The Fantastic Library in Wetzlar is a treasure trove for new ideas. (Image: Ralf A. Niggemann)
The Fantastic Library in Wetzlar is a treasure trove for new ideas. (Image: Ralf A. Niggemann)

Phantastische Bibliothek Wetzlar

Inventing the Future

Whether in books or films, science fiction has always been ahead of its time. The Fantastic Library (Phantastische Bibliothek) in Wetzlar uses its treasures to generate ideas for future developments in society, science and business. Its latest “Project Future” is being conducted in cooperation with Wetzlar Network.

The world of science fiction is full of technological ideas, scenarios and tools that become reality only decades later. The idea of geostationary satellites was described by the science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke way back in 1945. Global communication networks and mobile phones were featuring in science fiction literature long before the digital age. And then there are technologies for which an appropriate solution has yet to be found: for instance, this peculiar device in the film “Men in Black” that in the German version is simply referred to as a “flashy thing”. Everyone knows that the neuralyzer wipes out a person’s memory completely. But nobody can say how it works. That’s probably why the magic wand doesn’t have a proper name.

Looking at fantastic worlds for new innovative products

The fascination for such inventions and innovations is as great today as it ever was. And science fiction literature is a mine of ideas to emulate. It is both natural and tempting to exploit this potential: literature as a treasure trove for new technologies and product ideas. “Looking at fantastic worlds can help us break with traditional thought patterns and open our minds for new innovative products,” says Thomas Le Blanc, founder and chairman of the Fantastic Library in Wetzlar, “because here no limits are set, whether intentional or unintentional, to the solutions imaginable.”

Of course, science fiction authors, unlike scientists and technicians, are not bound by the confines of the real world. They are free to put their ideas in totally new paradigms. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to dismiss science fiction as merely hypothetical and speculative craziness. “Essentially, the inventors of science fiction do the same as product developers and trend scounts in modern enterprises: they deduce feasible future developments from current data, play with the derived possibilities and consequences and re-apply them in a fictional context,” says Le Blanc.

The interdisciplinary “Future Life” project

This thought prompted him to initiate the interdisciplinary “Future Life” project. For the first time, says Le Blanc, it will undertake a comprehensive survey and systemization of the tremendous creative potential slumbering in science fiction literature. “We will identify the ideas that seem realizable within a time horizon of 10 to 30 years and pass them on to innovative companies.”

The methods used in the “Future Life” project were already successfully applied in the years 2003 to 2005 within the framework of contract research for the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Under the label “Transport systems of the future”, the innovation potential of science fiction for the topic of mobility was impressively demonstrated. In 2015, the Hessian Ministry of Economic Affairs commissioned a study of nanotechnological ideas in science fiction, and a European housing technology company had a future “smart home” scenario developed. Then, Le Blanc gave an insight into the working world of the future at a congress of the business development agency of the city of Bremen.

Science fiction as a source of inspiration

The latest project of the Fantastic Library is a cooperation with Wetzlar Network. The series of events of the “Project Future” uses science fiction as a source of inspiration and again has an interdisciplinary focus. Experts from different areas of industry and science have been invited to speak not only about extraterrestrial life forms and material states, about aliens and other beings in supposedly hostile regions, but also about the opportunities of global innovation management. Only recently, Professor Frank Zebner from the University of Design in Offenbach gave a speech on why and how design anticipates the future. The Wetzlar architect Erhard K. Breidenstein lectured on the present and future impact of the new media on workplace design.

The inspiring talks are followed by lively debate on the future in general and in particular, in technology, science and literature. You can see how the Fantastic Library in Wetzlar is changing people’s view of the future, however experienced they are as developers, decision-makers and top managers. They marvel – and leave the building wide-eyed.


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