This article is part one of three about my trip to Berlin, Germany, for the GNOME Foundation hackfest. It tells the story of what happened while going there. Part 2 focuses on the hackfest itself and part 3 is about what happened after.

Adventure time (or there…)

My journey started at 22:58 on Wednesday night at the train station near my home where I hopped on the first 🚆 of three trains. About 25 minutes later I was in Offenburg and the second 🚆 train was only 80 minutes later. I went to a waiting room to try and use that time to get some sleep, as I knew the night was going to be a complicated one. 40 minutes later, the sound of the automatic doors opening got me out of my sleep. I struggled to open my eyes and looked in the direction whence the sound came. Two armoured guys were decisively walking towards me and talking fast in German at me. My brain was still half shut down and even though it’s not exactly true the only words I managed to painfully mumble were „Ich… spreche… nicht… Deutsch” —“I don’t speak German”. They both formulated several proposals at the same time, but the only one I succesfully parsed was “English” to which I replied —again, painfully— “yes”. They introduced themselves as “federal police” and asked for my passport. I noded, grabbed my wallet in my pocket and mumbled “err, ID card?”. They asked where I was from, and since the answer was France they acknowledged an ID card was indeed enough. With said ID in his hand, one of them called on his cell phone, stated in German that he had one person along with my last name and ID card number. A few seconds later he hung up, handed me back my card and thanked me. His colleague told me « Bonne soirée » but my brain was already back in standby mode and I couldn’t articulate a reply. My conclusion to this little story is that context switching is quite difficult, even more so when it takes you by surprise and you’re not in a normal state.

Then I was off to a two hour trip to Frankfurt where I had to wait for three hours until the last leg 🚄. The Frankfurt train station is really not an appropriate place to stay for that long in the middle of the night. They don’t have enough seats and you’re exposed to the winds everywhere you go, so it gets really cold. I sadly didn’t find a proper solution and the only thing I can recommend is to not end up in this situation.

🎸 gear testing

I got out of the Friedrichstrasse train station at 10:00 and headed straight to Just Music on Moritzplatz because I saw them listed as official dealers on the Victory Amps website and I’ve been wanting to try out one of their VX the Kraken for so long now. My only request when it came to the guitar to use for the session was “something with EMG pickups” and I was handed a LTD EC-401FM which is very similar to my F-400FM. I wasn’t a fan of the way the neck pickup sounded though. That felt weird at first because I thought it was the same configuration as what I was used to, but after looking at the specs it turns out it has a 60 there (paired with an 81) while mine has two 81s. What I was a fan of on the other hand was the sounds I got out of the mythical beast! I takes a bit of tweaking to get them, but that didn’t take too long. Bea’s signature amp promises the best of two worlds with two gain channels providing respectively a British and a US type of sound, and it delivers. Turning the gain down gives nice pushed cleans, adding to the versatility of the tiny monster (the form factor is quite small compared to other heads). I was only playing in drop D so it wasn’t as obvious as it would have been with the lower B of my 7 string guitar, but I briefly tried the bass focus switch and the result was interesting. After about an hour of playing, I sadly had to reply “not today” when I was asked if I would like to buy it, but I now have confirmed that this is on my “someday” rig wish list. I didn’t leave empty handed though as I need to restring my LTD for the upcoming demo recording session for my band, so I got a Skinny top heavy bottom set (10-46 from Ernie Ball), as well as a bottle of lemon oil (Dunlop formula 65) to give my fretboard the clean up it deserves. Sadly they didn’t have the 01 clean/prep and 02 conditionner products, and the guy behind the counter didn’t even seem to understand what I was on about when I mentioned them. I’ll have to source them from my favourite local store, which is a good excuse to visit the new location they moved in at the beginning of the month.

End of day

In the afternoon I visited Hackescher Platz and the Hackesche Höfe. That neighbourhood has a few inner courtyards („Hof”), sometimes interconnected, with businesses like stores or restaurants. This lovely architecture pattern gives a sense of community and intimacy.

