Teletext at Republica 

24 May 2016

A low rumbling emanates from the auditorium’s south west corner. The speaker on stage halts her dialogue to glance momentarily at the ceiling, which by this point is vibrating violently. Suddenly, everything becomes dark… well, slightly darker, as the roof window’s natural light is extinguished by rail carriages rattling over the arena.

Moments later, all is bright once again.


The same chain of events occurs numerous times throughout this particular 30 minute talk, but there are no further delays as all present quickly become accustomed to the boisterous tube trains screeching into nearby Gleisdreieck Station.

‘S-Bahn Fest’, as one Twitterzen dubbed it, is formally known as the Republica Festival. Held annually at STATION-Berlin, it is a conference dedicated to media, politics, technology, the arts and anything the organisers deem vaguely relevant. By which I may be referring to teletext.

Yeah, broadcast teletext! That amazing 1970s invention we’re still using in this post- MySpace Snapchat age. The Age of Trotzdem. The age of texting 40 words a minute with just your thumb. Francis E Dec’s age of four billion eyesight television camera Frankenstein controls.

Granted, day 1 of Republica’s 2016 iteration did focus primarily on why men with expressionless faces and carefully ironed ties oughtn’t know about your embarrassing breakfast arrangements. At a jam-crammed Stage 4, digital privacy advocate Ed Snowden made a rare (Skype) appearance to explain why most countries won’t let him breathe anywhere near their sovereign turf.


And later on Stage 1, spiky-haired blogmeister Sascha Lobo bemoaned politicians’ indifference to well-thumbed Orwellian concepts that are, in his opinion, slowly becoming a startling reality. At least I think that’s what he was saying, as the whole talk was in German. (Only kidding, folks – the live translators superbly conveyed every regional idiom and nuance to an English-speaking audience.)

But if the first day was about politics, I’d like to think the second was all about teletext. At 10am on Tuesday 3 May, the TV wall officially went live. Boasting six genuine 1990s Hotel brand televisions (or perhaps they were borrowed from a local hotel?), this would be the busy backdrop to a dual-layered Teletext Block Party Berlin.

Prior to 6pm, these televisions formed a museum piece, talking point and general showcase for many relatively unknown but highly talented teletext designers. And in the evening, they would transform into an 8-colour light show to accompany a variety of musical compositions that could be described as modern pop and/or roll tunes.

And what happens when you output a single Raspberry Pi teletext feed to six separate television sets? Why, you create a cornucopia of semi-random pixelglitches, of course!


Each TV’s slideshow, or ‘carousel’ in teletext techie terms, was set to 8 seconds per page, but a confused and overworked Pi couldn’t help calling up the incorrect pages at erratic intervals. The result was a frequently breathtaking exquisite corpse for the (early) information age – I’ll leave it up to you to decide what happens when you cross John Lennon’s mouth with (The Artist Formerly Known As) Prince’s hairdo… in teletext.

Mostly because I tried to take a picture, but teletext TV refresh rates added wandering black bars to the developed photograph. They’re like ghosts that only appear the moment you press the ‘capture’ button. Oh, alright then – I’ll show you, but it isn’t pretty…


And then there was the moment a virtual Germany stood still for teletext… or rather, Videotext. At approximately 2.20pm local time, Frauke Langguth’s presentation entitled ‘Teletext Forever’ set #Teletext trending nationwide on popular internet website Twitter.

With the help of 400 people in a single room at Republica, the Director of ARD Text caused dozens of befuddled Twitterzens to simultaneously ask why the heck everyone was so interested in this blocky medium all of a sudden. Only they said it in their native tongue.

Speaking of which, I would tell you all about this presentation, but the whole thing was in German, and this time the live translators were away enjoying an ice cream on Republica’s specially imported beach. (Only kidding, folks – live translation was limited to the two biggest stages. But the beach thing is real – see below image for evidence.)


Snowden’s talk might have packed out a side stage, but Langguth’s attracted more viewers. Granted, this is only because the former was held in a smaller room, meaning they had to lock at least 100 people out some 20 minutes before it started… but that’s against the point!

Once the teletext talk was over, conversation spilled over into the Block Party itself. Just how is it possible to broadcast teletext on a Raspberry Pi? Just how useful is teletext as a political propaganda tool? And just how do you turn off that weird mode that makes everything go double size?

I’ll let you guess which of those questions were actually asked.

But three hours of felt tip fun were soon exhausted, and it was time for the DJ’s set to begin. Televisions flickered and flashed in dimming light, the silent medium of teletext complemented by a mixture of syncopated Eurodance, house and (somewhat fitting) chipmusic. Revellers eventually departed with visions of blocky glitch and disharmony imprinted on their previously innocent psyches.

And soon, natural light also completely departed. But the Block Party TV wall remained illuminated, ready for a whole new day.


Oh, you want to know about day 3 of Republica? Well, it would be remiss of me to go into any detail as I was writing this very article on a plane back to Manchester Flughafen at that point. But let’s assume teletext went on to trend worldwide for six solid hours, leading to the announcement of a shock comeback for the medium across Europe. Yes, I hear Ceefax is set to relaunch in July 2016…

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