stars shine as brightly outside as you do in a planetarium”
What do visitors want?
“It’s a sizeable yet exciting challenge,” recalls Horn who, aged 31 at the time, was Europe’s youngest planetarium director. Even the building in Prenzlauer Berg with its impressive 30-meter external dome and aging technology was in need of a complete makeover. The old projector from 1987 was given pride of place in the lobby and a modern hybrid system from ZEISS was installed: the star projector custom-built for Berlin’s large ZEISS planetarium stands in the center of the room and – thanks to its LED technology – reproduces over 9,000 stars with astounding brilliance; what’s more, the ten digital projectors integrated into the dome show 360-degree films in magnificent colors. A specially developed computer program ensures that the two systems work in sync.
Showcase and Stars
“The technology has allowed us to rethink the planetarium,” says Horn. “These technical possibilities have opened the door to an authentic and breathtaking display of all the sciences. It is the first major step on the road to achieving a science theater that redefines our place in the cosmos in the here and now, beyond the limits of astronomy.” Visualizations piloted live, such as the flight through the universe, are projected impressively onto the dome as though the spectators themselves were on board a spaceship. By gazing up at stunning skyscape formed by different celestial bodies found in our solar system, the audience can take a journey by watching the spectacle “Planets – a voyage into the solar system.” Images taken by the space probes Cassini and Rosetta formed the basis of the collaboration between 19 planetariums from Germany, Austria and Switzerland – and the planetarium revised its first presentation from 1987, adapting it for the 360-degree shape. The program is very diverse and is proving to be a hit. Since the reopening in summer 2016, the modernized planetarium has welcomed more than 220,000 people – that’s a three-fold increase!
Horn has been receiving a lot of positive feedback. Visitors are simply in awe when it comes to the realistic and impressive nature of the images and films they behold. The total blackness achieved by the video projectors behind the dome makes this possible. They generate one harmonious image on the dome’s more than 700 square meters – and it boasts the world’s highest contrast. While other projectors only achieve a gray backdrop, the ZEISS projectors deliver absolute black. A planetarium needs precisely this black to ensure the films are as brilliant as possible against the dome and the stars twinkle just like they do outdoors. Horn knows from his live shows that the night sky still holds enormous appeal – especially for the little ones. “The children’s eyes get so wide and they just stare intently at the dome,” says the Planetarium Director. This is a feeling that Horn knows very well and a sight he just loves to see time and again.