Forget Middle Earth—Central and Eastern Europe’s salt mines, ice caves, mountains and castles are now on Street View

Throughout history, Europe has been a hotbed of culture, imagination and natural beauty. At Google we’re keen to share these elements with the world through our maps, so over recent months we’ve been taking all manner of Street View technologies—Trekkers, Trolleys and tripods—to capture some incredible places across the continent, focusing this time on Central and Eastern Europe. Here are a few highlights for you to explore:

Hungary
Floating down the Danube river in summertime is a wonderful thing. But now you can also check out some of Hungary’s hidden gems in Google Maps. Take a look inside the National Theatre of Pécs and explore the beautiful Basilica of Eger, the second largest church in the country. In the capital, Budapest, you can walk among the trees and rose bushes in the little-known but spectacular botanical garden near the centre of town, or even climb a hill to get away from it all.

The magnificent National Theatre of Pec, Hungary

Czech Republic
If you’re lucky enough to have been to Prague, you may have seen the fairytale sight of Prague Castle from the medieval Charles Bridge. They’re too good to miss, so we added these sites and almost 30 others in Czech Republic to Street View including the gardens of the Prague Castle, Prague’s historic center, interiors of castles such as Cesky Krumlov and Spilberk, and beauty spots like Ceske Svycarsko and Krkonose National Park.

The interior of the Cesky Krumlov Castle, Czech Republic

Slovakia
In Slovakia, we’ve just released images of heritage sites like this wooden protestant church in Kezmarok and national parks like Velka Fatra and Pieniny. To get a feel for the history of the country, why not check out Branc Castle or Draskovic Castle in Cachtice? From the high turrets and battlements of the castles, you can then take a trip below ground and visit Dobsinska Ice Cave and Ochtinska Aragonite Cave which we added last year.

The church in Kezmarok

Romania
And finally, sink 100 meters deep into one of the most breathtaking places beneath the earth: the Turda Salt Mine, in Cluj County, Romania. Tourists around the world can take a tour of the mine—which is more than 200 years old—with our high-resolution imagery, from the comfort of their homes.

Turda Salt Mine, Romania

We hope you enjoy discovering some of the delights of Europe as much as we did.

Posted by Magdalena Filak, Street View team Continua a leggere

Bringing a fresh digital vision from “New Europe” to Brussels

While Old Europe ponders its approach to the digital future, New Europe is rushing ahead to embrace the web as a motor for growth and prosperity. This past autumn, together with Financial Times, International Visegrad Fund and Res Publica, we announced the New Europe 100 list of innovators from Central and Eastern Europe.This past week, many of these entrepreneurs came to Brussels to present their ideas to the European Parliament

The event featured real-life success stories :

  • Kamila Sidor, CEO, Geek Girl Carrots from Poland who runs a successful social innovation movement to encourage more women into ICT careers.
  • Michaela Jacova, Investment Manager, Neulogy VC from Slovakia, who supports aspiring talented entrepreneurs by awarding grants and matching with VC investors.
  • Paul-Andre Baran, Director, Biblionet from Romania, who helps provides free access to computers and the internet through public libraries.
  • Marcin Beme, CEO, Audioteka.pl from Poland, who founded a successful mobile platform offering digital audiobooks in Poland, Czech Republic, Hunagry , Spain, FInland, Sweden, Russia, Germany, France and Romania.
  • Gergana Passy, Digital Champion of Bulgaria, who advocates for a free access to the internet, e-skills and digital transformation across the society.

MEP Michal Boni, former minister for digitization in Poland, hosted the debate, which featured a keynote address from Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist. Policymakers from around New Europe attended, including MEP Janusz Lewandowski, former Polish EU Commissioner; MEP Antanas Guoga from Lithuania, and Prof. Ziga Turk of University of Ljubljana and Former Minister for Growth in Slovenia.

All listened to the entrepreneurs offering important lessons on technology­-driven innovation. Apart from sharing personal passion for ICT-driven innovation, the New Europe called on the politicians to create a positive environment for innovation. Their proposed ingredients include accepting business failures, attracting more women in ICT careers, increasing access to the Internet across the society, and simplifying rules for trading across the borders. Together, these measures represent a positive recipe for creating a true European digital single market.

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Throwing off the shackles of communism

A quarter century ago, the people of Central Europe liberated themselves, bringing down the Iron Curtain, choosing capitalism over communism, and democracy over dictatorship. This week, at an event in Prague, we unveiled ten online Google Cultural Institute exhibitions recounting the amazing and thrilling events from Poland in the north to Hungary in the south.

