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Prototype Fund round 5: Letting machines learn

- August 22, 2018 in AI, germany, OK Germany, Open Source, prototype fund

The Prototype Fund is a public program run by Open Knowledge Foundation Germany that focuses on emerging challenges and radically new solutions. Individuals and small teams can apply for funding to test their ideas and develop open source tools and applications in the fields of civic tech, data literacy, data security and more. The 5th round of the Fund is currently open for applications until 30 September: in this blog Katharina Meyer shares more on its contents and on how to apply.

Letting machines learn: technologies for the future

New technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are on everyone’s lips – but mostly not in our hands. With the focus of the 5th call for applications we want to encourage more people to participate in shaping these new technologies and have a stake in our future. We want to find out what opportunities new technological developments offer to society. How much of this hype is righteous, what are the risks, how can we gain a better insight into the emergence of technologies and influence this process? Artificial intelligence is an example of the challenges we face in the verge of tomorrow’s technologies. The development of intelligent systems is only accessible to a few people and companies because the technologies are highly specialized. The amount of data needed to train the machines is often owned by large corporations and platforms. The development of new technologies and intelligent systems is often directed towards industry or embedded in the theoretical framework of universities. To ensure that emerging technologies reflect social reality and do not discriminate against people, we need to incorporate a wide range of experience and expertise into their development. We also aim to better understand what exactly we are talking about when we say AI and demystify technology. We therefore especially encourage software projects to apply, which deal with the following questions as part of their conceptual and practical work:
  • Which social topics can be better explored and addressed with the help of machine learning, and how?
  • How can new technologies help us address (and reduce) existing injustice instead of reinforcing it?
  • Explaining and understanding new technologies: How do Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence work? What are the challenges, myths and opportunities?
We are not seeking to apply new technologies to random problems, but instead to examine developments and fields of application in detail and placing people and their needs at the centre of technical development. In a blog post (in German) we have collected projects and ideas that illustrate our main topic. Projects outside this focus can also be supported if they are in the areas of digital infrastructure, data security, data literacy or civic tech.

How to apply

Applications are open to individuals and small teams who live in Germany. You can read more about the fifth round and apply at https://prototypefund.de/en/. The projects we currently support can be found here.  

Our Open Data Day 2018 @ hack.institute

- April 18, 2018 in germany, hackathon, Open Data Day, open data day 2018

This blog has been reposted from Medium This blog is part of the event report series on International Open Data Day 2018. On Saturday 3 March, groups from around the world organised over 400 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data. 45 events received additional support through the Open Knowledge International mini-grants scheme, funded by Hivos, SPARC, Mapbox, the Hewlett Foundation and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The event in this blog was supported through the mini-grants scheme under the Equal Development theme.

The Open Data Day 2018 hackathon at our place near Barbarossa Platz began in the morning (at 9am) and went all day long until 8pm in the evening. The different participants (or hackathletes as we like to call them) came from all parts of Cologne and even from other cities throughout the province of Nordrhein-Westfalen.

The topic of our hackathon was (as intended) air pollution and nitrogen dioxide pollution in particular. All of which can’t be talked about enough since the pollution is invisible but its impact on our health is not. And especially in the inner city of Cologne there is lots and lots of air pollution.

We had breakfast together and got each other to know while drinking a coffee or two. So we had time to appreciate our similarities and differences before we started working. We had about thirty participants pitching around ten ideas, which ultimately formed themselves into three groups, each of them with their own goal based on the best pitches made.

The three different projects that were realized during our hackathon for Open Data Day 2018 were, as already stated, all about nitrogen dioxide pollution in Cologne and all of the hacks worked with (or compared) the different figures from the two main sources that monitor air pollution in our area. The first one being the City of Cologne, the second one being Open Air Cologne, a joint venture by OKlab Cologne, Everykey, the Cologne University of Applied Sciences and again the City of Cologne themselves.

Our hackers went on to built python scripts, parsers and APIs to transmit data, transform data, to compare the measurements between the two data sources and to visualize them and make the data machine-readable for other users and visualizations.

Concerning the accomplishment of goals we are happy to announce that one project was completely finished and the two runner ups were almost finished and in a working condition. Also the goal of connecting people and keeping them connected was accomplished since some of the participants are still in email communication concerning their projects.

