WordCamp Retreat Soltau 2018 Recap (en)

I’m not a diligent writer and the number of my WordCamp recaps can’t be considered large … but in that very special case it really has to be. Definitely!

For those unfamiliar with the terms in the headline:

WordCamps are in the broadest sense conferences around the topic WordPress.

Unlike many commercial events, however, these are organised exclusively on a voluntary basis by the community and are therefore very cost-effective. In 2016 I had the great pleasure to organize such a WordCamp in Nuremberg and now I have started another WordCamp on September 22nd 2018 in Würzburg as a barcamp. I try as often as possible to participate at least in WordCamps in Germany or to cross borders from time to time and to visit WordCamps in – until now European – foreign countries. Participation in WordCamps is a not insignificant part of my education budget. But also the welcome opportunity to get in touch with the rest of the WordPress world, to meet new people, have a bit of fun and certainly also for the sake of travelling. There’s always a little bit of vacation within all the superficial professional intention, when there is the chance to discover new cities or to see loved ones again. Since 2012 – my first event, at that time still called WP-Camp – I added 4 WordCamps in Berlin, 3 in Cologne, one each in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Antwerp and Paris in different roles as attendee, volunteer, speaker, sponsor or organizer meanwhile. Each one was different, special and great in its own way. Every time I went home with new knowledge, fresh motivation for my daily WordPress work, a few new and several known, deepened contacts.

In short: I love WordCamps ❤.

And what is the retreat now?

The format started as “WordCamp in the Green” which describes the first special feature quite well: usually WordCamps take place in more or less bigger cities. Simply because the necessary number of organizers can be found on site in the existing local Meetups. Soltau, with just over 20,000 inhabitants, is definitely out of that scope.

Screenshot of meetup.com with query to Soltau - Soltau will not be found
This is what happens when you want to start a Meetup in Soltau 😀

The second feature – and this one is tied to the first one – is the fact that unlike otherwise not only an event location is provided by the organization, but also the overnight accommodation. The connection is quite simple: finding conference rooms for 200 to 300 people is not a challenge within a slightly larger city. To find corresponding accommodation capacities directly at, even better in the venue – ideally affordable – defenitely is. Advantage Soltau! (and as the orgateam from various site visits reported as well elsewhere in Germany) A third – not to be underestimated – aspect has to be added: The “seductions” of the city are eliminated. Just for sightseeing, the mandantory selfies in front of landmark XYZ, verifying the restaurant tip from next door … all this was cancelled with the location selection. Disadvantage Soltau?

I am well known – if not in parts notorious – for breaking out from the official program of a WordCamp. If I don’t find any appropriate lectures. I was annoyed about something (note: I am annoyed – who can stop it?). The party is too loud for me. Or I just want to have some peace and quiet in the plentiful program. Actually, I always get myself organized well and know how to help myself, without having to make any demands on the organization of a WordCamp. And often enough, there are others at the WordCamps who share my alternative plans. I earned many fruitful hangouts, nice evenings and great conversations with other participants by leaving the offical paths, though this could sometimes be understood as isolation and eccentricity.

And we now lock this splitter in group dynamics with the others for a weekend

The missing seductions were simply included in the weekend program and called activities. If nothing is offered, just create it yourself. The call for activities was therefore as much a necessity as an effective means of bringing people together at levels other than purely professional.

In order to get me nevertheless a “escape possibility” was the activity “Karting” suggested by me. Once I felt “caged”, it would have been an easy way to take some people on a few cars and drive 20 km to Bispingen go-kart racetrack. Looking back, I am happy to say that the idea did not make it into the selection.

there was no need for a curse and no cabin fever. Both the location and the program always offered enough free and retreat slots.
the activity wasn’t including enough due to the costs involved – at least that was the official and understandable reason for the rejection.
The OrgaTeam conveyed to me very plausible about there discussion of chosen and non-chosen submissions for activities. More than a good argue about pros and cons and the fact that they are well weighed cannot be demanded. At that point at the latest the Orga had won my heart.

The superficial disadvantage of the retreat format became the greatest strength.

The mixing of the program with lectures, workshops, contributing, BarCamp tracks, leisure activities spread over a complete weekend was just fitting, ingenious, great,… you run out of words.

It was fun for me to find suitable lectures in the program, which I could watch live. There are certainly many more, which I will look at gladly on WordPress.tv. And there was more than enough time before, after, between, instead of lectures for hallway talks. I had great fun sharing the time between the program and the evening party with others on leisure activities such as swimming, 9-pin-bowling, Kubb and watching Bundesliga. It was just as much fun to contribute for WordPress.tv, felt casually. Michaela got it in the Presswerk Morningshow very well on the point (by analogy): like a school trip to summer camp, but only without dishwashing duty!

