I arrived at the 23rd annual Chaos
Communication Congress
in Berlin early Tuesday evening. The conference wasn’t set to start
until the next day, and the registration desk in the cavernous,
Soviet Era Berlin Conference Center wasn’t open yet. But
there was already a huge line of people waiting to buy badges. The event they waited for so patiently is
one of the oldest hacker conferences in Europe, and is organized in
part by the Chaos Computer Club, a Berlin-based group that works
within the government and the European technical community for civil
liberties and freedom of expression in the digital world. On the
roster for the four day conference? Everything from tutorials on
hacking Xboxes to lectures about the politics of trust in an age of
electronic surveillance.

Chattering excitedly in a mix of English and German, people in
t-shirts advertising secure operating systems discussed things like
smart phones (called “handies” in German), techno music, and
politics. When registration finally opened, around 7 PM, the harried
volunteer behind the counter couldn’t find my name in the system and
finally admitted, in German-flavored English, “It is a bit chaos.”
The conference runs 24 hours a day, with many people spending the
night on the conference room floor in sleeping bags, so he advised
that I come back for my badge around 3 AM.


I needed to sleep off my jetlag, so I
vowed to come back at reasonable hour after poking around a bit.
Volunteers with Network Operations Center, or NOC, had a vast number
of tables laid out with equipment that would form the CCC computer
network. The central lounge, which normally serves as a cafeteria,
had been turned into a hipster-nerd haven full of sofas, computer
screens, a DJ station, and a display of LED confections that blinked
hypnotically in one corner. Groups of friends huddled in hacker
circles where laptops often outnumbered people.

The excitement of the hundreds of geeks
who had already arrived was palpable. By tomorrow, there would be
thousands of them. And I would be there too, playing with machines
and ideas just for the hell of it, and to make the world a better
place. That’s what CCC is all about. Stay tuned for detailed reports about the stuff I’ll learn over the next few days. —Annalee Newitz