Upon arrival, I felt a little bit like someone in a conspiracy novel who is searching for the secret headquarters of the conspirators. I had to go to the back of the big “Neufeldt-House”, down a dark staircase, into an even darker foyer and to a dark door on the right side at the end of the corridor. And what did I see? An sign telling me not to take photos and a tinfoil dispenser with instructions to build a tinfoil hat.
These weird thoto be from the movies. There was not one, but two lounge corners with sofas and monitors and speakers on the wall and ceiling, along with a kitchen with a huge selection of sweets and a well-filled fridge; It reminded me of a party basement. Only after Daniel guided me through the rooms, showing me the server room, building room and some others further back, where you find the soldering station, 3D-printers, projectors and several tinkering projects, could I see that this is not just a social club, but a hacker space. After the tour, I sat down with Daniel for an interview and talked with him about the eventful history of Toppoint as well as the members, purpose and activities of the club.
History of Toppoint
In 1990 Toppoint was founded. At this time, the internet as we know it didn’t exist. Instead there were small individual run networks to interchange e-Mails which required heavy use of the phone line. Of course, this was quite expensive at the time, which persuaded the seven founders of Toppoint to come together, not only to minimize costs, but to improve their networking as well. The result was the desire to provide all members with a stable internet connection, particularly because the club had their own location and a connection through the research network which was very fast at that time. And so, Toppoint began to serve as a provider for their members. Later Toppoint cooperated with KielNet as well, providing their customers with nearly free internet, so that all customers of KielNet could call other customers within the network for free. The number of members increased sharply to 400 active members until affordable DLS-connections were introduced to Kiel and the surrounding area. Since there was no longer demand, they re-orientated the club away from being a provider and towards being a meeting point that is well informed about modern IT-technology, computers and other applications. A hacker space was born that is Toppoint of today.
In general, Toppoint is a meeting point for tech savvy people that want to run their projects in peace or with company. Currently the club has a total of 115 members and, despite some prejudices, several are female, though nowhere near 50 %. Here you can keep yourself busy in a variety of ways. In addition to the usual handling of computers and the internet, there is a soldering station, a room for woodworking and a 3D-printer that is used frequently. Apart from this, they also have lots of results in the so called FrickIn, the creative handicrafts in the field of electronics. In general, anyone can become a member and use the resources of the club after a short introduction. Some areas require special security instructions, for example the wood workshop, because of the saw and self-designed dust extraction. The members of Toppoint fight against digital surveillance, expand the Freifunknetz (“free wireless network”), are engaged in open data and open source as well as simply being intent upon the digital world with all its facets*. Additionally, they often invite representatives from the parliament to advise them on current technical issues. They have even been involved in television; the “Tatort” broadcasted in March was shot with their assistance. Members are also active in the “Reparatur-Cafè” located in Kiel-Gaarden.
Activities in the club
From 7 pm on there is always something going on at the club’s premises, since most members come after they finish with their work or studies. An LPI-certified learning group takes place every Wednesday, on Fridays there is “frickIt’ing” and once a month the Freifunk meeting occurs. The afformentioned parliament representatives mostly attend these meetings in order to keep themselves informed about the project “Freifunk” and other matters.
Toppoint is not a place where you can get your broken laptop repaired. Though the members will gladly help you with questions and you will surely find someone who supports you in case of any problems, this is neither the role of Toppoint nor is it their philosophy. Here applies: Do-it-yourself!
I have to say I was very impressed by my visit at Toppoint. I found the monitor system particularly interesting, since one monitor is installed in every room that broadcasts news, photographs, videos, etc depending on the desires of club members. There is a self-made speaker system as well that can even be controlled by phone and is used for announcements and the creative solutions both in the server room and at the wooden saw – fantastic.
At the end of my visit it was clear to me that this club is a big benefit for Kiel and truly creates a small paradise for hackers and handicraft enthusiasts. It’s a good feeling to know that a club exists which is taken seriously by politicians and is even consulted for advices if there are issues in the IT area. I hope the club will get have many good things going for them in the future and will find many members that think similarly. At least now I know how to build a tinfoil hat, which may come in handy in the future.
Thanks a lot, Daniel and Toppoint.
A hacker is a person who manipulates or uses things contrary to its original meanings to achieve his goal.
A space where hackers and other technologically interested people can meet and exchange views. Mostly organized in clubs and in a very colorful place.
FrickIn is technical creativity in the field of electronics and other tinker projects.” (toppoint.de)