Hacking in Berlin with Lars Zimmermann

After taking part in the Russian festival Kulturus in Prague I took a train to Berlin to take part in the first OPENiT—an urban hacking festival, held in Kreuzberg. The program was full of activities such as walks, workshops and lectures. I decided to ask Lars Zimmermann, the organizer of this festival, some questions based on conversations we had during these days.


Why did you decide to organize this festival? What is your background and main approach?

I am an open source economist—I research the possibilities of digital and open source communication for the future of the economy. Some of the most interesting things that I research are with my project OWi—Open Source Circular Economy, looking at developments in the field of open source hardware. To promote and experiment with these ideas and explore the things possible with them, we made the festival.


This was the first festival, but in August you organized smaller event called City Hacking Academy. Tell us about the idea of urban hacking—why is this term "hacking" becoming so popular in Berlin?

Hacking is a cultural term on the rise! Hacking means to take something that is there and use it in a new way—to break a system's limitation. Hacking could be an interesting strategy to change our society. A very simple example is reusing.

Opening things up—data, building plans, things—makes it easier to hack them. Future products will be made for hacking! The OPENiT Festival was about opening the city and using it for a festival. It was a decentralized community hack itself. The City Hacking Academy was a precedent for the OPENiT Festival; it was about focusing on the potential of hacking to create a sustainable world.


Filled and posted forms at the refugee camp at Oranienplatz as a part of a Refugee Trade School, where refugees without work permit could 'hack' the system by exchanging their knowledge and skills to something they need without money.

Do you see urban hacking as an evolving form of public art, or art activism, or urbanism?

I am not sure. At the City Hacking Academy we had a very interesting talk by Lisa Conrad called Michel de Certeau as a Theorist of Hacking. De Certeau describes how strategies like that are a usual component of urban life. They work at destabilizing and stabilizing at the same moment. And I don’t see why things that happen today here in Berlin should be different from the stuff that happened 20 years ago.

On the other hand, the definition of the term is wide. You can describe the whole worldwide urban gardening movement with the word hacking. And, you can also describe it as art with Joseph Beuys' "social sculpture" if you like to use and understand the term that way.


Theater performance in public place as a form social critic: rats discussing recycling that affects their comfortable sphere of living.

When we talked before, you said sustainability was a very important factor for artists who work with public spaces. Can you tell a little bit more about what sustainability means in urban interventionists' art?

I don't think that it is important for artist. In the City Hacking Academy I liked to raise the question: How can hacking be used for a sustainable recreation of our cities? This was just an interesting thing to ask, not a necessary one.

Most urban hacking I see creates games or is about "critisism/political activism". But I would love to see more for ecological and economical sustainability.

You hear a lot these days that the world we are living in is not fit for the future. A sustainable world would look different. But, we can not break everything down and rebuild from scratch. We are locked in. Hacking could be the best strategy out—making fundamental change without replacing things.

At the City Hacking Academy, I liked to upload knowledge, questions and positive ideas about sustainability in hackers' heads and then send them out to hack—and break— limitations! I learned that this is not that easy. For me, criticism or gaming is easier.


What are some examples / faves from this years work?

I still like the DIY Cargo Bike Space Hack. And also the one where we transformed a parking place into a display for neighbourhood communication. Of course there is the famous worldwide event called Park(ing) Day where you see a lot of interessting proposals for what we could do with all the great spaces in our cities that are now occupied by cars.

And of course I really liked how the OPENiT Festival creates some sort of flashmob to transform the city into an open platform for sharing knowledge, without asking someones permission.


What was your expectation about the festival, and what are you going to do further?

I don’t know. I am still working on the documentation. I like the way Friedrich Nietzsche worked: he made something, and then looked at it and got inspired for new things from it. I am not done making yet. But, I will defenitely work more on making the MacGyverisation of the world happen! Opening things and exploring the interactive potentials that arise from it.




Observing how Lars put his cargo-bike sign on the road with white tape, I started thinking of the popularity of colored duct tape as a material among street artists, DIY-ists, and urban hackers. I would even say that this material is now almost as important spray cans are for graffiti artists.

Just around the corner from the epicenter of the festival in Prinzessinnengarten is a small shop called Klebeland, where Brad Downey buys tape for his advertisement hacks and Artur van Balen gets the material for his inflatables. Using new tape, I made two small hacks in the U-bahn as my contribution to the OPENiT festival and the idea of urban hacking:


'No Video' signs in U-bahn, which is covered with 'open eyes'—CCTV surveillance.

Shared ticket at the airport, with enough time for a newcomer to travel across the whole city.


More from Lars: Mit Hacken auf ins grüne Glück—blogpost in English/German on hacking as a strategy for the creation of a sustainable world.