On The Road To Chaos In East Berlin (published MONDO 2000 1991)

by Morgan Russell

 

In honor of former MONDO editor and co-publisher Morgan Russell’s ashes finding their way back from Austria to his home state of Wisconsin, we present this marvelous unfinished piece he sent us about a Chaos Computer Club gathering in what was once East Berlin. The piece ended suddenly when Morgan didn’t send us the ending, but the fun is more in getting to the conference and getting in the conference than in the conference itself… or at least that’s what one would imagine.

 

“Chaos. It’s more than just a name. It’s our way of doing business!”

Germany’s Chaos Computer Club is known in the US primarily for its incursions into U.S. military and NASA computers (see Clifford Stoll’s The Cuckoo’s Egg). Then there was the well-publicized information-for-money deal with the KGB that got busted. The latter was perpetrated by persons who, while not official club members, are at least within the Chaos Computer Club’s ambit. Little more is known about the Chaos group outside Germany.

Chaos members who might enlighten the rest of the world as to the nature of their organization seem to be nonexportable. One of their better-known members, Steffen Wernery, was arrested on charges of computer vandalism on his arrival in Paris where he had a speaking engagement. He was imprisoned for months. Other well-known members are understandably loathe to leave Germany.

Contact between the Chaos Computer Club and the East Berlin Computer Club was established at the CCC’s Christmastime ’89 Kongress in Hamburg. When I received calls from Hamburg and Amsterdam alerting me that the next CCC Kongress was imminent and to be held in the “East Zone,” as the West German computer security journal Daterschutz-Berate quaintly termed it, I immediately left for Europe.

Arriving in Amsterdam, I learned that I was a full month early. I suspect my informant was a bit hazy on the exact dates simply because he wanted an Amerikan around to talk to. No matter. I purposefully occupied my time doing preliminary fieldwork in Amsterdam, checking out its hacker underground, squatters’ movement, pirate radio and TV, and the newly identified Anti- Media Movement

 

“Destroy Media!”

Battle-cry of the Anti-Media Movement

I got my first glimmer of the Anti-Media Movement talking to a member of a group known as ADILKNO (The Foundation for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge). ADILKNO publishes manifestoes in a hyperintellectual art and media journal, Mediamatic. A magazine for the well-read polyglot, its matter is well-nigh impenetrable without a thorough knowledge of Baudrillard, Virilio, Bataille, and Eco, for starters. Its motto is, “We watch media like others watch TV.”

ADILKNO first proposed its attack on media in a Squatters’ Movement document: “By isolating the media, we will reach many more people! Within the movement, many feel we must give our opinions to the press.

The time in which we can reach our goals through public opinion has long been over!”

ADILKNO believes a “massive defection to reality” is occurring now that everything seems to be covered by the media. “The increasing need to make history in a hobby or tourist atmosphere, away from work, is consciously placing the media in the shadow of the event. For the moment, people have no more time for the media. . . Beyond the media traps, people clear the way tor themselves to do the right thing elsewhere. In Western museum cities, an avant-garde has formed the anti-media movement, which puts an end to all connections under the slogan, ‘Let’s pull down another media!’ With disappearing acts, it creates temporary and local media-free spaces. . . It is a pre-eminently secret movement because it carefully keeps itself out of the press and makes its existence known only through jamming and sabotage. All events that don’t appear in the media are claimed as a victory by the movement. . . The survival strategy of the media is to remain more interesting than reality.” Like that.

In the newly published Movement Teachings:Squatting Beyond the Media (as yet available only in Dutch), Geert Lovink and Arjen Mulder describe the “outer-medial experience” as “making history on the streets through ‘immediate’ (i.e. ‘media-free’) contact.”

The Anti-Media Movement is contentless. It can only be discerned, in Lovink and Mulder’s formulation, as “curious cuts in the data stream.” It is a question of “how we should read the gaps. Is it an accident or the Anti-Media Movement?” One needs “an eye for it.”

Hoping to catch traces of the meaningful gaps of the “AMM” at the CCC Kongress, I mobilize Special Forces: DFM Radio-Televisie.

“You Want Information or Deformation?”

DFM stands for “Deformation.” DFM Radio-Televisie is the most radical of the pirate broadcasters in Amsterdam. It’s staff brands the other pirate broadcasters, (whom anyone else would describe as anarchists), as “proto-yuppies.” Confronted with anything short of total chaos of the airwaves, they sneer derisively, “That’s what central heating will do to you!”, flip on their 180-watt transmitter, tune to the frequency of the offending ten-watt station, and give it a lesson in the beauty and purity of Noise.

