1st Vintage Computer Festival Europe 2000
A very personal report by Helmut Jungkunz
Nothing so special with a meeting concerning old computers.
At least, most of the times. But there is an exception: The Vintage Computer Festival
is something special in its kind. A Dorado for collectors
and fans of rare old items. This time, the meeting wasn't to take place in the famous
Silicon Valley, but, for the very first time, in good old Europe!
Enough reasons to expect a lot. No time to waste. Gaby and I
had packed up our gems and arrived early, since we were exhibitors. Even as a Munich resident
I had a hard time finding the location of the venue in the gym of ESV München Ost on
Baumkirchner Strasse. Hadn't Gaby already been there the night before, we would certainly
have been quite late, as there was no poster or any other hint to guide us and the gym is
actually a bit off-road.
So we unpacked our stuff and parked the car. Then we chose a table and dumped our gear
on it. When we had just finished our basic setup, we received the first bad news:
three exhibitors had drawn back on their bookings on very short notice and a lot of space
would be left empty. Besides that, there were next to no registrations for the planned
fleamarket, so that it had to be cancelled. Oh dear! we thought - and not a trace of
any visitors so far...
In spite of that, we started to rearrange our things and laid out several yards of electrical
lines, when, all of a sudden, the door opened and I stared into an oddly familiar and still
strange face. A hand reached out to shake mine, and my well-trained ears told me who that was:
"Professor Dr. Paul Propellertrieb" (aka Paul Lenz) from Hannover had arrived!
What a pleasure! We hadn't met since the CEBIT 1990 (I think) and even then, it had been the
first time. In between there had been several phone conversations and some data exchange,
but no meeting in person had occurred. More about Paulie later.
Being nosy by nature, we started to explore our neighbourhood (Gawrsh, it sounds like Windows!).
Not a bad one, and quite impressive, even by mere weight and size!
There were cupboards from the "stone age"
(VAX 1130 and Co) with huge terminals
and external CPU-racks, as well as 8" Winchester drives and, of course, the whole
honourable COMMODORE palette, starting with the PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) up to the
COMMODORE PLUS 4, was present. The latter were heard uttering quite dishonorable sounds.
Not only had they gathered in a small herd, but they rehearsed a strange quire of rarely
melodic sequences of beeps (SHOOT-EM UP!).
There's not much more to say about this line-up. Despite the fact that the local organiser,
Hans Franke, had demanded everyone to fill out a presentation info sheet in German and in
English, his own computers (and they were his) could only be identified by their name plates.
(Some of the identification plates on the Commodore computers could
only be read by turning the unit upside-down!) In total isolation and left alone, an old friend
sat on the table, a (AMSTRAD) Schneider CPC 464, and another veteran of the home computer
era, the famous Dragon 32.
Only few of the exhibitors had shown up with a pre-made concept in their heads.
"A History Line from the Abakus to Electronic Calculators" was the name of a
presentation, that unfortunately was mainly based on photos. They showed the collection of
the exhibitor Matthias Schmitt presented at the Museum Waldmichelbach /Odenwald.
A quite cubic Robotron computer proved to function as host housing for a singleboard
Kit-computer Z1013 built in the GDR then, that loaded and assembled a program via a cassette
interface in slow motion. As computer software was unaffordable in the times of Ulbricht,
the radio stations in the GDR added coded program sequences to their broadcasts, that could
be recorded via any ordinary tape and later on decoded for use on those computers. There
had even been a TV issue on this latey in the ZDF, one of the major TV companies.
Another exhibitor had quite carelessly presented a random collection of Macintoshs and
labelled it "Stages in Development of the Mac". On the second day, Gaby and
I enriched this a little by adding our Mac Plus (1MB Memory!) to this arrangement.
This definitely enhanced the appearance a little.
A true surprise and a provocation as well was the
newly developed vacuum tube computer (a completely original concept, all born of one mind,
as a study). John Zabolitzky, the father of this device, had soldered together many of the
"Units", as he calls his uniform logic blocs and integrated their functions into
the growing computer.
