Tribute to Hippie Hacker Holland
By Steve Kettmann
July 31, 2001
BERLIN -- Friends of German hacking legend Wau Holland are planning a
memorial tribute next Friday at the Hackers at Large 2001 gathering in the
Holland, 49, died Sunday from complications of a stroke he suffered in May.
A funeral service is planned for Holland's hometown of Marburg in two weeks.
More than 1,000 people have posted remembrances of the Chaos Computer Club
co-founder at his website, expressing their regard for the person who never
stopped challenging others to think creatively.
"Wau, you were always at least one step ahead of us," reads the text of a
memorial. "We lament a philosopher, a freethinker, a visionary who
conceived technology not as an end in itself but as a service for
communication between people.
"Full of energy and always alert to the authorities, laws and data
collectors, you have demonstrated the chances and dangers of the
information age to many people with through your sometimes radical opinions
Hollandborn Herwart Holland-Moritzcame up with the idea of the Chaos
Computer Club 20 years ago in an article he wrote for Berlin's famous
left-wing newspaper Die Tageszeitung. The idea was to make it easier for
large numbers of people to get access to the new medium.
Steffen Wernery, another CCC co-founder, met him two years later when the
idea started taking shape. Only a few people showed up for the meeting at a
Hamburg bookstore. But afterward, Wernery and Holland had dinner.
"He gave me great inspiration," Wernery said. "His way of thinking about
computers, using them in a public way, was something very unusual at that
time. Only big companies were choosing computers then. No individuals had
"His idea was that we could use computers for human rights. He had the
opinion we could use computers to make things transparent and to give power
to the people. This philosophy interested me."
Holland, bearded and balding, never turned his back on the style or the
principles that shaped the protest movement of his generation.
"He always remembered the hippie times," said veteran journalist Detlef
Borchers, a contributor to the weekly Die Zeit and other publications. "He
always wore overalls. In the early times of student revolution, it was to
denote that students were on the workers' side of the movement. And he went
through all these years, wearing these old-fashioned clothes."
Holland had strong ideas about how computers could be used, and how not to
He thought a hack should have an idea behind it, even a moral purpose.
"He had political and philosophical ideas, and I offered my ability to
organize," Wernery said.
Even the first famous CCC hack never would have happened had the German
postal and telecommunications authority heeded Holland's and Wernery's
warning that they had found a security hole in the Btx network. To make
their point, the pair hacked into the system using the password of the
Hamburg savings bank and ran up the equivalent of roughly US$50,000 in
credit to the CCC account. Then they went to the media with the story,
which caused a major stir in West Germany.
"Way back in the 1980s, we had a monopoly here with the German Post being a
very state-governed organization and a very strict one," Borchers said.
"In those times, I had my first acoustic coupler, and you had to have a
permit for it. To get that, you had to send in your passport, and a letter
from another person guaranteeing you are a nice guy and so forth.
In those early times, communication was not free at all."
Holland worked to change that, Borchers said.
"In his view, every kind of communication was a liberator of the people to
get their voice heard," he said. "So he was a technophile with a sense of
politics. That was missing at those times in Germany. Die Tageszeitung and
the German political scene were very suspicious of computers.
"The Chaos Computer Club had an understanding of being a political
organization in the fight against the mighty German Bundespost, the yellow
monster. In these times, thinking about breaking into other computers was
also breaking the monopoly of the Bundespost, so it had a political voice."
But Holland also tried not to take himself too seriously. Borchers recalled
Holland's television appearances from the early days of the CCC as
presenting "a very funny image of a hacker" that was dramatically different
than how people in the United States saw hackers at the time.
"He was always sort of playful," said Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti, a
writer for the German webzine Telepolis who once had Holland pose on a
police boat in Hamburg.
"He was not very much concerned about traditional behavior. He liked to
provoke and he always tried to look at things from a different angle,"
Schulzki-Haddouti said. "He didn't care whether people followed him or not.
He just said it, and you either followed him or you didn't; and if you
didn't, it was your fault."
Whereas other early leaders of the CCC went on to build personal fortunes,
Holland lived simply. In recent years he was working with young people in
the former East German city of Jena.
"He played a very important role in the German Internet scene,"
Schulzki-Haddouti said. "But in my opinion, it's sad that he couldn't
establish his role in a bit more of an institutional way. But maybe he
didn't want it. In America you find many people who founded things like the
Chaos Computer Club, and go to conferences, and have a nice office and so
forth. He didn't have this at all. He had to struggle hard for a living."
Added Borchers: "Wau Holland always lived on the alternative side. He
remained uncompromised. They don't even have money to make a good funeral.
They are collecting money."
But Holland always attracted a wide circle of friends and admirers. Doctors
at the hospital in Bielefeld where he spent his last two months in a coma
told visitors they had never seen so many people maintaining a vigil for a
patient in a coma.
"I would say he was more a poet," Schulzki-Haddouti said. "He was a sort of
living archive of the German Internet scene. He could remember every event,
and how every idea came from every idea before. It's a very serious loss. I
doubt whether there's anybody else who knows the soul of the German
Internet scene so well as he did."
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