Konrad Zuse and the origins of the modern computer – Zuse Computer Museum

Created by Schnellebuntebilder, four installs now on display at the ZCOM Zuse Computer Museum in Hoyerswerda, Germany, capture and celebrate the pioneering work of Konrad Zuse, famed German engineer and inventor whose biggest achievement, the 1941 Turing-complete programmable computer Z3, is regarded to be the world’s first of its kind.

The four pieces – ZUSE_22, ZUSE_Plotter, ZUSE_Kurbel, and ZUSE_Mikroskop – were commissioned for the 2017 redesign of the ZCOM Zuse Computer Museum and are part of a new permanent exhibition dedicated to unraveling the complex history of digital data processing and computing technology — und Zuse’s role in it. Zuse’s contributions to modern computing include many firsts: in addition to the Z3, he developed the S2 computing machine, considered to be the first process control computer; his “Plankalkül” (1945/46) was the first high-level programming language, and the Z4 (built by Zuse’s company Zuse Apparatebau between 1942 and 1945) was the world’s first commercially available computer. Drawing the arc from Zuse’s earliest breakthroughs to the modern day, the museum presents original hardware, equipment, and ephemera and Schnellebuntebilder’s dynamic visualisations and incarnations using latest technology side by side. CAN has asked the Berlin-based studio for a ‘tour’.

Overview: Upon entry, ZUSE_22 – a projection on switchable glass – tells Zuse’s story and brings the old Z22 back to life. ZUSE_Plotter invites visitors to learn about programming using simple building blocks to control a classic pen-plotter. ZUSE_Kurbel examines computer processing speed and the abstract concepts of GigaHertz or CPU-cycles. Lastly, ZUSE_Mikroskop reveals the different layers, parts, and regions of a so-called ‘capped’ (opened) microchip through a real optical microscope.



This installation aims to bring the original Z22 back to life, a computer where Zuse, for the first time, used vacuum tubes instead of relays. The installation welcomes the visitor with a short animation sequence and situates the most important components within the Z22R (vacuum tubes, drum memory, ferrite-core memory). It also provides a short introduction to Konrad Zuse’s vita and the designs that were inspired by the original circuit diagrams of the ZUSE KG drawn in the 1950s/1960s. The installation’s sound design, done by Kling Klang Klong, is a reproduction of the original sounds of the Z22R combined with a contemporary soundscape evokative of the 1960s. The three minute video sequence was animated in Cinema 4D and After Effects and projection mapped onto the Z22R. Switchable Glass allows the team to switch between projection canvas and a look inside the original machine in real-time. They kept the switchable glass always semi transparent so the visitor can see the machine shining through the animation and the animation sequence is at all times in a direct communication with the actual machine. Tools used include vvvv, Adobe After Effects and Maxon Cinema 4D.



The idea for this ZUSE_Plotter was to use the z64 (the world’s first plotter/printer) to teach visitors about coding fundamentals. It was important to avoid the process becoming frustrating or buggy in the case of errors. Likewise, the experience should result in easy to draw and visually appealing images. The plotter is designed to be a tool to learn what coding is by using simple building blocks that are associated with basic coding constructs. The code is then translated into pseudo-code on the screen and in return controls the pen-plotter. There is help provided for every building block in case one wants to learn what the blocks mean. The digital interface was created using vvvv and vl and the physical with microcontrollers/motor drivers and Arduino. Fun fact: early ‘computer-artists” such as Frieder_Nake used the z64 machine to draw artworks.



Taktkurbel also known as the Clocking Table, is an installation that attempts to illustrate the evolution of relay, tube and transistor. At the lower level of the cabinet, a lever is installed that allows the visitors to interactively experience the evolution of clocking speeds in computers. A transparent screen positioned at the top of the cabinet allows visitors to simultaneously see the gears, that are turned by the lever, and a playful, explanatory interface that illustrates the simulated transmission changes and the resulting clocking speeds. The installation demonstrates which computer ran with which technology and how the speeds developed. Reaching a certain clocking speed is revealing one of three short animations, that explain either relay, tube or transistor. Each component reflects a historic step forward in computing speed.



The microscope exhibit explains the advances in miniaturisation of computer technology. A computer chip is placed under a microscope with approx. 100-fold magnification, its image is transferred to a screen. The visitor can control the position of the microchip via a control panel. On the screen, information about the microchip (year, power, area of application etc) is displayed. The visitor can activate different ‘levels’ through his interaction, displaying the various functional areas or the detailed structure of the chip. The chip used is a MOS 6502, the famous 8-bit microprocessor that was introduced in 1975 and caused a rapid decrease in pricing in the entire processor market. As such, it played a key role in introducing computers and game consoles into homes around the world. The MOS 6502 was, for example, used in the Atari 2600, Apple II, Nintendo Entertainment System, Commodore 64 as well as in the “Terminator” and Futurama’s robot Bender. The vector model of the MOS6502 was contributed by Greg with the help of everybody from visual6502.org.

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday (10 – 17), closed on 24. and 31.12., 1.1.
Address: ZCOM Zuse Computer Museum / D.-Bonhoeffer-Str. 1-3 / 02977 Hoyerswerda / GERMANY

Created in collaboration with Jan Bernstein, Analog Native and Klingklangklong (sound for the Z22).

Schnellebuntebilder | Analog NativeZuse Computer Museum


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