Photo by Christian Vagt
The German press has already labelled them the political couple for our generation – a business-savvy feminist wedded to a nerd (r)evolutionary. Meet Anke (44) and Daniel (34) Domscheit-Berg, two of the Pirate Party’s prominent new members. Anke grew up in East Germany and studied textile arts before working for the likes of McKinsey and Microsoft for more than a decade. She’s an expert in all things ‘open government’. Daniel – a systems engineer by training – dumped a lucrative IT job to work with WikiLeaks in 2007.
After a highly publicised falling out with Julian Assange three years later, he published Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website. The couple recently left Berlin to live in a huge old house in Furstenberg an hour north of the capital – the HQ for Anke’s potential run as a Pirate for the Bundestag elections in autumn 2013 (the Brandenburg Pirates vote on whether she’ll be on the electoral list at the end of October) and Daniel’s new whistleblower technology project OpenLeaks.
As we cross the street from the station, the first clues appear: signposts and trees have been wrapped in rainbow-coloured knit wool. Bearded Daniel opens the door; Anke rushes down the stairs a few seconds later, smartly dressed in a Pirate Party t-shirt and orange high-waist belt with matching tights.
They have converted this imposing three-storey, 100-year-old house into a vast hands-on experiment in 21st-century self-reliance, as evidenced by the jars of homemade applesauce on the kitchen counter, the 3D printer built by their 12-year-old son and tons of IT equipment in every room. Out back, a former carpark has been turned into a vegetable garden. In a tiny windowless room in the huge basement, Daniel has set up a server rack sprouting cables in every direction. They use the top floor for workshops.
They take us to the large open kitchen, where green tea is already brewing on the large farmhouse table next to Macbooks and a busy Iphone. (Our meandering conversation “under eight eyes” was to last nine teapots.) The house cat, named Schmitt (Daniel’s former WikiLeaks avatar), dozes nearby. In a corner, a vast basket full of knitting supplies…
So, who’s the knitter here?
DANIEL: I had a short phase of knitting in my pre-teens, and that was cool, but today I’d rather leave it to Anke…
That’s a surprisingly conservative division of labour!
DANIEL: We had a very long debate about it and decided it was a woman’s task! [Laughs] The knitting started when she had a lot of telephone conferences...
ANKE: …I was bored stiff. It was every Friday afternoon for three hours! So, I started knitting again. It’s good to relieve stress.
What is guerrilla knitting all about?
ANKE: First I measure the branches, then I knit those long rectangles with wools of bright colours and finally I just sew it onto the tree… It’s about taking back urban environments. Making it more beautiful and playing a part in designing your outdoors.
Anke, you’re known as a feminist. What type of feminist are you?
ANKE: I’m the average type of feminist. As areyouafeminist.com tells you, whoever expects equal human rights for men and women is a feminist. So, I’m one. You’re probably one too…
So everyone is a feminist by default unless you voice your sexism?
ANKE: You don’t have to voice it. It can be inside you. I as a feminist don’t mean to be against men or have more rights than men. Ultimately it’s a global issue. It’s about allowing human beings to live their professional and private lives the way they want. For example, allowing people to step back and say, “Part-time work is totally fine for me; my wife or partner can go working.” Feminism is not just about improving life for women, it also opens up all spheres of life for men.
But you’re for gender quotas, aren’t you?
ANKE: Yes, I am for a quota on supervisory boards of publicly quoted companies, and I don’t consider that to give women an advantage over men. In Germany’s 200 biggest companies, we have something like two to three percent women on executive boards. So how can giving an advantage to women who have equal qualifications somehow disadvantage men, if they have 97 percent of the seats – and that will not change too soon? Even if we have a quota of 30 percent, men will still have 70 percent.
But why is that? Women perform well at school these days, but somehow when it comes to jobs and business, it’s not working…
ANKE: It doesn’t have to be like that. I come from East Germany. I was 21 when the Wall fell. I was raised in a society in which it was totally normal for both parents to work. Over 90 percent of women, many of them with kids, worked or studied full time. The EU target is 60 percent. It can happen. It’s not in our genes. Article three of our constitution says man and woman are equal. In the 1994 they added a sub-clause that said if that is not a reality, government must do something to make it a reality. The tax laws are doing the opposite, as is insufficient childcare. The women end up taking care of the kids. Many men don’t want to do it. And when they do want to do it, what kind of feedback do they get from their bosses, colleagues? It’s okay for eight weeks, but not if they want to leave for half a year or a year...
So, it’s a cultural problem?
ANKE: I was just complaining on Twitter today about this René Lezard catalogue that I got in the mail. Look at the man: he’s standing straight. He’s got self-confidence and composure, a really strong aura. Now look at the women: they look like they’re starving, depressed, ‘please save me’. They’re powerless. And René Lezard is supposed to be a brand for women executives! It’s ridiculous! It’s not an exception. This stereotype is promoted by marketing and PR. The message to women is: you are weak, you are fragile, you can’t do anything on your own. You rarely see a woman in an ad with a strong grip on something, even on their handbag. Models are often shown leaning on something because they can’t stand on their own – or they stand on one leg. When I train women managers, I always tell them: you must stand strong on both feet.
Daniel, how does it feel to live with a feminist, after all that time hanging out with male computer nerds?
DANIEL: Within the hacker clubs, there are a lot of people who are aware of these issues. It’s not like there are no stereotypes against them either – the nerds, the geeks and their supposed social disabilities and whatever… But you asked how it is to live with a feminist. The question should be, how is it to live with someone who knows who she is? Someone who knows how to hold her lipstick with a tight grip. [Laughs]
ANKE: Or a tool!
DANIEL: …and that’s really a great thing! In all my relationships before, that was the only thing I was missing. To be with someone who knows what she stands for.
But Anke, when you switched from the Greens to the Pirates, were you really expecting to find more feminists there? I thought they were ‘post-gender’!
ANKE: That has changed in the last 12 months. Most Pirates now realise that ‘post-gender’ is a nice vision that is far from reality. They have learned a lot. Compared to other organisations with a similarly high share of males, the Pirates have one thing that’s different: their value DNA, so to speak. The notion of equality is so hard-wired into every average Pirate that it’s an open door for women. I discovered how many were strongly against sexism, and had no problem voicing it openly. Many are open feminists.
What is the proportion of women in the Pirates, 10 percent?
ANKE: It’s somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. We have the same problem as with women in management in general: a lack of role models. We need more visible women in leadership positions, for other women to think it is possible. Merkel has done that. Recently, more and more great women have been visible in the Pirate Party. Marina Weissband and Julia Probst are two great examples of self-confident, intelligent, cool women. Pirates would tell me “If the only issue is the lack of women, then come and join us and help attract other women.” I think it’s right!
So why did you both decide to join the Pirates last May?
DANIEL: I have known a lot of Pirates for a long time. I sympathised with the Pirates in Sweden since the first minute. But I wasn’t really inclined to join a political party. I was not tired of politics, but I was tired of party politics. Life models are changing. Part of this is triggered by the internet, how we live today, how we communicate. You can talk to whomever in the SPD or the CDU – they haven’t the slightest idea where this is leading. That’s where the Pirates are different: they’ve acknowledged that something fundamental needs to change, and they are working towards that. I don’t agree with the culture 100 percent, but I think it is the only political movement looking at the bigger picture. And this triggered my decision to become active.