Next I went back to Alexanderplatz, took the S-Bahn to Ostbahnhof and walked from there to the appartment we are renting. The end of the day reminded me of the chapter introducing the dwarves in Tolkien’s “The hobbit”. I chilled out a bit with Meg, Neil and Nuritzi, then we went for drinks and Zeeshan joined, then for dinner at Lemon leaf where the group expanded to include Lennart, Kai and Cosimo. Finally as we got back to the accommodation we met with Zana, Allan and Carlos who managed to make it despite the windstorm that had started in the late afternoon and got trains and planes delayed.

Posted 2017-10-07 10:31:40 CEST

Last weekend we held a GNOME Foundation hackfest in Berlin, as planned in August. That means not just a hackfest organised by the foundation, but to improve the foundation itself. Many of the topics we had to cover are interconnected and it’s a challenge to untangle it all and sort it out. Being in the same room, with a projector and a whiteboard, helped a lot. Many thanks to Kinvolk who let us use their 🏢 meeting area for three days.

We are great at setting work for ourselves, less so at getting that work done. This doesn’t mean that we are not doing anything, rather that we have a hard time getting things done quickly enough that the list doesn’t keep growing. A goal was thus to remedy that situation.

To achieve that, one of the main areas we focused on was putting policies in place so that some things work themselves out and the board gets more time to work on other tasks. Indeed many questions required board intervention until now when it wasn’t actually necessary. As an example, our Director of Operations would have needed us to vote for her to be able to buy enveloppes to send letters as part of her day to day work. That was kind of silly and the newly approved policies will put an end to that. They will be propagated to the appropriate places (wiki pages, mailing lists…) in the coming weeks.

Our Executive Director was instrumental in making this happen. His feedback and proposals enabled us to have something concrete and clear that we could discuss, adjust, and agree on.

We reviewed the status of our ongoing action items and managed to do quite some clean up, as you’ll be able to tell if you read the minutes of the next meeting we’ll have. Although I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to spend more time on that part, we also managed to actually work on some action items and cross them off.

This event allowed us to make great progress. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a clean slate, but it’s pretty close. I’m looking forward to the next time we meet in person and I’m happy that we plan on doing it more often than the traditional yearly Board meeting at GUADEC.

Posted 2017-10-10 18:21:22 CEST


I started my Monday morning by paying a visit to the 🏛 Berliner Schloss (Palace of Berlin). When I saw the construction site in 2011 they had only laid out the foundations and I wanted to check how much progress had been made. The walls are still exposed raw concrete in places, but the building is taking shape and built up to the roof. While it’s nothing compared to the 500 years it took to build the Strasbourg Cathedral, it is impressive that something can take such a long time to make.

Another thing I had seen in 2011 and wanted to go back to was the 🏛 Denkmal zur Bücherverbrennung am 10. Mai 1933 (Nazi book burning memorial) on Bebelplatz. I was moved when I stood there the first time, and once again this time. The event it refers to has such a powerful impact to me, and the monument succeeds at capturing it.

I quickly visited Gendarmenmarkt and Pariserplatz (where the famous Brandenburg gate stands), then moved to an area of the city I had not previously had time to explore. I went to see the 🏛 Reichstag, 🏛 Bundestag, 🏛 Bundeskanzleramt and 🏛 House of the cultures of the world. Unfortunately that’s when the rain decided to make a come back, so I didn’t really get to enjoy the view as much as I expected, but the massive buildings were still interesting to see.

… and back again

The main reason the trip on the way in was so adventurous was that there were renovations on some parts of the route and the trains weren’t running as per the usual schedule. That was last week and didn’t apply anymore this week. I was able to book a nightjet, which is a sleeper coach, i.e. a night train with beds. I wouldn’t say it was great, but it was alright. If you ever have to get on such a train, expect a hostel-like experience with bunk beds and tight shared space. It left at 23:10 and took me from Berlin all the way to Offenburg. The remaining part of the trip was a 25 minutes ride on a regional train. I was home at 7:30, fresh and ready to start my day of work.

Bad decisions make great stories.

I do not regret the development of the eastbound trip (and I didn’t have that many alternatives anyway) but I have to say it was nice having a smoother end to this journey.

Posted 2017-10-14 23:16:10 CEST