Our community did a great deal of furthering the cause. We had a principal direction where we wanted to go but the projects/hacks were all planned and formed by the participants themselves. Also the two hour long Barcamp that was held helped a lot in giving the pitches shape and furthering the scope of each project.

Still through feedback we got the insight that it might have been even more productive to be a little bit more strict in guiding the participating hackers and maybe look even closer at their individual strengths to everyone can take part in the project in the most fitting way. We would also like to try to use our next Hackathons as a thematic bridge between the last and the following Open Data Day. We have a LoRaWAN Hackathon coming up where the projects from our Open Data Day Hackathon could be expanded on.

Regarding the comparison to the Open Data Day 2018 Hackathon held by the Women Economic and Leadership Initiative (our tandem organisation for the ODD18) we were able to find several similarities between our events aside from being about open data. The most outstanding similarity being the purpose to connect open data enthusiasts with each other, while on the other hand the most obvious difference is that they targeted a slightly different group of participants since they were focusing on female participants while our Hackathlon was gender unspecific.

We had a great Open Data Day 2018 and enjoyed it very much to share the day with the Open Data community. We are happily looking forward to have a great Open Data Day again in 2019.

We are also very grateful for our great sponsors and partners:
pro.volutionEmbersRailsloveTDWIKöln Express and Kölner Stadtanzeiger and especially the City of Cologne.

Thank you very much again.

Hack on!

We crack the Schufa, the German credit scoring

- February 22, 2018 in germany, mydata, OK Germany, personal-data

Last week the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany (OKFDE) and AlgorithmWatch launched the project OpenSCHUFA. Inspired by OKF Finland and the „mydata“ project, OpenSCHUFA is the first„mydata“ project by OKFDE. Over the last 7 days, the campaign generated Germany-wide media attention, and already over 8.000 individual Schufa data request (30.000 personal data requests in total).

Why we started OpenSCHUFA and why you should care about credit scoring

Germany’s leading credit rating bureau, SCHUFA, has immense power over people’s lives. A low SCHUFA score means landlords will refuse to rent you an apartment, banks will reject your credit card application and network providers will say ‘computer says no’ to a new Internet contract. But what if your SCHUFA score is low because there are mistakes in your credit history? Or if the score is calculated by a mathematical model that is biased? The big problem is, we simply don’t know how accurate SCHUFA’s or any other credit scoring data is and how it computes its scores. OpenSCHUFA wants to change this by analyzing thousands of credit records. This is not just happening in Germany, or just with credit scoring, for example the Chinese government has decided to introduce a scoring system by 2020 that assigns a “social value” to all residents. Or think about the Nosedive episode of Black Mirror series. We want to
  • start a discussion on that topic
  • bring more transparency towards (credit) scoring
  • empower people with their own data and show what can be done once this data is donated or crowd-shared

What exactly is SCHUFA?

SCHUFA is Germany’s leading credit rating bureau. It’s a private company similar to Equifax, Experian or TransUnion, some of the major credit reporting agencies operating in the US, UK, Canada or Australia. SCHUFA collects data of your financial history – your unpaid bills, credit cards, loans, fines and court judgments – and uses this information to calculate your SCHUFA score. Companies pay to check your SCHUFA score when you apply for a credit card, a new phone or Internet contract. A rental agent even checks with SCHUFA when you apply to rent an apartment. A low score means you have a high risk of defaulting on payments, so it makes it more difficult, or even impossible, to get credit. A low score can also affect how much interest you pay on a loan.

Why should you care about SCHUFA score or any other credit scores?

SCHUFA holds data on about 70 million people in Germany. That’s nearly everyone in the country aged 18 or older. According to SCHUFA, nearly one in ten of these people living in Germany (around 7 million people) have negative entries in their record. That’s quite a lot. SCHUFA gets its data from approximately 9,000 partners, such as banks and telecommunication companies. SCHUFA doesn’t believe it has a responsibility to check the accuracy of data it receives from its partners. In addition, the algorithm used by SCHUFA to calculate credit scores is protected as a trade secret so no one knows how the algorithm works and whether there are errors or injustices built into the model or the software. So basically, if you are an adult living in Germany, there is a good chance your life is affected by a credit score produced by a multimillion euro private company using an automatic process that they do not have to explain and an algorithm based on data that nobody checks for inaccuracies. And this is not just the case in Germany, but everywhere were credit scores determine everyday life.

