Photo Gallery: Campus Party Begins in Berlin

Foto: Stephanie Pilick/ dpa

Campus Party Europe World's Largest Tech Fest Begins in Berlin

Thousands of tech enthusiasts began gathering this week on the grounds of Berlin's former Tempelhof Airport for a massive festival for computer and technology fans. Visitors are expected to include World Wide Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee and 10,000 others. Still, the event has failed to generate much attention among the German net community.

Berlin's disused Tempelhof Airport is massive -- and largely empty. This week, though, it has slowly been filling with signs of life, with hundreds of visitors arriving with backpacks, sleeping bags, suitcases and, of course, laptops.

The Campus Party Europe technology festival officially opens on Wednesday evening, with thousands of young programmers, bloggers, tinkerers, gamers and Internet activists set to converge on the site from all over Europe. Organizers are expecting a total of 10,000 visitors. The figure sounds a bit high, but if the Campus Party actually succeeds in attracting that many people, then it would make it the biggest technology fest in Europe -- larger than Germany's re:publica blogger conference  and the regular meeting of the German hacking group Chaos Computer Club  put together.

Whether or not the event is a success won't necessarily hinge on the number of visitors. The outcome is more likely to be influenced by the mood and the quality of the speeches, panels and workshops. The schedule for the festival promises more than 400 hours of programming in a total of 24 subject areas ranging from astronomy, to apps, to biotechnology and free software to security, social media, games and robot technology.

Among the keynote speakers scheduled for the event are Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, who will appear on Wednesday, and Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, who is expected to give a speech on Saturday about the origins and future of the web. Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, is also expected at the event. And German Economics Minister Philipp Rösler is scheduled to open the Campus Party Wednesday night.

'We Need to Change Europe's Operating System'

Campus Party's organizers have undertaken a mammoth project. Before the start of the festival, it's Spanish initiator Paco Ragageles said the only path out of the crisis in Europe is through active participation in the democratic process . "We need to change Europe's operating system," he said, sounding not unlike the Pirate Party.  The goal of the Internet festival, he said, is no less than "reformulating Europe's source code in order to make Europe a better place."

Around a quarter of the expected visitors are students who have contributed ideas to Commissioner Kroes' "Digital Agenda" program and have been invited by the European Commission and the event's main sponsor. They will be transported to the camp at the former airport by bus.

Despite the event's lofty ambitions, there has been surprisingly little fuss over it in recent weeks among the active community of German netizens. Even Twitter has been largely silent.

Instead, Tweets like this one from @Phipz have been characteristic: "Hey, has anyone heard about the Campus Party in Berlin? Or did I just totally miss out on this?" Whereas other computer and Net conferences in Germany have grown slowly, have deep roots and are marked down on calendars well in advanced, it appears that the Campus Party has come as a surprise to many German computer enthusiasts.

A 16-Year-Old Geek Party

Yet the event isn't new. It has been around for 16 years already, but this is the first time it has come to Germany. Four Spanish friends founded the geek party in 1997, with around 250 visitors attending the inaugural event. With each year, the event has become larger and more international -- having taken place in Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and elsewhere. Last year, the organizers say that 7,000 visitors attended the Campuseros event in Mexico.

But it isn't just the fact that the festival has been imported from abroad that may have led to initial skepticism among computer fans in Germany. Its commercial nature, with Spain's Telefonica/O2 as a main sponsor, has also raised eyebrows. Germany's main netizen group, the Chaos Computer Club, does not allow such sponsoring of its events. And sponsors of re:publica tend to be modest.

As such, Campus Party is unlike the self-organized scene meetups in Germany. Indeed, a visit to the tent city set up inside the cavernous buildings of the former airport provides testimony to its different character. Creative chaos was nowhere to be seen on the eve of the event. Instead, row after row of igloo tents are set up, with sleeping space for 5,000 visitors. Emblazoned on each is an O2 logo.

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