WordCamp Retreat Soltau – Our Recap of a Very Special WordCamp

As sponsors of the very first WordCamp retreat, we traveled to Soltau on Friday (at 4 a.m.!) with seven colleagues, a Wapuu, two types of slush ice and three hundred home-baked Raidboxes muffins. To sum up the event in advance: The #WCRetreat blew us away and far exceeded our expectations! The presentations were super varied, the hotel and the food were great, the weather was fantastic and the overall atmosphere was exuberant. That's why we want to share our enthusiasm with the world and review the event once again.

But before we go into the highlights of the WordCamp retreat in Soltau in more detail, let's first address the question: What does "retreat" actually mean and what does it have to do with a WordCamp?

The origin of the WordCamp retreat format

According to Oxford Dictionary the term retreat "a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax". The WordCamp Retreat lived up to this meaning in every respect, as the location - the Hotel Park Soltau - is far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city in the beautiful Lüneburg Heath.

Initially, the WordCamp Retreat had the working title "WordCamp in the countryside", which also describes the basic idea well. After the new format was discussed and accepted, a group of community members agreed to organize the WordCamp Retreat. Hats off to them for this mammoth task, as the planning took a total of 1.5 years and cost the organizing team a lot of time and nerves!

WCRetreat Terrace
The beautiful terrace of the WordCamp retreat location

What makes the WordCamp Retreat so special?

The special thing about the WordCamp Retreat is that all participants, speakers and volunteers spend the whole weekend in one hotel, which is also the event location. This created many more informal opportunities to get to know the other participants. During the (super tasty!) meals, on the grounds and during the sessions and activities, you always saw familiar faces and got to know new people at the same time. This created a great "class trip atmosphere" relatively quickly.

At regular WordCamps, it often happens that after the last session, participants flock in all directions to go back to their hotel, go out to eat or explore the city. None of this happens at the WordCamp Retreat.

In addition, the WordCamp Retreat offers various leisure activities before breakfast and in the afternoon. According to lead organizer Sven Wagener, the idea behind this is that the participants mix and mingle in new groups. While there are special sessions for developers, designers or marketers at regular WordCamps and the groups tend to keep to themselves, there is no such separation when it comes to leisure activities. For example, it was possible to make new contacts during the photo walk through nature or to work out together during sports.  

#WCRetreat Day 1: Spontaneous GDPR Q&A and WP quiz

We arrived at Hotel Park Soltau at 8:00 on Friday morning after a four-hour drive. After we had checked in and set up our sponsor stand, the official welcome session started straight away. Each participant was allowed to introduce themselves with their name, city and three hashtags. Our data protection officer Virginia had of course described herself with #GDPR . Then came the idea from Udo Meisento offer a Q&A together with Virginia about GDPR to fill a slot that had become free. No sooner said than done - the spontaneous talk started shortly afterwards:

Session: Data protection in times of GDPR - Q&A

The spontaneous session on the General Data Protection Regulation was not the usual introduction to the topic. After all, most people have already dealt with GDPR by now. Instead, Udo and Virginia answered questions from the group and we discussed the topic together. There were questions about business cards, dealing with MyFonts, tracking services and the specific obligations of freelancers. Even if you are already familiar with GDPR , there are sure to be one or two takeaways for you. You can watch the session online at WordPress TV to watch it online.

Session: WordPress OnPage optimization - technical & structural

Daniel Pardella gave valuable tips on how to set up your site technically and structurally correctly in his session on on-page optimization. It was primarily about the advantages and disadvantages of certain page structures as well as loading time and code optimization, rather than classic SEO. The little tips such as "Don't forget the conclusion!" or how to update your articles correctly were particularly helpful. Also Daniel's talk has already been uploaded to WordPress TV.

Session: WordPress breaks time (and how to fix it)

Another interesting lecture was given by Andrey Savchenkowho showed how WordPress "breaks" time. The main takeaway of his session: Since the WordPress timestamps are based on PHP 4 and differ from the UNIX timestamp, you should never change the time zone. If you do, your posts timestamps may be displayed incorrectly or scheduled articles may be published at the wrong time. You can find the recording of Andrey's session here.