How can you help?

Not living in Germany? Money makes the world go round. Please donate some money – 5 EUR, we also do take the GBP or USD –  to enable us to develop a data-donation software (that is open source and re-usable also in your country). Get in touch if you are interested in a similar campaign on the credit bureau in your country: openschufa@okfn.de And now some of the famous German fun, our campaign video:

How to innovate? Prototype everything!

- December 19, 2017 in civic tech, funding, germany, OK Germany, Open Data, Open Source

We recognized a problem. There are so many individuals and small teams with good ideas out there, but there is little to no financial support. We wanted to change that. This is how the idea for the Prototype Fund came to life. Usually, in order to receive funding, teams need to have a clear-cut business model, be an established company, or pursue a long-term research project. But innovation requires a different environment. Innovation needs room for trial and error, changing plans, and short-term sprints. Innovation is not just planning business models, but identifying problems and needs within your community and addressing these. The Prototype Fund aims to suit the needs for innovation. The Prototype Fund is a public program run by Open Knowledge Foundation Germany that focuses on emerging challenges and radically new solutions. Individuals and small teams can apply for funding to test their ideas and develop open source tools and applications in the fields of civic tech, data literacy, data security and more. Our early-stage funding encourages people to follow unusual approaches. The application process aims to be as unbureaucratic as possible and is adjusted to the needs of software developers, civic hackers, and creatives. The Prototype Fund brings iterative software development and government funding together. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds eight rounds from 2016 through 2020. Each round, we can thus support up to 25 innovative open source projects. Each project is funded with up to 47,500€. Our goal is to support code for all and strengthen the open source community in Germany. In true open source spirit, we want to pave the way for innovation for everyone. During the first two rounds we received more than 500 applications. There was an enormous amount of feedback and the need for an open source funding program became apparent. While the first round was an open call, the second round focused on ‘Tools for a strong Civil Society’. Projects included Pretix, a tool that facilitates the ticket sale and registration for events, while allowing more privacy for the user and self-hosted applications, or Pluragraph, that offers social media benchmarking and analysis in the non-commercial sector. In the third round, we focused on ‘Diversity: more open source for everyone!’, which led to 19 percent of applications that were submitted by women and a wide range of thrilling projects of which our jury selected 23 projects for funding. A menstrual tracking app, for example, allows the privacy-friendly and customized pursuit of the cycle beyond commercial interests. Another example is Briar, a messenger app that allows encrypted communication without a central server, but directly from device to device. Many of our projects address questions such as: How can we reduce bureaucracy, build strong communities, establish skill-sharing and foster lifelong learning? As much as we are happy with how things are turning out so far, the Prototype Fund itself is that: a prototype. We are constantly trying to improve and to come up with new ideas. Do you want to get in touch or find out more about our projects? Here is a list with all the projects we funded in Round 1 to 3, subscribe to our newsletter (in German), or get in touch under info@prototypefund.de. Or simply come to our next Demo Day on 28 February 2018 in Berlin and get some live Prototype-Fund spirit!  

How to innovate? Prototype everything!

- December 19, 2017 in civic tech, funding, germany, OK Germany, Open Data, Open Source