For the moment, DFM is housed in “Warner Squat,” the former Warner Brothers building in Amsterdam. “Warner Squat” is a three-story, tile-roofed, brick building with all the amenities: screening room, walk-in film vaults, marble, stained glass.

This turns out to be my base of operations for my month in Amsterdam.

Test-Case is the director of DFM. In his “industrial” phase, Test-Case was famed for staging

“fake riots.” For years, he collected sounds at real riots: rolling tanks, snarling police-dogs, cries of panic and anguish, and frenzied barricade-building. At his performances he would blast the crowd with these sounds, highly amplified. He would exhort them to riot, often successfully, and then would record the resulting riot for future recycling.

In his punk-revival period, Test-Case was the most frequently unplugged performer on the streets of Amsterdam. He could always manage, however, without electricity, using such simple expedients as bullhorns, a bayonet on his guitar, and no less than twenty kilos of fresh dog turds to fling.

You can see now why his DFM Radio Televisie was the video crew to take with me to East Berlin. After all, it may take the Anti-Media to catch the Anti-Media.

 

The “People’s Police”

An East German policeman is standing in the bloody middle of the Autobahn fast-lane somewhere near Potsdam, waving a white baton. We are blithely hurtling towards him in a happily screaming, rented

Peugeot traveling 150 km/hour. Chanting Tibetan monks, in reverse and overlaid with speedmetal passages and telephone exchange noise, are pumping from a portable cassette deck on the dash. Test-Case is at the wheel. He’s a tightly sprung, angular young man in a “Mutoid Waste Company” T-shirt with a grown-out blonde mohawk lying dormant on his crown like a cockatoo’s folded crest. Test-Case decelerates dramatically as the cop imitates a finalist in a baton- twirling competition. Our abrupt stop, a bare meter from the cop’s knees, sends our fellow traveller, the somnambulant DFMer Bastiaan, onto the floor and into a fresh spate of scabies-scratching. We are directed to a rest area.

We pull up beside a curtained Volkspolizei (“People’s Police”) microbus with a large DDR seal (a compass superimposed on a hammer in a ring of ribboned grain which many say actually depicts a secret police spyglass) emblazoned on its side. A family nervously packs up the picnic lunch they’d been sharing ’round the open trunk of their “Trabbie.” A man wearing mirrored aviator shades peers ’round a curtain edge from the interior of the police microbus while his companion, an obvious steroid abuser, takes our papers, growls that we’ve been travelling grossly in excess of the 100 km /hour speed limit, and returns to the microbus. We wait as the “People’s Police” examine our papers and do more peering.

“Maybe I just tell this wanker this car doesn’t go that fast,” says Test-Case with inappropriate swagger as the cop with the Louisville Slugger stride beats it back to our car. This story would be highly suspect. Our velocity had been such that the string of particolored, plastic-bodied Trabants we had been passing had looked like a strand of Mardi Gras beads. I am irresistibly reminded of the last ride I took with this crew. Dutch police in a fluorescent-orange, turbocharged Mercedes had appeared suddenly, pulled us over, and confiscated our car.

I steer Test-Case away from a prompt pulping with “Nee, Test-Case! Nee! Nee!! Just look at him! He’s wearing the head of a Rotweiler!”

 

The House of Young Talent

For the balance of the drive to East Berlin, Test-Case fills my dyspeptic silence with assurances that the 150 mark ticket can be paid in Eastmarks, the currency that looks as if it’s come from a Monopoly game — tiny bills with grain threshers depicted on them and aluminum coins that can be bent with your bare hands. They are worth one-fifth the value of the redoubtable Westmark. The subject changes only as we reach East Berlin, where Test-Case scrutinizes the buildings closely. “Look at that one! It’s perfect!” What he means is “eminently squattable.” I feel as if I’m riding with a real estate broker as he points out the squatterly possibilities of numerous (far too numerous) properties.

We finally arrive at our destination: das Haus der Junger Talente (the House of Young Talent). Test-Case feels our chances for free admission are directly proportional to the bulk of equipment we haul in with us. Burdened with an impressive array of lights, tripods, cameras, cables, and equipment bags, and some personal luggage for good measure, we stagger in.

At the door, a person armed with a walkie-talkie looks us over.