Communism represented an artificial transplant in Central Europe. Throughout history, the region enjoyed strong religious, economic and political ties with the West. The Museum Masaryk T.G. Lany brings its readers back to the founding ideas of democracy and freedom on which the Czechoslovak Republic was built through the legacy of the first Czechoslovak president.

All through the 1980s, pressure for change mounted. An independent free trade union called Solidarity swept through Poland at the beginning of the decade. Even though the government declared martial law to crush it, the light of freedom would only be dimmed temporarily. Dissidents appeared. Priests protested. Musicians revolted. The Czech Republic’s Vaclav Havel Library’s exhibition of black and white photographs captures not only the period of mass demonstrations in 1989 and the subsequent revolution, but also the visits and performances of cultural icons such as Frank Zappa and the US alternative troupe The Bread and Puppet Theater. For the citizens of Czechoslovakia, these first tastes of the Western world represented “the first free steps of a society.”

Starting in the spring of 1989, East Germans began fleeing to other Soviet bloc countries. The Hungarian government opened its border with Austria in May and the rush to escape was on. The Vaclav Havel Library exhibit captures the wave of citizens of the German Democratic Republic in September who inundated the surroundings of the embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Prague, waiting in anticipation for longed permission to travel to the West.

In June, the Polish government legalized Solidarity and held partially free elections. Solidarity won a landslide and formed the Soviet bloc’s first non-communist led government. The Polish History Museum has created an exhibit called “Tearing the Iron Curtain apart.” It includes a photo of the symbolic meeting between Poland’s first non-communist Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and the German Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Another exhibition from the Julian Antonisz Foundation shows experimental art from the communist era.

In November, the Berlin Wall crumbled and millions of Czechs crowded the streets. The Muzeum umění Olomouc has prepared a selection of images from photographer Petr Zatloukal, showing a behind-the-scenes look at the November events. The Muzeum policie České republiky showcases photographs of the uniforms of the riot police on 17th November 1989, as they watched, powerless, while millions of Czechs marched for their freedom. Dissident playwright Vaclav Havel emerged from prison to become president. The photographs from the Nadace Dagmar a Václava Havlových VIZE 97 exhibit maps Havel’s extraordinary journey from 1989 to 2011.

Slovakia also won its freedom and soon broke away from Prague to achieve full independence. Its the Museum of Crimes and Victims of Communism illustrates the path to freedom through photographs of unknown heroes who participated in country’s Candle Demonstration.

The sweep of the events accelerated and the shackles of communism were gone by the end of 1989, not only throughout Central Europe, but also in the Balkan countries of Romania and Bulgaria. The Balts, within the Soviet Union itself, soon would form a human chain hundreds of miles long and win back their freedom. In Hungary, the Open Society Archives, is bringing online one of the world’s largest archives from the Cold War, including propaganda films and surveillance documents, samizdat and opposition activist videos, publications and posters.

Take time to browse and learn. We believe putting historical material on the Internet and organizing it in a way that allows visitors to read and understand what it felt like to be in the midst of events not only gives more people access to important material but also preserves these perspectives for future generations. Today, memories of the Cold War may be fading and it is our duty to keep them alive as a reminder of the tremendous achievements of the courageous people of Central Europe.

PostePosted by William Echikson, Head of Free Expression, Europe
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Supporting New Europe’s digital advances

They threw off the shackles of communism. Now they are grabbing the reigns of the technology revolution. Together with Financial Times, International Visegrad Fund and Res Publica, we announced the New Europe 100 list of innovators from Central and Eastern Europe who are leveraging new technologies to transform the region in business, media, culture, science and politics.

In announcing the project, the Financial Times noted: “central and eastern Europe say the combination of a high level of mathematical education, low overheads and a globalised, westernised young generation makes for a heady and successful mix.” We agree. The New Europe 100 winners show that this former communist region is fast moving away from its old traditional manufacturing industries. They range from “a Hungarian doctor who has created a medical advice website driven by social media, a team of Polish students who have built an award-winning robot that could operate on Mars, and a Slovak inventor of a flying car. “

Check out the whole list at http://ne100.org/ and read more about the project and its laureates in the newest Visegrad Insight. Follow it on Twitter @NewEurope100 and tag as #NE100 elsewhere.

The FT correctly notes that the the region still must overcome obstacles. Research and development activities is about one per cent of the region’s gross domestic product, according to McKinsey, the consultancy – half the rate in the western EU, and even behind 1.5 per cent in the Bric economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Our hope that the New Europe 100 project will help raise the profile of the region’s innovators. Recognition from being included on the list will, we believe, bring the initiatives attention, investor interest – and perhaps even potential business partnerships.