We recognized a problem. There are so many individuals and small teams with good ideas out there, but there is little to no financial support. We wanted to change that. This is how the idea for the Prototype Fund came to life. Usually, in order to receive funding, teams need to have a clear-cut business model, be an established company, or pursue a long-term research project. But innovation requires a different environment. Innovation needs room for trial and error, changing plans, and short-term sprints. Innovation is not just planning business models, but identifying problems and needs within your community and addressing these. The Prototype Fund aims to suit the needs for innovation. The Prototype Fund is a public program run by Open Knowledge Foundation Germany that focuses on emerging challenges and radically new solutions. Individuals and small teams can apply for funding to test their ideas and develop open source tools and applications in the fields of civic tech, data literacy, data security and more. Our early-stage funding encourages people to follow unusual approaches. The application process aims to be as unbureaucratic as possible and is adjusted to the needs of software developers, civic hackers, and creatives. The Prototype Fund brings iterative software development and government funding together. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds eight rounds from 2016 through 2020. Each round, we can thus support up to 25 innovative open source projects. Each project is funded with up to 47,500€. Our goal is to support code for all and strengthen the open source community in Germany. In true open source spirit, we want to pave the way for innovation for everyone. During the first two rounds we received more than 500 applications. There was an enormous amount of feedback and the need for an open source funding program became apparent. While the first round was an open call, the second round focused on ‘Tools for a strong Civil Society’. Projects included Pretix, a tool that facilitates the ticket sale and registration for events, while allowing more privacy for the user and self-hosted applications, or Pluragraph, that offers social media benchmarking and analysis in the non-commercial sector. In the third round, we focused on ‘Diversity: more open source for everyone!’, which led to 19 percent of applications that were submitted by women and a wide range of thrilling projects of which our jury selected 23 projects for funding. A menstrual tracking app, for example, allows the privacy-friendly and customized pursuit of the cycle beyond commercial interests. Another example is Briar, a messenger app that allows encrypted communication without a central server, but directly from device to device. Many of our projects address questions such as: How can we reduce bureaucracy, build strong communities, establish skill-sharing and foster lifelong learning? As much as we are happy with how things are turning out so far, the Prototype Fund itself is that: a prototype. We are constantly trying to improve and to come up with new ideas. Do you want to get in touch or find out more about our projects? Here is a list with all the projects we funded in Round 1 to 3, subscribe to our newsletter (in German), or get in touch under info@prototypefund.de. Or simply come to our next Demo Day on 28 February 2018 in Berlin and get some live Prototype-Fund spirit!  

Call for a week-long data journalism training in Berlin

- August 18, 2016 in Data Journalism, Events, fellowship, germany

image alt text Photo from a data visualization training in Istanbul, 2014. Author: Nika Aleksejeva ‘Data-driven journalism against prejudices about migration’ training course for young media-makers, human rights activists and developers Berlin, 12 – 20 November 2016 Deadline for receiving applications is: 31st August 2016, 23:59h CET.
School of Data fellow, Nika Aleksejeva, in collaboration with European Youth Press (EYP), an umbrella association of young media-makers in Europe, is inviting young media-makers, designers/developers/programmers and human rights activists to participate in a week-long data journalism training. The training aims to produce impartial, data-driven reports on local migration issues using innovative storytelling forms. It will address the current European refugee crisis, from the perspective of 11 European countries (listed below).

What to expect?

The main objective of the training course is to increase data journalism skills through hands-on training and through working on a real story that will eventually be published in the media. During the project, EYP will partner up with established media organisations from the eleven, listed countries, who will each send one journalist to attend the training. Working together, participants will learn data journalism skills and immediately apply them to practical scenarios. The finished results of their work will be published by media partners of the project. It is hoped that this broad public outreach will lead to significant effect on the media’s treatment of the issue. This course will be an opportunity to strengthen an already-established international network of young media-makers, mid-career journalists and activists concerned with migration and refugee rights. Participants of the training course will:
  • learn and practice data journalism techniques: finding the right data, scraping, compiling, cleaning, storytelling with data;

  • form teams and work on specific projects, with a view to publication in the national media of participants’ home countries;
  • make professional contacts in the field and obtain hands-on experience of working on a cross-border, data-driven investigation.

Financial Information

This training course is funded by the Erasmus+ grant. Participants will receive reimbursement of their travel costs** up to the amount indicated below, **according to their country of residence:
  • Armenia: 270 EUR

  • Belgium: 170 EUR
  • Czech Republic: 80 EUR
  • Denmark: 80 EUR
  • Germany (outside Berlin): 80 EUR
  • Italy: 170 EUR
  • Latvia: 170 EUR
  • Montenegro: 170 EUR
  • Slovakia: 170 EUR
  • Sweden: 170 EUR
  • Ukraine: 170 EUR
  • participants living in Berlin will not be eligible for reimbursement of any travel expenses.
Although travel costs will be reimbursed, participants are asked to make the travel bookings themselves, as soon as possible after being selected. Participants are also asked to take the most economical route from their place of residence to Berlin and use the following means of the transportation:
  • Train: 2nd class ticket (normal as well as high-speed trains),

  • Flight: economy-class air ticket or cheaper,
  • Bus
Accommodation, meals and all necessary materials will be provided.

