Travel notes from Hack and Tell at Berlin's c-base

I’m currently traveling through Europe for a couple weeks and while in Berlin, I paid a visit to c-base at the suggestion of a friend. My travel plans just so happened to align with one of their monthly Hack and Tell events which I attended. It was a wonderful and very well-attended event and I thought I’d share some of the experience as well as specific notes with which to reflect on our own Hack Space.

c-base claims to be a 4.5 billion-year-old spaceship crashed on earth, consisting of the berlin Fernseherturm (TV tower) as its central spire and a several kilometer wide disk buried underground of which the accessible c-base space itself is only a small portion. The interior design definitely is consistent with this, especially in the members-only sprawling underground portion that I was fortunate to get a tour of. Everything is covered with complex technical grey panelling, dials, knobs, blinkenlights, spacetime rifts, biometric scanners, and anthropomorphic symbionts that convert waste into harvestable energy (so I am told - it looked like a washroom with caged aliens to me).

Photo: Just inside the entrance

Photo: beer crate and bottle programmable LED wall to rival our own. Currently showing a fireplace, it later showed a countdown during the talks

The event itself was very well organized, with a central podium and projector screen, spotlights, large and compact seating area, and extra TVs mirroring the slides for people on the sides. As a complete stranger, I was immediately met with the eager helpfulness, attitude of open planning, and willingness to share knowledge and encourage that I’m familiar with at our own Hack Space.

things that c-base has that we don’t (1/2)

  • a spacious, permanent location ;_;
  • a complete drinks bar, with counter, stools, beer on tap, and fridges stocked with cool non-alcoholic options
  • A large, open floor space for hosting events and chairs to go around
  • Recurring public events posted on Meetup

Photo: Ligi at the podium about to kick off

Before the talks started, I was chatting to somebody and sharing my most recent Geiger counter explorations, a little bit of which I’ve shared on the #science channel on Slack. They encouraged me to give a talk that night, which seemed nonsensical to me, but as I watched the first round of talks and got a feel for the gamut of welcome topics, I felt more comfortable and threw together what materials I had and wrote some quick notes. I ended up presenting “Geiger counter stuff” as the 8th and final speaker of the night, sharing the story of how I was gifted a Geiger counter and all the weird things and surprising alternative functions I’ve found. 5 minutes was a comfortable length and I managed to end right on time. Questions were on-point, somebody wanted to know if their uranium-containing necklace they were wearing was a safe gift for their partner and we measured it on stage and deemed it safe. The icing on the cake was the audience vote for their favourite talk (via a custom MAC-address-based anonymized voting web app running on a raspberry pi on the local wifi, of course) and my improvised talk was voted Hack of the Month!! Here it is, immortalized in sweet glory: Berlin Hack & Tell \#96 - Portal hacks

Photo: Hack and Tell trophy ceremony

I of course made sure to introduce myself as Tim from the Vancouver Hack Space and extended my blessings on the Hack Space’s behalf. I couldn’t realistically keep the trophy for more than a few minutes but they sent me home with my choice of a 5 cm tall 3D-printed version.

Afterwards, I and a couple others were given a tour of the underground portion of c-base, where photography was forbidden. Contrary to the signage, it was not radioactive. Amidst the darkness and haze dotted by blinkenlights was a lot more spaceship hardware, an analog library, a brain in a vat, emergency scifi weaponry, busted teleportation chamber due to angry resident alien (hence the stairs), and a member hangout lounge that I’d place somewhere on a line between Cyberdelia of Hackers (1995) and the Death Star’s main control room.

There were even some decently well-stocked maker facilities too, with a woodshop room and electronics room.

things that c-base has that we don’t (2/2)

  • sound recording/mixing studios and full set of musical instruments
  • vacuum former (used extensively for the spaceship interior panels)
  • sprawling spaceship dungeon complex

things we have that c-base doesn’t

  • good lighting and ventillation (I was told that they had recently forbidden smoking but it was hard to believe)
  • machine shop and welding area

That’s about it from memory. In brief, it made me think about the theatrical wonders we could do with a permanent space, but that’s likely going to remain a daydream with Vancouver being what it is.

I’ll happilly give an updated “Geiger counter stuff” presentation at the next SHHH. 2 minutes to talk feels exceedingly rushed though, perhaps the total time could be divided according to the number of interested speakers?


vacuum former (used extensively for the spaceship interior panels)

We do have a (small) vacuum former!


This is so cool. I love visiting spaces (I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity when work sends me out of town), and hearing about other spaces from people!


That was a fun read