Posted by Agata Waclawaik-Wejman, Head of Public Policy, Central Europe
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Enjoy the best of Slovakia with the Google Cultural Institute

Slovakia enjoys a rich, vibrant culture, full of beautiful music, famous painters, and both natural and manmade wonders. Last week at the beautiful Cafe Berlinka at the Slovak National Gallery, the Google Cultural Institute welcomed its first ever partners from the Central European nation. Eight museums and galleries from across the country have made available their content so that it can be explored in more detail by people around the world.

The exhibitions features works by famous Slovak painters; Ladislav Mednyánszky, Ľudovít Fulla, Martin Benka and sculptors such as Štefan Siváň and Jozef Jankovič. A super high resolution image of Mednyánszky’s “Bank of a river in bloom” contraststhe botanical details on the river bank in bloom with the hazy river. Zoom into the barely there image of grazing cattle in the distance. We also have published Indoor Street View imagery of the Chateau Strážky and Bratislava City Gallery.

Another exhibition features the jewels of Slovakia’s Natural History Museum including an ancient Egyptian mummy, a skull of Homo sapiens from the late Upper Palaeolithic and a Palaeontological collection with traces of dinosaurs.

Posted by Martina Ondrusova, Communications Manager, Prague
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Become a cartographer: help us improve Europe’s maps

Maps are no longer static paper records, but living, breathing representations of our world. Places around us are constantly changing — while mountains don’t move, roads are rerouted, homes are built, shops open and close. Many times, the best way to keep Google Maps fresh and up to date is by allowing anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection to contribute to the map using their knowledge of the areas they know best. So we’re delighted that Google Map Maker is now available for budding cartographers to edit our maps of Greece, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

With Map Maker, everyone can contribute your local expertise to make an even more comprehensive, useful and interesting map. Begin in your town or village and try adding the outlines or ‘footprints’ of local shops, restaurants and other businesses. Then help enrich the maps of national parks, or add leisure facilities and historic landmarks. If you enjoy the great outdoors, try adding campsites, beautiful beaches or your favorite cycling paths.

Whether you add a biking route through Tallinn or a landmark in Vilnius, each improvement to the map will help locals and tourists alike better understand the area and discover new things to do. Once approved, your contributions will appear on Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Maps for mobile.

The map of Korčula, Croatia, often cited as the birthplace of Marco Polo, before and after Map Maker edits

To get started, visit our Google Map Maker community forum and see the Help Centre for tips and tricks, or watch mapping in real-time with Map Maker Pulse. Happy mapping!

Posted by Nicole Drobeck, Map Maker Community Manager
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Supporting open government in New Europe

The “New Europe” countries that joined the European Union over the past decade are moving ahead fast to use the Internet to improve transparency and open government. We recently partnered with Techsoup Global to support online projects driving forward good governance in Romania, the Czech Republic, and most recently, in Slovakia.

Techsoup Global, in partnership with the Slovak Center for Philanthropy, recently held an exciting social-startups awards ceremony Restart Slovakia 2013 in Bratislava. Slovakia’s Deputy Minister of Finance and Digital Champion Peter Pellegrini delivered keynote promoting Internet and Open Data and announced the winners of this year contest. Ambassadors from U.S., Israel and Romania and several distinguished Slovak NGOs also attended the ceremony.

Winning projects included:

  • Vzdy a vsade – Always and Everywhere – a volunteer portal offering online and anonymous psychological advice to internet users via chat.
  • Nemlcme.sk - a portal providing counsel for victims of sexual assaults.
  • Co robim – an educational online library of job careers advising young people how to choose their career paths and dream jobs.
  • Mapa zlocinu – an online map displaying various rates of criminality in different neighbourhoods.
  • Demagog.sk - a platform focused on analyzing public statements of politicians and releasing information about politicians and truthfulness of their speeches in a user-friendly format.

An award ceremony highlight was a live concert by the Diplomatic Immunity Band. The combo (shown above at an earlier gig) includes US Ambassador Theodore Sedgwick on keyboard; Israeli ambassador Alexander Ben-Zvi on conga, Romanian Ambassador Florin Vodita on electric guitar, President of Institute of Public Affairs Grigorij Meseznikov on electro acoustic guitar, and the Banska Bystrica Mayor Peter Gogola on drums. We’re delighted they found the time to make sweet music in favor of open data and data-driven innovation.

Posted by Posted by Ondrej Socuvka, Policy Manager, Bratislava
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Slovakia’s Eagle flies high with the Internet

It has been an audacious flight, monitored and protected by the Internet. Slovakia’s Lesser Spotted Eagle risked extinction until the Slovak Ministry of Environment and the Tatra National Park launched an ambitious preservation project. Under the seven year old program, young eagles are fitted with transmitters and systematically monitored. This year, we partnered with the Ministry and the National park, offering Google Earth to track an eagle named “Arnold” in an attempt to keep him safe on his its migration route to South Africa.