After we pay the full admission, Polaroid photos are taken of us, stapled onto nametags bearing the Chaos emblem, and stamped with the Chaos seal.

Knowing that Chaos events swarm with intelligence agents, I leave the line for my name blank – at least until I can get inside and evaluate the scene. Wandering through the immense labyrinth, I find hundreds of people wearing blank nametags. The ones that are filled-in bear highly improbable names. No one is going to make an intelligence agent’s job easy here. Such anonymical measures are second nature in a country where one of every four people were informers on the Stasi (Secret Police) payroll. Some rooms have signs reading “PHOTOGRAPHIEREN VERBOTEN!” posted outside their doors.

I pause to consider what appearance I’m presenting to the other Kongress attenders. A mirror reveals a man of roughly thirty with a hat pulled down to the top of his dark glasses, wearing an extra-long, buttoned Burberry trenchcoat extending to his boot-tops and a blank press badge. In short, I’ve arrived with all the spook-accouterments, save a Minox subminiature, handcuffed Halliburton attache, and an underarm bulge from a Walther PPK. No real agent would dare dress this way, in full Spy-on drag. Bolstered by the realization that it will be taken for a pseudonym anyway, I add my real name to the badge.

“This is ‘Reality Hacking!”‘ —Steffen Wernery

The Kongress opens with the statement, “Holding a CCC Kongress in East Berlin is true ‘Reality Hacking.’ ” R. U. Sirius’ expression has gained currency over here.

There are few computers in East Germany and no laws against hacking yet. East German officials are not nearly as concerned with a large gathering of hackers as the humorless and paranoid Western authorities. They have other things to worry about.

East German life is in total flux. Turbulence, uncertainly, and improvisatory reality is attractive to hackers. Chaos is their very medium. (“Chaos. It’s more than just a name. It’s our way of doing business!”)

There are approximately 600 people attending the Kongress. None of the Chaos members I ask knows how many people are in the organization. I’m told that the nametags are deceptive. They merely give the appearance of organization, camouflaging a deeper chaos. If pressed, most attenders describe themselves as “interested observers” rather than official Chaos members. Nearly everyone is a “computer security expert.” No distinction is made between designing and cracking security systems.

One room has been set up as an archive where hacker and anarchist literature in French, German, and English can be read and photocopied. Other rooms are filled with computer equipment and telephones. There are lectures, panels, and workshops on The Creative Use of Technology, Data Security as Human Security, Information Ecology, the Power of the Media, Freedom of Information, Copyright, Viruses, Enlargement of Civil Communication Structures in the DDR, Mind Machines, and Virtual Reality.

 

Cognitive Dissidents

The house phones were made in 1963 (their vintage stamped on their underbellies), and it’s extremely difficult to place a call to the West from them. It may take an hour to get a line out if one can get a line out. The lines are pretty much all bugged. Some, with multiple bugs, have seriously degraded sound quality. The phone company runs newspaper ads offering free bug-removal. Used Stasi surveillance equipment is available in modestly priced, sealed case-lots.

“Chaos organizers” sounds like walking oxymorons. They manage, however, to keep uninterrupted communication with the West as they stroll the halls with 10,000-Westmark cellular phones operating on gold-plated chip-cards. “Be careful with that card! Someone could easily give me a mega-phonebill,” warns the person who lends me his unit.

Every presentation draws a silently listening capacity crowd. Information on “brain machines” and the “Data Glove” is eagerly drunk in by the East Germans. The idea of Virtual Reality is readily embraced as a better telephone system…

Appropriately, at this point in the transmission, Mr. Russell — who has taken to living in Transylvania — disappeared? Last we heard, he had sponsored a VR congress in Linz, Austria, where he stayed in A. Hitler’s old favorite hotel room. (Rumors that he happened upon the actual Spear of Longinus while digging up the floorboards after having ingested too many Ritalins are — we assure you — total hype. R. U. Sirius has the genuine article himself, having spotted it unrecognized at the auctioning of Andy Warhol’s personal affects.)

Anyway, who are we to say that the Anti Media Movement should be covered in the media? But, perhaps, if Mr. Russell emerges from his Transylvanian hideaway, we will present this saga in a future issue

2 thoughts on “On The Road To Chaos In East Berlin (published MONDO 2000 1991)”

  1. would like to hear those “chanting Tibetan monks, in reverse and overlaid with speedmetal passages and telephone exchange noise, pumping from a portable cassette deck on the dash”.
    any idea of who they were?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.