Session: Time Management and Time Tracking

Zeth Odderskov's presentation gave us a completely new perspective on time management. Zeth revealed how he has managed to stop "wasting" time. Right at the beginning, he asked us listeners to think about what we spend our time on and what things we could actually eliminate. When Zeth then showed us how he successfully monitors and analyzes almost every minute of his day, everyone was visibly fascinated - a truly inspiring talk. If you want to watch the time management session on WordPress TV, be warned: you'll have a hard time watching Netflix afterwards without a guilty conscience!

Of course, there were other great presentations on Friday, which can already be seen on WordPress TV or will be in the next few days.

First the work, then the pleasure

After the last sessions, there was the opportunity to take part in various leisure activities in the afternoon (e.g. first aid course, jam session, dancing, ball sports). A popular leisure activity throughout the weekend was solving the Rubix Cube. There was so much interest that the workshop was offered on both days.

Board with activities
Board with leisure activities at the WordCamp Retreat

After the delicious dinner, there was another highlight: the WP quiz. Hans Helge Bürger was the perfect quizmaster and even put the knowledge of the WP professionals to the test. Incidentally, our senior dev Matthias translated all the quiz questions into English in a last-minute effort so that everyone could take part in the event.

#WCRetreat Day 2: Contributing, BarCamp & Karaoke

On Saturday morning, we (well, let's say two of our colleagues) started the day with some early morning exercise. Milou de Kleijn really got us sweating at boot camp.

After breakfast it was contribution time! Johannes joined the hosting team, Jakob pushed his first patch for a WP core bug and Leefke was out and about as a volunteer.

Our BarCamp presentations

The BarCamp started after lunch. There were so many session pitches that an extra room was even opened up that wasn't originally planned. We were also allowed to give two presentations there:

Jan We and Matthias took a close look at WordPress 4.9 and 5.0 from a performance perspective. The active questions led to a great discussion.

Virginia once again addressed the topic of data protection and answered specific questions about GDPR . Unfortunately, as there was no official recording equipment in the room, our BarCamp sessions will not be available on WordPress TV. However, we filmed the presentations ourselves. As soon as we have put the material online, we will share the link on Twitter.

Here is an overview of the other BarCamp sessions. There was a really great mix of presentations:

Schedule of the WCRetreat BarCamp sessions
Schedule of the BarCamp sessions

The after party - good mood, BBQ and karaoke

On Saturday, too, everyone was able to spend the afternoon however they wanted. Some went back to work, others did sports, spent time in the hotel pool or simply relaxed together. In the evening, everyone got together again for the BBQ and the after-party. When it started to get too cold outside, the party continued in the hotel bar. The highlight of the evening was a karaoke machine that our colleagues from Yoast had brought along.

We sang, played darts and billiards and partied late into the night. When Ghostbusters was sung, a new Raidboxes song was even promptly created. ?

#WCRetreat Day 3: The last sessions & time to say goodbye

Sunday morning was relatively quiet compared to the previous days. Maybe it was because of the after party? 😉 There were a few more sessions in the morning, but unfortunately we weren't able to attend many of them because we had to dismantle our stand and load the car.
Overall, you could almost say that there was a sad mood in the air on Sunday because nobody really wanted to go home.

From the next table, for example, we heard the statement "This was really the most relaxed WordCamp ever!", which we can absolutely agree with. After a final lunch together in bright sunshine, it was unfortunately already "time to say goodbye".

Conclusion: A thoroughly successful event!

The next WordCamps will certainly have a hard time ("no pressure", dear Würzburg team 😉 ) to match the special atmosphere in Soltau. In any case, we are totally happy that we were able to be part of the very first WordCamp retreat worldwide.

With this in mind, a huge thank you once again to the entire organizing team, the volunteers and the Hotel Park Soltau and everyone involved in the success of the event. We very much hope that the retreat format will establish itself in the global WP community, "so please spread the word, everyone!"

Some have already done so, so feel free to drop by there too!

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