The Hotel Park Soltau was a considerable part of the feel-good atmosphere. Starting with the relaxed check-in, which could just as easily have turned into trouble due to a misunderstanding during the rebooking. More about the always friendly service – that was more than just professional ethics, that was real hospitality. The location itself was both perfect for the venue space as well as for the individual rooms in separate (and therefore somewhat isolated and calm) wings. The broad and generous areas outside – together with the just brilliant weather (which the #WCRetreat simply deserved!) gave a great extra for all outdoor activities. To me this was one of the key feature for relaxation and deceleration. Absolutely remarkable the fast and stable WiFi, which had to handle not only 4 of my devices – unfortunately I did make it to get the fifth one up and running during the entire weekend – the WiFi was too simply knitted with the Captive Portal for my setup which insisted on complex SSID and password settings.

The food was … streching. My shirts say so. No matter which catering was good, rich, varied and tasty on WordCamps so far … it has to queue behind this kitchen. Rich breakfast buffet from half past six to nine o’clock. Lunch and dinner buffet with soup, salad, starters, main courses and desserts. Almost everything in the plural and always varying. This also included the saturday evening BBQ, the refreshments (water and juice) as well as the snacks and coffee in between.

The only things to pay extra were the dinner on arrival day as well as the drinks at the hotel bar or the beer with the meal. Having not tracked my complete expenses, I would estimate a total of 40-45 € for extras, including 14.50 € for the thursday evening buffet. In other words: five warm buffets at 14.50 € each + 3x breakfast, drinks and snacks makes easily a total of about 100 € on the hotel bill. But all a got to pay for was 65 € a night all inclusive. At first glance, the WordCamp ticket was at the top end of the usual scale billed with 55 €. But again: divided by 2.5 days no stray bullet. Adding thursday evening, it’s a complete 3 days event which makes the ticket rather (too) cheap. Overall, the WordCamp Retreat was not more expensive than a comparable “normal” WordCamp, if I am dependent on an overnight stay in a hotel. Of course: hostel residents and couch surfers do a different math, but at least compared to an AirBnB it’s IMHO even.

As the venue itself with it’s lecture rooms is the main driver for costs, it would be helpful to divide the costs not only by ticket sales and sponsorships but add a moderate extra fee on either room prices or meals. It quite usual to have your food and drinks for free at the party evening, but the rest of the time I have to pay for my dinner too. From this point of view, it was easy for me to forfeit the second ticket, which I had booked for my companion as she had to cancel the paricipation due to her job. My personal sponsoring, so to speak. With today’s background knowledge, I will certainly take a closer look at community sponsoring at the next retreat. Again: at first glance the community sponsoring looked much more expensive than usual but it needs the context of the associated service. Sad to say, that I didn’t get that worked out for me before.

It’s quite usual to praise finished WordCamps profusely. The organizing team has invested a considerable amount of working time in advance. The volunteers are friendly and present during the event. The sponsors have put a lot of money on the table to finance others fun. The speakers have prepared themselves properly for their part and share their knowledge. All of this is appreciated and will be praised. Always. Plenty. With the warmest words. And justifiably.

Then the WordCamp Retreat comes along and you realize that you have dumped your superlatives.

Of course, also to the Soltau team my thanks and respect for all of the above. The speakers, the activity agents, the volunteers, the sponsors, and the OrgaTeam. But you just can’t get rid of the feeling that it’s still too little in this case. And indeed, the feeling is right:

My deep appreciation goes to all who have developed, worked on, encouraged and promoted this new format. The rumored 1.5 years in advance become insignificantly small if one considers (perhaps only reliably in a few years) the colossal result. Soltau must not be regarded as a singular event. It was rather “just” the incubator for a very, very big idea. In my opinion it is no less than the Champions League of the WordCamps, which was born in Soltau. A blueprint for many more retreats which will hopefully follow soon worldwide. A request, dear German community: this format lives more than others from bringing the local community together. A bit of input and enrichment from the outside – ok. But please avoid overcrowding and hijacking the next retreat, which may take place elsewhere than in Germany, in your euphoria. The #GermanBubble shouldn’t take others air to breathe. It would be the death of the event in question in particular and perhaps of the format as a whole.

This very special, experimental character – the laboratory situation of Soltau – also justifies that the calculation did not work out as it usually does in a WordCamp. But the world is at its fairest when the equals are treated equally and the unequal unequally Therefore the WordPress Foundation, respectively The PBC has to be praised as well for the courage to put the necessary funds into this experimental setup. From both the quantity and the quality of the actual appearing reviews, subsequent retreats should succeed both in bringing together the necessary critical mass of participants and in winning even more sponsors for this format in order to make future financing more stable.

I’m definitely looking forward to the next WordCamp Retreat. Whenever and wherever.