So far, four million views have been recorded tracking Arnold’s path south into Africa. National television broadcasts weekly updates headlined “Follow the Slovak Eagle.” Earlier this month, the bird vanished near the Kundelungu National Park in Congo. Arnold’s followers became increasingly worried that something bad had happened to him. But after 14 days of silence, Arnold’s transmitter signal reappeared this week from Zambia.

In less than a decade, the preservation project has managed to save 15 Lesser Spotted Eagles and stabilize their total population in Slovakia. Baby eaglets are collected from nests, carefully picked out in advance, when they are approximately five days old, in order to prevent their murder by parents. They then temporarily placed in a Rescue Station where a foster mother takes care of them and feeds them. When the young birds can feed by themselves and regulate their body temperature, they are released into the wild.

Now, thanks to the Internet, they can continue to be followed and protected. The Tatra National Park plans to reach out to other national park administrations in the European Union to speak about their lessons learned and promote the use of the internet in forestry

Posted by Ondrej Socuvka, Policy Manager Google Slovakia
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Hanging out with innovators

Over the past decade, Slovakia has reformed its taxation, healthcare, pension, and social welfare systems, attracting large inflows of foreign investment into the automobile and electronic sectors, and becoming Central Europe’s first country to adopt the euro in January, 2009. But Europe’s economic woes have slowed growth. The Slovak government believes it must forge ahead finding new and innovative sources of growth – particularly on the Internet.

For this reason, the Ministry of the Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic recently worked with Slovak Alliance for Internet Economy to stream its first ever live Google Hangout with Israeli venture entrepreneur Jon Medved. Medved has invested in over 100 Israeli startup companies, helping 12 of them to get to valuations in excess of $100 million. His presentation, entitled “Israel – the Power to Astonish,” explained to the online audience that venture capital for web startups was flowing into israel despite the global economic crisis. What is Israel’s “special sauce?,” he asked rhetorically. “A willingness to accept risk and failure,” he answered.

Slovakia’s major economic daily Hospodarske noviny streamed the hangout live on its website and four national startup hubs participated. We are planning to continue these hangouts from Finland and elsewhere, creating a series of “Innovators Connect” policy discussions about innovation and Internet Economy. Tune in and see if Slovakia can become the next hot e-country.

Posted by Ondrzej Socuvka, Public Policy Manager, Bratislava
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Campaigning for Innovation in Central and Eastern Europe

Two decades ago, Central and Eastern Europe threw off the shackles of communism. Today, the region is among Europe’s most dynamic, and we recently held our first Big Tent in the region to investigate how Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary could play a leadership role in driving forward innovation on the web.

This newfound freedom encourages the region to embrace the Internet, Polish ministers said. “We prefer freedom,” Michal Boni, a former Solidarity union leader and present digitisation minister, repeated twice in the keynote address. Deputy Foreign Minister Henryka Mościcka-Dendys argued that new technologies helping “civic initiatives gain wider ground for their actions.” A concrete example is opening up public data. By examining online license plate records Zuzana Wienk, a Slovak anti-corruption campaigner, demonstrated the bidding for street cleanup services was rigged.

The Internet already is driving economic progress. At the Big Tent, we showcased successful Internet startups and social innovators. They ranged from Polands’ game startup Dice+ and audio books pioneer Audioteka to Hungarys’ to K-Monitor transparency project and presentation tools developer Prezi. From Slovakia, traditional Ultra Plast plastic maker showed how to leverage its net presence to boost exports.

At the same time, the region needs to improve its education and regulation. While universities produce excellent engineers, they rank low in equipping graduates with needed business skills. Too few offerings exist for adult education. “If there is no lifelong learning, there is no lifelong earning,” quipped Jan Figel, Deputy Speaker of the Slovak Parliament. Other panelists wanted to see government change regulations to make it easier for companies to take risks, to start new businesses and to wind them down if and when they fail.

Our Big Tent took place in the wake of revelations that the U.S. intelligence agencies had conducted an online surveillance campaign. Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond stressed that the threats to the open web are not always from autocratic regimes and that any limitations to freedom online should be set narrowly. He acknowledged the dangers of online radical and racist speech. But he said that the Internet offers the best vehicle for dealing with the issue – “counter-speech” denouncing the hate.

Most of the debate had an optimistic tone, with faith in future innovation. The audience appreciated a demonstration of Google Glass. Slovakia’s Figel, who previously served as a European Commissioner, tried on a pair and checked the weather in the European Union’s capital Brussels. It was sunny outside in Warsaw – and grey and overcast in Brussels.

Posted by Agata Wacławik-Wejman, Head of Public Policy, Central and Eastern Europe

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