Picture of a Lilith computer

A visit at the Museum for Communication depot

by Yannick Rochat

On 13 June 2024, a delegation from the Confoederatio Ludens project visited the Museum of Communication depot in Schwarzenburg.

The aim was to explore the museum’s collections, particularly its computer hardware collections. Previously, we had had opportunities to talk to one of the museum curators, Juri Jaquemet, notably as part of the Pixelvetica preservation project.

Here are some thoughts related to this visit.

“Visiting these archives has helped me appreciate the evolution of media devices, machines, and their use. It is also a good way to observe the evolution of technical culture in Switzerland, where video games have become an integral part.”

Guillaume Guenat, PhD student

The Museum of Communication has received several donations of computer equipment, including large batches of floppy disks whose contents have not yet been studied. These disks, previously owned by users in Switzerland during the twentieth century, could provide us with a wealth of information. The craziest scenario would be to find Swiss video games that we don’t know about, but we wouldn’t dare dream of such a result. These disks can give us an insight into the use of a computer, as if frozen in time. While it is possible to obtain astronomical quantities of original software online today thanks to intense community preservation efforts, having access to a collection of floppy disks, which is almost intimate, allows us to reconstruct certain uses and practices, as well as the circulation of software at the time, as shown by a sticker from a Bernese computer shop (which we will be tracking down).

The Museum of Communication has already sorted tens of thousands of items, including Smaky and Lilith Swiss computers. These can be consulted via an interface, with entries accompanied by photographs. Some of these items are even on display in the museum’s large and rich permanent exhibition, where you can play a reproduction of Tennis for Two from 1958!

Juri Jaquemet was kind enough to talk to us about the history of the museum and the depot. Together with his colleague Tim Hellstern, they described their preservation work and the choices they make when objects enter the collection and are then lined up on the shelves. We were able to see some very fine exhibits and observe many Videotex interfaces (which is our colleague Pierre-Yves Hurel’s last rabbit hole). We even went into some old telephone booths, recalling the days when you had to go down to the crossroads at the bottom of your street to flirt on the phone without your parents listening over your shoulder.

“I was taken back in time; I could smell the air of the telephone booth from train stations in my memories (as they even preserved a small part of the ground with cigarette butts and pieces of broken calling cards). I also saw myself sitting at the fairy tale telephone table in a bank as a kid while waiting for my mother.

It is a remarkable and comprehensible collection of objects that are more than mere objects. It seemed as if they preserved the whole nostalgic aura of otherwise forgotten items and machines. Many stories are waiting to be told, sometimes by sheer luck of people visiting the archive and sharing their memories, as for example the practice of early Swiss television production and live colour adjustment of the camera by people holding up big cardboards before a live soccer game in the late 1970’s.

Countless life experiences, stories, history, and possibly even unknown Swiss games are patiently waiting to be discovered, many of them in boxes of unsorted disks and computer hardware. Entering this timeless place, situated in a once internationally influential shortwave station, now rurally guarded by peaceful sheep, is somewhat representative of the research into Swiss game history and whets the appetite to dive further into archives like this.”

Addrich Mauch, post-doctoral researcher

We are looking forward to finding out what use was made of the Apple II, Macintosh, Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Commodore, IBM PC, and other computers in the museum’s collections. We hope to be able to collaborate with the museum on the exploration of their many racks of floppy disks in the coming months or years.

“The visit was sensational and took us back in time with its postal buses and Videotex sets, for example. The rich archives make you want to spend a few days there. One example worthy of further investigation: we were able to observe devices from a PTT pilot project, which involved having videophones in post offices, on which videos could also be consulted.

One detail caught my eye: a few video games were grouped together at the end of a shelf, patiently waiting to be sorted. This reflects the status of video games as a kind of stowaway in institutions whose core business is not video games. The result: they’re officially nowhere, but unofficially everywhere. It reminded me of the ‘Computer’ trade show.”

Pierre-Yves Hurel, post-doctoral researcher

Many thanks to Juri Jaquemet and Tim Hellstern for the visit and for their time!


Header image: A Lilith computer photographed in the Museum for Communication depot, Yannick Rochat


OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Yannick Rochat (July 5, 2024). A visit at the Museum for Communication depot. Confoederatio Ludens. Retrieved July 19, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/11ybp


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