Who can apply?

Applicants must fulfil all the criteria below:
  • young media-makers, journalism students, bloggers and citizen journalists with a demonstrated interest in issues related to the rights of ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees; human rights activists working on refugee/migration issues; developers interested in the topic;

  • 18-30 year-olds;
  • residents of Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Armenia, Ukraine, Montenegro, Slovakia, Denmark and Latvia;
  • proficient in English.

How to apply?

Interested candidates are invited to apply by completing this application form. Please also send your CV, in Europass format, and via e-mail, to applications@youthpress.org with ‘ddj on migration’ in the subject line. The deadline for receiving completed applications (form and CV) is: 31st August, 23:59h CET. Flattr this!

Cartoon Map of Europe in 1914

- January 29, 2014 in cartoon, Europe, first world war, germany, maps, political cartoon, satire, war, world war one

A German cartoon from 1914 showing the lay of the political land as seen from the Germ…

Radical Fashion from the Schembart Carnival (1590)

- April 11, 2013 in carnival, collections, costume, Digital Copy: No Additional Rights, germany, Images, Images-16th, Images-Illumination, Images-People, mardi gras, nuremberg, UCLA Digital Library, Underlying Work: PD Worldwide

Illustrations from a 16th century manuscript detailing the phenomenon of Nuremberg’s Schembart Carnival, (literally “bearded-mask” carnival). Beginning in 1449, the event was popular throughout the 15th century but was ended in 1539 due to the complaints of an influential preacher named Osiander who objected to his effigy being paraded on a float, depicting him playing backgammon surrounded by fools and devils. According to legend, the carnival had its roots in a dance (a “Zämertanz”) which the butchers of Nuremberg were given permission to hold by the Emperor as a reward for their loyalty amid a trade guild rebellion. Over the years the event took on a more subversive tone, evolving to let others take part with elaborate costumes displayed and large ships on runners, known as “Hells”, which were paraded through the streets. After its end, many richly illustrated manuscripts (known as “Schembartbücher”) were made detailing the carnival’s 90 year existence. We are unsure what the flaming “artichokes” are all about, if any one has a clue do let us know in the comments! UPDATE solved – according to Christies: “They brandished lances and bunches of leaves – known as Lebensrute — that concealed fireworks.” UCLA Digital Library Underlying Work: [...]

First year anniversary of the Berlin Wall (1962)

- November 9, 2012 in Berlin, berlin wall, collections, Films, Films: 1960s, Films: Clip, Films: Documentary, germany

Universal newsreel from 1962 looking at the 1st year anniversary of the Berlin Wall. Download from Internet Archive Note this film is in the public domain in the US, but may not be in other jurisdictions. Please check its status in your jurisdiction before re-using. Sign up to get our free fortnightly newsletter which shall deliver direct to your inbox the latest brand new article and a digest of the most recent collection items. Simply add your details to the form below and click the link you receive via email to confirm your subscription!

German Folk Dress (1887)

- September 7, 2012 in austria, costume, folk dress, germany, Images, Images-19th, Images-Illustrations, Images-Painting, Images-People, non-article

Images from Deutsche Volkstrachten, Original-Zeichnungen mit erklärendem Text (1887) by Albert Kretschmer, a book detailing the folk dress of the peoples in areas covering modern day Austria and southern Germany. Albert Kretschmer (1825-1891) was known for his highly detailed drawings, watercolors and lithographs usually in publications detailing varieties of German and international costumes and historical clothing. In addition, he worked until 1889 as a costume designer at the Königliches Schauspielhaus in Berlin. (Wikipedia)

(All images taken from Deutsche Volkstrachten, Original-Zeichnungen mit erklärendem Text housed at the Internet Archive, donated by University of Toronto Libraries – Hat-tip to Old Book Illustrations Scrapbook Blog where we first came across the images).

Austria – Styria (Steiermark)



Austria – Pinzgau



Vorarlberg – Bregenzerwald



Tyrol – Bechthal



Tyrol – Uber Innthal













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