November led me to Munich, in Germany, for a week-long meetup of the folks that work on WordPress.com. I took the chance to head out early, to squeeze as much of the lemon as possible, and spend time with some other friends and colleagues.
Despite hearing a lot of good things about the city in advance, I have to say that I struggled to form much of a connection with it. This could well be down to the time of year; an awkward lull nestled between the end of Octoberfest and beginning of the Christmas markets. However, the people we encountered often came across as cold and impenetrable, there were surprisingly limited options for restaurants/bars, and there just wasn’t the same kind of charm or atmosphere that I’ve found and come to expect from other comparable European cities.
Now, I am fully prepared to accept that the failure here is my own, and can see how things would feel entirely different in the summer, when the beer gardens are over-flowing (and you can actually buy an iced coffee). However, I am mostly providing some background here to set expectations for the rest of this post. Namely, that I barely took any pictures of the city at all, and so if that’s what you are looking for, you are going to be disappointed. Instead, this is mostly of the people along the way. Consider it anthropological.
Now, I don’t want to make it out like we didn’t have a good time, or that there wasn’t anywhere interesting, as that wasn’t the case. There were a fair number of things going on… it could just be tricky to find them. One notable highlight though, was stumbling upon this random ship, that sat aloft an over-pass, housing some kind of jazz bar inside. Naturally, we took the chance to imbibe.
…there was also this rather fantastic pizza. The mushroom with lemon was probably the best, but the potato and truffle gave it a run for its money.
Slightly less impressive, was this err, chicken nugget salad (?). Thankfully, I got chips on the side.
The defining feature of Munich though seems to be its famous beer halls. We visited a fair few in our time, impressed at their size and grandeur – as well as the array of sausages available.
We naturally had to visit one of the most famous beer halls of all, the Hofbräuhaus. It’s pretty difficult to explain just how massive this place is; heaving with tourists, and with a traditional band playing in the middle of it all. There is no bar – you have to order by flagging down a waiter – and there is a constant stream of visitors blocking the aisles as they walk through with their camera-phones held in front of their faces. I was initially unimpressed, and ready to turn right around and leave. However, we ended up squeezed on the end of a table next to some chatty Australian girls, and after a few extra-large glasses of beer, things didn’t seem all that bad. By the end of the night… dare I say it… I was having quite a lot of fun. Maybe these Bavarians know a thing or two after all.
By the time the official work portion started, I was already sick of sausage, and my liver was protesting all of the beer and late-night cocktails (if you haven’t seen my post about the Last Word yet, now might be a good time). We frequently ended awake until the wee-and-then-not-so-wee-hours, making the most of a rare opportunity to catch up.
The ‘business’ end of things included a packed schedule of meetings, workshops, and presentations. However, as a completely distributed company with folks all over the world, one of the most important parts of these trips is to make and build connections with people. With many teams gathered in one place, and a decade of employment under my belt, there was a heady mix of fond and familiar faces to see, as well as the brand new to meet. I did my best to speak to and take pictures of as many of these as possible, though as usual, it didn’t feel like enough. With 350 odd people in attendance, it was always going to be difficult to get to spend quality time with even a fraction of them. There are only so many hours in the day (even if you barely sleep). But still. I tried.
Last time I went on a work trip like this I took the Sony A7 IV, and ended up regretting it. Not only was it too bulky and intrusive, but the pictures also felt a bit flat and disappointing. It just wasn’t me. This time, I packed the much more compact Lumix GX9, and also returned to my trusty Leica M 240, switching between a Voigtlander 35mm f1.4, and the Canon 50mm f0.95. Despite how tricky the latter can be to focus, the results were so much better. They have so much more character and vibrancy, and the style feels much more akin to how I see the world. I am actually kind of blown away by how much more I like these, especially given that my rather bashed up M is now almost twelve years old, and you can’t really tell what they will look like until you load them into Lightroom.
Whilst I have always enjoyed these trips, they never used to have quite the emotional weight for me that they now do now, and there are probably a myriad of reasons for that. It’s something that I’ve written about before (almost a year to this day actually), but ten years in one company is a long time for anybody – and even longer in the particular type of job we have, dealing with sensitive material. You have to trust each other, and inevitably come to depend on the unique bonds and relationships that you build up through the collective intensity. This is pretty special, but also something that can prove to be incredibly difficult, when your team-mates all live thousands of miles away, and there is no real guarantee that you will get to see them for months, if not years at a time. I am not entirely sure how to balance that. Whether it’s down to existentialist questioning as a consequence of a global pandemic or something else, it’s probably not ideal – though to be fair – getting on well with your colleagues is hardly the worst problem in the world to have.
Until next time, go read the latest post we shared on our transparency blog, talking about adult content, Star Trek, and copyright law. Trust me, it’s a good one.