"With its 10K Ops (Operations per second!)
not exactly a speeder and probably stupid like a hay stack - but beautiful!"
thus quoth a visitor, who had appraisingly read the
technical data only to continue with a broad smile.
A truely astounding fact: someone develops this kind of a computer in the year 2000,
one that takes up 19-inch rackmounted packs and always has to fight the 10A power limit
not to blow ordinary housing fuses during power-on and power-off!
For the ordinary person, there were a couple of lectures, not only about the MUNIAC,
but on various subjects. This was the point, when the international character of the
event started to show. Many lectures were held in English, and so many a Germany visitor
was kept from getting not only to lesser interesting things. My participation as
exhibitor forced me to stick with my gear mostly, but two lectures I consumed at least
One was held by the Americian partner
Sellam Ismail on the subject
"The KIPU (QUIPOU) - the Mnemonic Recording Device of the
Inka". Starting from a main cord, several vertical offsprings and split-cords
and marking knots created a hierarchical structure to allow for documentation of
historical and cultural events in the time-line.
The other lecture was based on a quite unusual thesis in respect to computer
"Digging Up The Future - Computers and Archaeology". Christine Finn, the lecturer,
had had this weird tingling sensation she knew from her profession as an Archaelogist, when
she had entered a storage room of old computers and mixed garbage.
Now, don't touch anything, what is where and how is it connected or related to the
things in its vicinity? Is the found piece the whole, or is it part of a larger unit?
Are there hints, descriptions, traces of dependecies to other things? Like in Archaeology,
it can be as essential here, first to collect everything and scrutinize the archived
materials, document the findings and to take pictures, by means of which often help can be
obtained through publications, e.g. the WEB, or the real meaning of an item can be found out.
In opposition to the typical computer collectors, the Archaeologists amongst them often
have to start off with only a fraction of a device, that rarely reveals the origin or its
With a lot of luck, similar pieces may be found or, together with the neccessary background,
they may be able to fit a complex jigsaw puzzle to rebuild one of the legendary devices.
The most fascinating eyecatcher at the Vintage
Computerfestival was with no doubt the table of Paul Lenz. Even the legendary BigBoard
Computer by itself at once took up my interest, since it is sort of the ancestor of the
European ZCPR machines.
Its intelligent BIOS allowed for adopting the most different disk formats by auto-login,
similar to the technique used on my Tilmann Reh CPU280, presented on
my desk. (All in all a very traditional corner, also with Gaby Chaudry's
that we saved from the scrapyard press at the Elektronik-Flohmarkt in 1998).
Paul had set up a SHARP MZ80 K with a little hardware-addon. This
"hardware-addon" caused many a visitor to gaze, eyes wide open, some choked, but
there was definitely a great deal of lining up.
Ten years before, Paul had participated in the contest for a television show
named "Mit Schraubstock und Geige" (somewhat translated to "With A Vice
And A Violin" and had constructed a contraption, that took an egg, pseudo-x-rayed it
via a light-bulb, only to reject it, if it proved to be raw, (in spoken words from the MZ80!).
If one put a truly hard-boiled (Easter-approved) egg into the machine, two felt pens would
start to circumvent the object and paint a nice spiral pattern in two colors on it. Now came
the interesting part - the Guillotine! Don't you dare laugh! This is a serious matter!
The egg would then be fixed by a small vice, while a knife mounted on a car's windshield-wiper
motor chops the top off - swish! - with absolute precision.
Then the egg returned to its origin and sits there waiting, while a small riser dramatically
reveils a symbolic mini-coffin with voila! salt and pepper in it (not to forget the spoon)!
When this was over, a melodic supermarket type triple-gong was to be heard and a female
voice would wish you a very good appetite. I don't exactly recall, how many eggs we've eaten
this weekend, but it surely beat Easter.
Many, many thanks to Paul for this
By the way, I did film some on Video8 and burnt it as MOVIE Files on CD, together with the
homepage of the European and a snapshot of the US page and lots of additional stuff.
Unfortunately this text in English had not been available at the time the CD was made.
Nevertheless, lots of fun checking out the CD!
Overview of the VCFE pictures