You might have noticed by following my flickr photostream that I went to the 31st Chaos Communication Congress late last year. The Chaos Communication Congress is the annual gathering/event/congress organised by the German Chaos Computer Club (CCC).
The Congress has a special meaning for me ever since I first went there in 2002 for the 19C3. Then, the Congress still took place in the “Haus am Köllnischen Park” (HAKP) and was a completely different kind of event. It was the first year I had my own Laptop and a PCMCIA Orinoco Gold Wi-Fi card, and people usually did not complain about either the lack of bandwidth or the unreliability and unprofessionalism of a lot of the services. The whole event had a very cozy and familiar atmosphere. Nerd culture (and acceptance of it) was not that widespread in daily life yet, so for some of the people coming there it seemed like the only chance to be among a large group of like-minded geeks. The first year my parents took us to Berlin, the next years we either drove or flew. Still in school, short on cash, we’d sleep beneath the desk in the Hackcenter, crash in some friends cheap hotel room or sleep in the back of my car. We nearly froze to death that year. We took showers in a nearby gym, a bunch of naked nerds in a school gym locker room.
After the 19C3, the congress moved to the much larger “Berliner Congress Center” (BCC), just a short walk away, but completely different in terms of size and location. Now situated right next to the central Alexanderplatz, with huge windows looking out and huge lecture halls, this felt like a very sudden step up compared to the old and worn-down HAKP. Projects like a GSM network, reliable Wi-Fi and other amenities kept being added, making it an increasingly professional yet still whacky event. Me and Flo kept going there for the 20C3, 21C3 and 22C3. At the end, it had already gotten a little bit crowded, so it was no surprise when the event was moved yet again, this time to Hamburg, where it has been taking place for the last few years. After I started studying in 2005, I never went to the Congress again, always happy to be at home at the end of the year (did I mention that the C3 takes place right after Christmas).
This year, I made the decision to visit the Congress once more, after the crazy stuff I’d heard from the last events. So I found some friends, packed up the car and we made the drive to Hamburg. I had booked a hotel this time, some things do change after all.
We arrived late on December 27, the Congress already in full swing. We got in and I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer size of this new venue. It took some time before we found people we knew and got the place figured out. The next three days were a wonderful blur of meeting old friends, having a beer, seeing how all of these wacky projects had matured over the years and actually visiting some of the awesome talks in person rather than just watching the recordings at home.
The Congress had matured. Everything was amazingly well organised, there were people responsible even for the seemingly irrelevant details. Keep in mind that this is an event which is run purely through volunteers and without any corporate sponsorship. Yet, and this is what makes it so special, even though the Internet worked flawlessly, the talks were very professional, recorded, live-streamed, on-time and well moderated, the Congress hadn’t lost its edge. One glimpse into the vast dungeons of the Hackcenter was all that was needed to remind you that it is still one of the strangest get-togethers of hackers of all different orientations. There were people hacking on operating systems and programming languages, political and human rights issues and also a lot of hardware-related projects. Some of the more obscure things I saw were huge knitting groups and 3D-printer enthusiast which advocated a dildo-printing workshop. Through the Hackcenter, large plastic pipes delivered capsules via air pressure, rumored to be carrying recreational drugs as a sort of real-world Silk Road. To make the picture stranger still, there were also some very analogue activities, like people brewing coffee and tea and a kids-corner since a lot of the nerds had produced offspring in the meantime.
Last but not least, the Congress now had its own party cave, a room so in tune with the vibe of the event that my jaw literally dropped when I went there for the first time. In this room, volunteers had arranged a bunch of fullsize shipping containers, light and sound installations and an authentic wooden bar to get drinks. The DJs were performing in the middle of the dancefloor, flanked by oversize towers of ear-blistering speakers. And people were actually dancing!
I left the Congress exhausted but very happy. I had met so many old friends and gotten to know some new ones. I saw talks of cutting-edge research and hacking up close, and I had a grand time. The whole event filled me with energy and joy to be part of such a vibrant and open hacker scene like we have here. 32C3, here I come!