The year 2016 is only a couple of hours old when the orgy in Jacob Appelbaum’s apartment in a pre-World War II building in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district really gets going.
Somebody has unfolded the sofa in the living room. Two couples are having sex at the same time in the room. Some guests had already taken synthetic party drug MDMA, which induces a state of euphoria and increases the need for emotional warmth, at another party. A third couple is going at it in the bedroom. Later, a crime allegedly took place in Mr. Appelbaum’s bed or on the fold-out sofa.
A couple of people in the living room are prone on the floor, all of them fully dressed. They had turned up the music so the moaning and groaning of the others doesn’t bother them as much. A young journalist had made herself comfortable on a man’s lap, and he is massaging her back. Sitting across from them is a young American woman. She had gotten to know the others just a couple of days before, but she appears to be uncomfortable at this party. She doesn’t talk much but listens in a friendly manner to what is being said.
The host, Jake Appelbaum, is doing much of the talking at the New Year’s Eve party. Mr. Appelbaum is a 33-year-old American, and he’s a specialist in computer security and the equivalent of a rock star in the worldwide community of hackers. His name is mentioned in the same breath as the elite of digital dissidents such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. For many people, such men are savior-like figures.
Mr. Appelbaum’s party guests number about 20 and are programmers, hackers and activists from all around the world. They are united by one mission: use encryption technologies to fight against what they see as the hated surveillance state. Mr. Appelbaum has been a guru in this Berlin community since he fled the United States in 2013. He felt he was being persecuted by the intelligence agencies.
On this night, he speaks of a trip to Iraq and also his tattoo idea: he wants the images of mathematical formulas tattooed on his body. He shows his guests a sculpture. It’s a prize for investigative journalism that he won two years ago.
He had uncovered for the German magazine Der Spiegel how the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was monitoring the German chancellor’s mobile phone. The journalism prize is named after German journalist Henri Nannen, whose Nazi past incenses Mr. Appelbaum.
He asks those guests gathered around him whether he should smear the sculpture with blood, perhaps the blood of a Jewish activist or perhaps his own blood. Or with menstruation blood, says the female journalist, but she isn’t having her period right now. This is good for other things, Mr. Appelbaum says. A little while later, he disappears with her into the bedroom. Already there in bed is the taciturn young American woman. The three had sex together.
Mr. Appelbaum’s social downfall is sealed this evening and two others he spends with the American. Later, she will make serious allegations against him.
Since then, Mr. Appelbaum has been only one main thing in the public’s eye: a sex offender.