Wau Holland: Self-proclaimed »data artist and bitmaker«
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The hacker's friendly face is that of a forest rascal. At least that is how Peter Glaser affectionately describes the co-founder of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), Wau Holland. Glaser is the narrator in the documentary »Everything is one. Except for the 0 «by Klaus Maeck and Tanja Schwerdorf, which will be in the cinema on July 29th. As a writer and former editor-in-chief of the CCC magazine "Die Datenschleuder", the Austrian Glaser is the perfect voice to describe the history of the club.
The perfect picture shows the bearded, rounded face of Herwart Holland-Moritz alias Wau Holland.
He was a co-founder of the Chaos Computer Club and the "data sling", technology columnist for the "taz", an activist and free thinker.
Holland died in July 2001 of complications from a stroke at the age of 49.
So it is the 20th anniversary of his death, which is the occasion for a cinematic review of his life and what has remained of his work.
His always respectful but tongue-in-cheek way of explaining the essence of hacking takes up large parts of the film.
Wau Holland was therefore a teacher, but not a senior teacher.
A restless, self-proclaimed "data artist and bitmaker", who explained the German hacker scene in the eighties.
"The shock wave rider" and the spontaneous
Glaser first lists what influenced Holland and the first German hackers: From the science fiction novel "Der Schockwellenreiter" and the "Illuminatus" trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson to the LSD pope Timothy Leary and Whole Earth Catalog up to the anti-atomic force movement and Spontis was pretty much everything that was somehow counterculture. Nevertheless, all of this resulted in a straightforward answer to the question of what a hacker actually is: "A hacker is a person who tries to find out what else can be done with technology," as Wau Holland put it .
That sounded harmless and innocent, especially at a time when computers and networks were really new territory in which you could "look around" like in a department store, also a comparison of Holland.
But then the digital world changed and with it the role of hackers.
The film shows this, but only partially explains it.
The club's early conflicts and crises are named: the attempted criminalization of hackers, the then actually criminal KGB hack involving Karl Koch and the Tron case - two dead hackers who, not least of all, deeply shook Wau Holland.
It also becomes clear that suddenly the playfulness of the hackers collided with the world of the secret services, and with those, Holland knew, »you can't play«.
Glaser says: "The KGB hack was the expulsion from the hacker's paradise."
But with the death of the popular Holland shortly before 9/11 and the subsequent era of surveillance laws, the flow of narrative in the film ends.
What follows is a hard cut into today's fully digitized world.
In quick succession it's about biometrics and state trojans, WikiLeaks and whistleblowers, Google and Facebook.
So about power and control, surveillance and tracking.
What was once uncharted territory now belongs to large corporations, the military and governments.
They even employ hackers who have little in common with a lovable forest rascal from the counterculture.
This development is not discussed further in the film.
But at least it becomes clear how little this side of hacking has in common with Wau Holland's curiosity-driven enthusiasm for technology.
"Strange people with strange machines"
The greatest possible contrast to the carefree beginnings of the CCC is then this scene: The club spokesmen and women sit next to each other on the stage at their annual congress in 2017 and praise a "very nice" protest against a pilot project for automatic facial recognition software in Berlin with an almost state-bearing expression Südkreuz station.
20 years after the death of Wau Holland, the CCC is a beacon in the social discourse on digitization.
With all the "fun with the device" that they postulate to this day: The German hackers reliably warn of shallows that others do not see coming.
They are no longer just - as Holland once said - »strange people with strange machines«.