Martin and I run Just Add Sharks Ltd, a laser cutter company we started in January 2014 to meet what we thought was a small gap in the market for hobbyists who want a good but cheap laser cutter… This weekend I found myself in Dussledorf at the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) chapter there Chaosdorf. Germany being the cradle of the Hackerspace movement I was quite excited to visit one. This was my first visit to a German Hackerpsace and I must admit I didn’t fully know what to expect.
Chaosdorf is homed in an old “club” it wasn’t clear if this was a Nachtclub or a disco (I knew the difference from my days in the Royal Navy) a Nachtclub is basically like a strip bar and a disco is what we would think of as a nightclub. Anyway Doc and @NullPointr explained to me that the club had been closed down by the police and that when they moved in there was police tape everywhere and they found blood stains in odd places.
The Hackerspace isn’t large being about the size of, well, a small seedy nachtclub. It boasts the smartest best equipped kitchen I’ve seen in a Hackerspace as well as general room, cinema seating area, sleeping area (one bed, occupied) bike storage area, electronics bench a laser and club mate storage room, a box room and a “dirty workshop” still a work in progress when I visited.
“We’re one of the most open CCC affiliated Hackerspaces” @NullPointr explained. “We’re proud of our big open shop window, anyone can see what we’re doing if they look!” The Hackerspace boasts about 80-90 members though it’s generally welcoming and open all the time, their official Open Night is Friday nights. There was a clubhouse feel to the place with people of all ages and genders coming and going late into the night. Light techno-music played and the LED colour changer lights gently faded in and out as the Chaosdorfers etched their logo into their laptop lids.
“We try to be welcoming and friendly” one member explained. They took real pride in their achievements. Unlike most British Hackerspaces I’ve been too these guys were organised and very pro-active in DOING things. All projects I got shown seemed not only completed but finished to a high standard. They described to me an over engineered solution for “DO NOT HACK” labels that got printed out from a Wiki page… finally I thought, some bike shedding… that project will never get done… THEN THEY SHOWED ME THE WORKING SYSTEM!
Chaosdorf also boasts a fire engine as it’s very cool and tax exempt utility vehicle. As well as traditional computer based hacking the Chaosdorfers also brew beer, something they are famous for at the CCC congress so I’ve heard. @Yrthy told me that the taxman came to collect the €1.50 per 40L tax after they got wind of the brewing. @Yrthy showed him the tiny kitchen where the work happens “is this it?” asked the taxman. “Yes…. tell me what else should I be paying tax for?” “Growing tobacco & grinding coffee!” I asked @Yrthy what he was going to do. “Get a coffee grinder and some hydroponics!” he answered. They were also the first German hackerspace to buy Club Mate in bulk. They told me all about the rise of Mate as a popular drink with hackers, I saw it for sale in shops though I should have been surprised. The Chaosdorfers told me that Mate for sale generally was a new thing and it has become very trendy over the last few years with “Hipsters”.
Often when I’ve delivered a laser cutter I’ve run up against problems like “This laser cutter is 88cm I need it to be 86cm to fit into this 84cm gap” and Chaosdorf was no exception. There was talk of knocking walls down and dismantling the machine. Martin and I skillfully put them off the idea until after we had left. We probably shouldn’t have worried, these efficient Hackers did the job in the time it took us to drive to the Channel Tunnel.
The laser cutter had been purchased with funds provided by the CCC who are a little bit like the UK Hackspace Foundation sort of. As I understand it Hackerspaces and members sometimes affiliate to the CCC who run a number of conferences, congresses and the well known CCC Camp every four years. Dusseldorf itself is one of those typical clean, modern yet ancient continental cities. It’s situated on the Rhine and very near the boarder with Netherlands. I feel certain I’ll be returning there again. Chaosdorf makes an excellent embassy for me to venture further into Germany and the German Hackerspace movement in the future and I can’t wait to see my new friends again!
I’d like to make a point of thanking all the Chaosdorfers for their welcome, especially @NullPointr, Doc, @yrthy, @SkaveRat and @docanonymous_ and also for sorting us out with excellent lodgings, great beer and unlimited mate!