Berlin’s subterranean space station (Ex Berliner, November 2007)
In the basement of a building on the banks of the Spree opposite Janowitz Brücke, in a room piled high with dead monitors, eviscerated CPUs and unidentifiable pieces of technology in various states of repair, you will find the operational hub of the C-base reconstruction project.
Elsewhere in this labyrinth of rooms a recording and rehearsal studio is under construction, servers hum and a metal shop provides a studio in which free reign is given to the creative impulses of the strange tribe which gather here. Armed with little more than soldering irons and relentless curiosity, Kirsch and other members of this informal collective have created a series of circuit board assemblages and scrap metal sci-fi sculptures, improvised tech toys and relics from a post-apocalyptic future.
Welcome to the strange world of C-Base e.V, a loose affiliation of hackers, games geeks, bleeding edge technologists, musicians and sci-fi freaks dedicated to the investigation of advanced technologies, coding and de-coding the future.
Upstairs in the bar conspiracy theories hang in the air along with cigarette smoke, as convoluted and impenetrable as the very history of the organisation. Fact and fiction are blurred into a self-mythologizing web as the story of the group’s origins is told and retold.
In 1995 the founders of C-base claimed to have discovered the wreckage of an ancient space station buried beneath the centre of Berlin. Its antenna, concealed by the cunning scientists of the GDR, was no less than the iconic Fernsehnturm itself. The C-Base space station reconstruction project was born in attempt to reveal the subterranean secrets of the alien craft, to achieve, in the words of its founders, “future compatibility.”
Following the semi-circular form of the space station the Verein organises itself in to seven concentric rings, Core, Com, Cult, Creative, Cience, Carbon and Clamp which respectively describe in broad terms both its structure and objectives - communication, cultural events, creative facilitation and (s)cientific enquiry.
This infatuation with the third letter of the alphabet might also be explained in part by the close affiliation of many of its core members with the Chaos Computer Club a group of German hackers who achieved considerable notoriety when, in the early 80’s, they hacked the Bildschirmtext system (BTX) used by the Bundespost and withdrew (and subsequently returned) a considerable sum of money to demonstrate the vulnerability of the system.
In 2001, in collaboration with C-base, the Chaos Computer Club celebrated its 20th anniversary with the project Blinkenlights (the name derived from a cod German sign posted in early computer facilities which instructed non technical visitors to relax and watch the blinking lights). The upper eight floors of the Haus des Lehrers at Alexanderplatz were temporarily transformed into the world's biggest interactive computer display. 144 lamps, each independently controlled, produced a monochrome matrix of 18 x 8 pixels. Berliners equipped with mobile phones could access the network to display simple messages or play Pong. Regular collaborations with the annual Transmediale digital art festival followed.
It is this spirit of playful subversion and enquiry which perhaps best epitomizes C-base and its disparate activities. At the regular Monday evening 3D Stamtisch, an ongoing project to translate the game Grand Theft Auto to the streets of Berlin, finds members of the group closely collaborating with Turkish youth associations to encode positive messages in the graffiti which covers the walls of their virtual Kreuzberg.
The alpha nerds who today comprise the space station’s crew stage a number of weekly events many of which are open to the public. On Tuesdays the Cosmic Open Stage finds a variety of musicians playing copyright free music into the early hours whilst the regular data lounge on Thursday, features a variety of informal discussions and lectures discussing everything from data security to space food.
Another key project is WaveLoeten, initiated by Friefunk, who are in the process of building a free Berlin wide WLAN network. On the first Wednesday of every month, the Friefunk for beginners seminar offers tips on building and installing transmitters.
Those curious enough to wander into the hinterhaus at 20 Runge Str will find a warm welcome and, perhaps, a glimpse of a future in the process of being built.