At a time when Maker Faire is celebrating its tenth year and has expanded to over 130 Maker Faires around the globe, it seems unthinkable that a city like Berlin has gone without a Maker Faire until now. And yet here I am, having gleefully flown from San Francisco to witness and report back on Berlin’s first interpretation of the greatest show and tell on earth.
After only a few hours on Berlin soil I could already tell that the city is an outstanding environment for Makers. I have no doubt that the Faire will quickly flourish here. Berlin is brimming over with young artists and engineers, and as a city that has been rebuilding and reshaping itself for generations, creativity is just woven into the culture here.
It also helps that Germany is home to an independently run German edition of Make: magazine published in Germany by Heinz Heise, who have been working hard to build and support Germany’s Maker community and have years of experience organizing Germany’s Maker Faire in Hannover. Hanging out with the Heise team felt just like being with my own crew back home, only with smarter-sounding accents.
Setting the stage
Berlin’s Maker Faire kicked off at 10 a.m. on October 3rd, located at Postbahnhof, a two-level former railway mail station turned event space. Giant industrial elevators flanked both sides of the building, where train cars were once brought in on the upper level and unloaded. It was a great space, and its industrial history added an appropriate backdrop to the rows of Makers, inventors, and entrepreneurs showing their projects and products.
Visitors at the entrance of the Faire were all immediately greeted by Kevin. But don’t let the approachable name fool you. Kevin is actually a half-length shipping container that transforms into a Burning Man-esque stick figure with flame-throwers for hands. Kevin’s Maker, Mike Wessling, brought his creation to life once every hour, leaving many fairgoers to easily miss the inconspicuous shipping container on the way in, only to be surprised by its fiery transformation later in the day.
Meeting the Makers
There were over 130 different booths cover the upper and lower levels of the main Postbahnhof building. I did my best to spend time with each of them, but to cover them all here would be exhausting. You can get a better overall glimpse of the kinds of Makers and projects at Maker Faire Berlin from Goli Mohammadi’s lead-up post last week, or run through the full list on the Maker Faire Berlin site. Instead, I’ll provide you with a few of my personal highlights which I also think speak to the unique tone of this event.
First, let me mention the guys from Construction Zone, a 3D printer company based in Bavaria, and proud of it. Their booth was outfitted with crates of apples from their Bavarian farm workspace and tables made from scrap barn wood — from their barn. One of their team members acted as resident DJ, playing a crate full of techno vinyl while dressed in Lederhosen. While I think they recognized that they were playing up their German schtick, there was an earnest Bavarian pride behind it all. At the end of the first day, the team cracked open a case of their favorite local beer (which they brought with them), turned up their music, and posed for a group photo.
They looked like they were having fun, and their Delta printer looked pretty great too, as it spat out miniature busts of Yoda throughout the day (though you’d think they would have gone with a gnome, though I suppose Yoda is a gnome of sorts).
I also had a great discussion with Clemens Gruber from Open Hive, an open source beehive monitor system. With Nathan Seidle’s Internet of Bees project fresh in my mind, I had a million questions for Clemens. While Seidle’s hive project is a fun exercise for those with a single hobby hive, the Open Hive system is clearly after a more serious beekeeper audience. The system is more robust, relays information across several hives, and uses a custom scale that can handle the large, sustained hive weight with minimal calibration drift.
I also spotted a prototype bee counter system that combined a line of IR sensors for the bees to pass over and a 3D printed housing that would channel bees through little spaces close to the sensors for more accurate counting. Clemens designed the board using Fritzing software and had the board manufactured by Fritzing as well. I couldn’t get over how ingenious and adorable the bee counter system was — all those bees funneled through their little bee doors. Can you even stand it?
Not a Maker Faire goes by where I don’t encounter a project that I wish was available for purchase. I’m a little ashamed of this as a DIY Project Editor for Make: magazine, but sometimes a project comes along that you just want to grab and say, “take my money.” For me, at Maker Faire Berlin, that project was the Dada Machine.
The Dada Machine is a box, about the size of a paperback book, that uses musical MIDI input to trigger linear actuators. If you’re unfamiliar with linear actuators, you can think of them as a mechanically controlled piston. They make a great clacking noise all on their own, but combined with other objects they work great for creating percussive sounds. If you’ve ever heard a pinball machine let out a startling crack when you earn an extra ball, you’ve heard a linear actuator.
The Dada Machine packages an Arduino Mega-style board and and a motor driver board together, along with a MIDI and USB interface for receiving musical information from a computer, mobile device, or standalone MIDI hardware (keyboard, drum machine, sequencer). A patch bay of barrel jack connections allows you to connect up to 12 actuators, although it’s possible to use splitter cables to drive multiple actuators from one signal.
To demonstrate the device at Maker Faire, multiple actuators were laid across a table, some connected to hollow wooden boxes, others mounted on Legos, and a handful attached to mallets positioned over toy xylophones. A small tablet located off to the side connected to the Dada Machine over USB and ran a simple looping sequence of notes that visitors could change by touching the screen. The result was quirky, funky, and infectious, and inspired curious fairgoers to not only play around with the notes on the tablet, but with the physical items being struck. It was a great mix of digital technology interfacing with the real world in a playful, beautiful way. I also feel like there’s a new genre of music to be mined here. I’m calling it tinker-techno.
I spoke with John Lohbihler from Dada Machines about his prototype and his next steps toward manufacturing. He’s working on finalizing his case design and plans to begin selling the device later this year for 199 euros.
One subject that is becoming increasingly present at Maker Faires around the world is DIY bio tech. One London-based startup named Bento-Bio is trying to make it more accessible for everyday people to sample and analyze DNA using an all-in-one lab kit. The laptop-sized Bento Lab includes a centrifuge, PCR DNA copier, and electrophoresis DNA visualizer. The lab is expected to cost around 700 euros after its Kickstarter campaign and is geared towards students or anyone curious about unraveling the mysteries of DNA.
So much more
I could go on and on about the amazing projects, Makers, artists, entrepreneurs and vendors at Maker Faire Berlin — and even the amazing food. Hopefully I’ve given you at least a peek at this momentous weekend. It’s not often that you get the thrill of witnessing the start of something great.
As I walked around Maker Faire Berlin this weekend I couldn’t help but reflect back on the feelings I had when I attended the first Bay Area Maker Faire in 2006 — the thrill of seeing a community come together, and the anticipation of knowing that it’s only going to grow bigger and better.
Auf wiedersehen, Berlin!