German IT students play XXL Tetris on university building

Four IT students in the north German city of Kiel planned the installation of tens of thousands of lights at a university building and now use them to play classic video games Tetris and Breakout.

German IT students play XXL Tetris on university building
Photo: DPA

The group at the Christian-Albrechts university in the northern city of Kiel have effectively turned the facade of a university office building into a 1,700-inch flat screen, using it to play historic gaming classics Tetris and Breakout.

“To play this game in this format is something really special,” said team member Merlin Kötzing

Video of the project #lighthouse; Source: YouTube

In the course of their “Project Lighthouse” Jonas Lutz (Business IT), Andreas Boysen, Merlin Kötzing and Chris Kulessa (IT) planned the installation of a total of 56,448 LEDs to light up each of the 392 windows on the front of the building.

Each LED contains a custom-made chip the size of a fingernail.

The four young men even reprogrammed the Tetris game, originally invented by Russian programmer Alexei Pajitnov in 1980, to fit their purpose. They now move the virtual building blocks on the wall using a laptop.

“We put approximately 5,000 hours of work into this,” said 23-year-old project manager Jonas Lutz.

Though replicated in cities such as Philadelphia and Boston, the idea of building-scale LED art is a product of German ingenuity, popularized by Berlin project Blinkenlights in 2001.

The word Blinkenlights itself comes from a pidgin German joke by US computer programmers in the years after the Second World War.

Four nerds with a dream

After Lutz lacked sufficient funds during his first attempt to start the project, the university press office got wind of his idea  – and immediately started looking for sponsors, even contributing their own money to the €30,000 endeavor.

During the 2015 referenda on Hamburg and Kiel's applications for the summer Olympics in 2024, the students showed off their project for the first time, orchestrating a count down.

By now, “the star of the night” attracts many visitors to watch the lights, take selfies – and play over-sized Tetris. In the future, the students want to provide extra game pads for those itching to move around the virtual blocks.

Picture of the game Breakout; Photo:

Gaming in the name of science

But the undertaking is not all fun and games, said Lutz. “This is not just playing around, we can do proper research with with this thing.”

“At the moment, we're planning on a project concerning Li Fi [a system to use rapidly flashing lights rather than radio signals to transmit data],” university press officer Jan Winters told The Local.

“It's quite special because usually projects are initiated by the teaching body and are carried out by students. This time it's the other way around.”

Since the running costs are low, the LEDs may be blinking on for a while. “The costs for an hour of Tetris add up to only a few cents,” explained Lutz.

And the university staff are not scared of complaints either.

“It's not like we have a constitutional right to darkness in this country,” says Jan Winters.

by Max Bringmann

SEE ALSO: 7 German startups creating buzz at South by Southwest

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Explained: This is what studying in Germany will look like in autumn 2020

Germany remains a highly sought after study destination with lots to offer international students. With the autumn term set to begin, we spoke to students and experts to find out what it could be like to study here this year.

Explained: This is what studying in Germany will look like in autumn 2020
Archive photo shows students at workstations in the Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Center, the university library of Humboldt University Berlin. Photo: DPA

Moving abroad to go to university can be daunting at the best of times. So to do so in the middle of a pandemic might seem more than a little scary. But Germany’s roughly 350,000 international students still have lots to look forward to this year. 

“What students coming to Germany should know is universities still want to welcome new students and everyone in the sector is really committed to making sure teaching is high quality and that it’s safe,” says Gerrit Bruno Blöss, managing director of

READ ALSO: In Numbers: Who are Germany's international students?

In fact, Germany has seen an uptake in interest from students, Blöss says. This could be because of it’s late application deadline, or it’s international reputation for handling the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic well, he suggests. 

It could also be because of Brexit; UK universities may lose 84 percent of EU students to continental European universities, with Germany at the forefront of alternative study destinations, research from has shown.

But what will it be like to study in Germany this year? 

Mix of online and face-to-face teaching

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many universities around the world have been forced to close down class teaching and rapidly shift to distance learning, running online seminars and tutorials. 

For the Autumn 2020 term, universities across Germany and Europe are expected to use blended learning, which is a mix of online and face-to-face teaching methods. To be eligible for a student visa to come to Germany, international students must have at least some in-person teaching this year. 

Akos Kiraly, director of marketing and recruitment at Lancaster University Leipzig, says his university will offer a hybrid system where it will distribute classes on campus, as well as online through Zoom.

Alexander Pfisterer, lecturer at the University of Mannheim, recording a digital business lecture in April. Photo: DPA

“This year has been a challenge for all of us,” Kiraly says. “Generally speaking, we have adapted to the situation and are welcoming international students in the fall term. Most of the universities are prepared to teach completely online or in a hybrid model and can switch to online delivery if it’s necessary at short notice.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How (and where) to enroll in a Master's programme in Germany

Maxwell Shukuya, a student from the US who is doing a Mmaster’s in Cologne, says online learning can be tricky for international students.

“All of my classes were online last semester, and barring any unforeseen updates, the next semester will be online, too,” he says. “It wasn’t horrible, but it makes finding friends and practicing German difficult.”

However, Kiraly reassures new students that at many universities, those starting their courses online can receive additional support, such as extra tutoring and access to student support services.

No big parties – but still events

Everyday life for students in Germany and elsewhere will also be different to usual. Students shouldn’t be put off, though, Kiraly says. 

“With safety measures – such as wearing a mask and disinfectant – we can still arrange events and social gatherings,” he says.

“We know a big part of student life is meeting others. So even if it’s not the same, we are confident we’ll be able to provide events and gatherings. These won’t be big parties or gatherings any more, of course, but [gatherings in] a smaller circle.”

READ ALSO: 10 words that perfectly sum up student life in Germany

Many of the things that make Germany a popular study destination remain. The relatively affordable cost of tuition – usually around around €350 per semester – and living was a big factor in Shukuya’s decision to study in Cologne, he says. 

“I really appreciate that the education here is affordable. Not only do students receive an all-inclusive transportation ticket every semester, but they also have access to subsidized cafes, sports classes and gyms.”

Since June this year, foreign students within Germany can also apply for an interest-free loan of up to €650 per month to help facilitate their studies. 

Germany is an open minded study destination that offers unique opportunities, Kiraly says. “We offer one of the best educations worldwide, with an English taught offering.”

Student Constantin Pittruff watching a lecture from home in Sinzing, Bavaria in April. Photo: DPA

'Nightmarish bureaucracy'

Shukuya does have some frustrations with the German higher education system, though.

“Some professors can be fairly distant,” he says. “For example, office hours often seem rushed and straight-to-the-point.

“Straightforward things like signing up for classes and figuring out what exam you need to take for a certain module are way more complicated than they need to be, thanks to a pretty nightmarish bureaucracy. It often seems like no one, not even the instructors themselves, knows what to do.”

READ ALSO: EU students turn to Germany as a top study destination in light of Brexit

But overall, Shukuya is pleased to be able to study in Germany. “It’s a good idea to learn as much German as possible before getting here though,” he says. 

Blöss says he doesn’t want students to be put off from studying internationally because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Personally I would say if you can make it happen, still come and study abroad,” he says. “If you can do it later, then do it later, but don’t cancel your plans altogether. 

“This is a challenge that can be overcome,” he says. “That’s the message we want to communicate to everyone we encounter.”