Chaos Communication Congress

Chaos Communication Congress

Last week I was at the 35th Chaos Communication Congress in Leipzig to talk on a panel about building inclusive hacker and maker communities. The Congress is organised annually by Europe’s largest hacker association, the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), and is the continent’s oldest and largest hacker convention. This year it hosted 16,000 visitors who came to attend an enormous programme of talks, workshops and meetups.

I’ve been to the UK hacker festival EMF Camp a couple of times before, but this was my first time at a CCC event. In a lot of ways it was what you’d expect a large assembly of hackers to look like: men and women in various shades of black clothing sitting around at laptops, or zipping around the cavernous Congress Center Leipzig on LED-covered scooters. The walls of the convention center had been covered in meme stickers and posters advertising events happening during the Congress, and hammocks had been installed in the corridors to provide some much-needed napping spots.

A long indoor tunnel. The roof is made of curved tinted glass lit up by purple and red LEDs.

Tell me that walking down this corridor doesn’t feel like stepping into the future. Photo by Mike Powell

An indoor pole covered in stickers and labels. Prominent stickers include: "You are beautiful", "Bildungsurlaub", "Hebocon", "π is not real", "Negation isn't not unreal", "Crypto party".

A typical pole at Congress, with variations of the “birds aren’t real” meme. Photo by Stephan Kambor-Wiesenberg

The schedule was designed to fit with hacker sleep patterns too, with a daily programme of talks running from 11am until two or three in the morning. In keeping with the hacker ethic of making information as freely available as possible all of the talks were delivered in both English and German, and many were also translated into multiple other languages on-the-spot by a team of volunteers. Talks were generally focused on computer security and privacy issues with a distinct political edge (Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have both previously spoken at Congress).

Two men presenting on a large stage. The slide projected behind them has the headline "What we have so far".

A technical talk on the main stage. Photo by Plusea

On Friday evening I spoke about some of my PhD research in makerspaces on the panel Feminist Perspectives. My fellow panelists were Hong Phuc Dang from FOSSASIA, an open source tech community based in Singapore; Lena Mohr from Ready to Code, a German group that organises coding workshops and networking events for girls and women; and two representatives from Le Reset, a queer feminist hackerspace in Paris. It was great to hear about some of the other gender diversity initiatives people are working on and all the other panelists were super interesting, you should definitely check out the full talk to hear them talking about their projects! It’s a shame it had to take place in a panel format though: we’d all applied separately to give talks about our projects, but were asked to combine them into a panel. It would be great to see more attention given to gender issues in tech in the Congress’s main programme of talks.

Six women and femme people sitting in a panel configuration on stage. The slide projection behind them has a grid of slogans such as: "We make software with feminist care", "Even our machines are queens", "We make straight people panic".

The Feminist Perspectives panel. Left to right: Me, Lena Mohr, Hong Phuc Dang, Geraldine de Bastion (chair), Le Reset. Photo by Trammell Hudson

Fortunately the programme of self-organised sessions during the convention was much more diverse. Anybody who wants to host their own event during the Congress can pick a time, date and location and add its details to the wiki. This year there were 393 self-organised events covering everything from soldering workshops to a meetup for fans of Brazilian zouk dancing. I also organised a feminist hackers and makers meetup after our panel on Friday night which was well attended—more so than I’d anticipated, as we ended up not having enough chairs!

A group of fathers and children sitting at a soldering table. The fathers are helping their children to use soldering irons.

Families taking part in a learn to solder workshop. Photo by Mitch Altman

As well as talks and workshops there was a packed art and music programme, with art installations dotted around building. There was a choir meetup everyday at 8pm and multiple dedicated music areas, including a club built inside the convention center specifically for Congress with techno DJs playing to a full house of ravers until the early hours. I also discovered my new favourite cocktail there: Tschunk, a mixture of rum, sugar, and the iconic hacker drink Club-Mate.

A small crowd gathered in a large performance area. On the left is a giant metal space rocket decorated with space imagery.

This rocket installation gets transported to all major CCC events. Photo by Trammell Hudson

An enormous glass atrium. Blue lasers are shooting out across the ceiling.

A light installation in the entrance to the Congress Center Leipzig. Photo by Leah Oswald

Another big component of Congress is the assemblies, which work a little like the villages at hacker camps: anybody can register details of an assembly online before the convention, and they get given a space inside the massive Assembly Hall. Assemblies are normally a collection of people with a shared interest, and they ranged from a single table to an entire sub-area within the convention with its own series of talks and activities.

Four men raising a flagpole inside a conference centre. The green flag says "Wikipaka WG".

Setting up WikiPaka, an assembly for projects focused on free and open knowledge sharing. Photo by Whitestar

A large workshop area full of long worktables. The tables are covered with soldering irons, helping hands, and other electronics supplies.

The Hardware Hacking Area, one of the biggest assemblies at the convention. Photo by Stephan Kambor-Wiesenberg

I managed to fit as much as possible into my four days at the convention, and even then there’s so much going on that I missed out on a lot of the talks I wanted to go to. But I met some really interesting people, and I can’t wait to go back another year.

Header image: One of the LED installations dotted around the Congress. Photo by Leah Oswald.