Reporting From BornHack 2021: Hacker Camps Making It Through The Pandemic

In a normal summer we would be spoiled for choice here in Europe when it came to our community’s events, with one big camp and a host of smaller ones near and far. Only the most hardcore of travelers manage to make it to all of them, but it’s usually possible to take in at least one or two over the season. But of course, this isn’t a normal summer. Many of us may now be vaccinated against COVID-19, but we remain in the grip of a global pandemic. The massive Dutch MCH camp was postponed until 2022, and most of the smaller camps have fallen by the wayside due to uncertainty. But one hacker camp carried on.

BornHack in Denmark was the world’s only in-person summer hacker event of 2020, and on its return last week made it the only such event in Europe for 2021. Having secured a ticket earlier in the year when they went on sale, I navigated the tricky world of cross-border European travel in a pandemic to make my way to the Hylkedam scout camp on the Danish isle of Fyn for a week in the company of hackers from all over Northern Europe. BornHack had achieved the impossible again, and it was time to enjoy a much-needed week at a hacker camp.

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May (No Longer) Contain Hackers: MCH 2021 Has Been Cancelled

In a sad but unsurprising turn of events, MCH, this summer’s large hacker camp in the Netherlands, has been cancelled. Organising a large event in a pandemic would inevitably carry some risk, and despite optimism that the European vaccine strategy might have delivered a safe environment by the summer that risk was evidently too high for the event organisers IFCAT to take on. Our community’s events come from within the community itself rather than from commercial promoters, and the financial liability of committing to hire the site and infrastructure would have been too high to bear had the event succumbed to the pandemic. Tickets already purchased will be refunded, and they leave us with a crumb of solace by promising that alternatives will be considered. We understand their decision, and thank them for trying.

As with all such events the behind-the-scenes work for MCH has already started. The badge has been revealed in prototype form, the call for participation has been completed, and the various other event team planning will no doubt be well  under way. This work is unlikely to be wasted, and we hope that it will bear fruit at the next Dutch event whenever that may be.

It would have been nice to think that by now we could be seeing the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but despite the sterling work of scientists, healthcare workers, and epidemiologists, it seems we still have a a way to go before we’ll once more be hanging out together drinking Club-Mate in the company of thousands of others. If the pandemic is weighing upon you, take care of yourselves.

The First Hacker Camp To Show Up On Google Maps

Our summer gatherings at hacker camps are fleeting and ephemeral, anticipated for months but over far too quickly. Afterwards we have only our memories, and perhaps the occasional Hackaday write-up. We think BornHack 2020 in Denmark was the only hacker camp that wasn’t forced to go online-only by the pandemic last year, and now as far as we know it has also become the only one ever that has left its mark for the wider world by being captured for posterity by Google Earth.

Visible in the forest is the sparsely populated and socially distanced main field of what was a considerably smaller camp than normal, as well as in separate clearings the speakers tent and the loud field. Perhaps it doesn’t help as much in explaining to outsiders what a hacker camp is as might a picture of one of the larger ones, but it does at least serve as a visible reminder that we weren’t quite snuffed out last year.

It’s a moment of nostalgia to see BornHack 2020 on Google Maps for those of us who were there, but perhaps the point of all this is to take a moment to consider the likely prospects for similar events in 2021 given the pandemic. Both the British EMF Camp and American Toorcamp had to cancel their events last year and should return in 2022, there’s no word as yet about 2021 from the Serbian BalCCon or the Italian IHC,  our latest update on Luxembourg’s HaxoGreen is that it’s still slated to go ahead with its move to 2021, and currently both BornHack and the Dutch MCH are expecting to run as normal this summer.

In the grip of a savage third wave of the pandemic where this is being written, it’s by no means a foregone conclusion that 2020’s cancellations may not repeat themselves. International borders remain difficult to cross without exacting quarantine requirements. If you make it to a camp this year you may be one of the lucky few, and in the increasingly likely event that we don’t, we’ll be suitably envious. Don’t loose hope, we shall all meet again… eventually.

If you fancy a closer look at BornHack 2020, have a read of our write-up.