I guess it shows how little influence I really have with the organizers of international conferences. Despite my regular grumbles about the arrangements that see winter conferences held in the coldest parts of the world, and summer conferences held in the blazing heat and humidity of places like Florida and San Diego, I again found myself trudging around in the snow in February. Frozen ears and a loss of feeling in my toes are obviously a necessary part of the jet-setting conference speaker's life.
But the recent trip to speak at the ASP Konferenz in Munich (or München as I discovered is the correct name) in Germany was fun. Only an hour and a half on the plane, so we didn't even have time to finish the crossword, and a marvelously efficient public transport system would make the journey seem like a stroll on the beach compared with traveling to US conferences. Or at least it would have done if I'd booked us into the correct hotel. I suppose having several premises with the same name isn't unusual for a large hotel chains, but it does make it hard when you don't speak the local language. As Dave reminded me (on several occasions), our competence in German extends basically to "ein bier", "zwie biere", or (more usually) "drei biere". I'll leave you to guess what "bier" translates to in English.
So we ended up being booked into a hotel several miles (that's even more in kilometres) from the conference centre - and also several miles from where we thought the hotel actually was. Still, two trains, two buses, plus a very helpful bus driver (who unfortunately spoke no English) solved the problem, and it only took twice as long to get from the airport to the hotel as it did to get from England to Germany. Such is international travel! However, it was an exceptionally nice hotel, so we didn't complain. They even had wireless Internet that worked first time, without having to phone some support number at several Euros per minute.
It would have been nice to wander round the area and explore as well, but (as you can see from the photos) the weather was not ideal for leisurely strolling and sight-seeing. Still, we did get a day in the old parts of the city, admiring the architecture and taking in the local atmosphere. We found some nice coffee shops, tasted the local delicacies, and drank some local beer. We even took a walk alongside the river Isar - but I must admit that, by then, I was starting to look forward with increasing urgency to a nice warm seat by a roaring log fire. One or two people mentioned how nice the park area called the English Gardens is, but that somehow didn't seem like a good idea with a foot of snow on the ground and more falling all the time.
My wife soon found the local market square instead, and it's fair to say that I was amazed at the range of foods and wines available. Maybe because I live in a remote village, I'm not used to this kind of variety. There's a whole street of butcher's shops, and a whole street of cheese shops. Then a whole street of jewelry shops and one full of antiques shops. And there does seem to be some ancient local law that says every shop has to sell sausages (well, except for the jewelers).
On the Thursday evening, the conference organizers took a party of us to a local Bavarian restaurant to sample the wonders of the local culinary arts. I would have to admit that I didn't recognize much of the food, other than some extremely good pork, but it was all very tasty. Perhaps, for my conservative palette, the sauerkraut was a little too intrusive. So I was surprised when someone told me that the real thing was actually a lot more "sauer" than the version we'd had – I guess they gave us mildkraut instead. And it was fun playing with the dumplings, which seemed to be made from potato but had the consistency, structural integrity and consequent gyratory behavior of jelly (or "jello" to our US readers). It's amazing how a few beers can make the simplest things seem amusing.
As to the conference (location shown below, along with me in a daft hat) Dave and I did the keynote session on ASP.NET 2.0 that contained a couple of "unusual" aspects. Suffice to say that we got some really surprised looks from the attendees until they realized what was happening. It was fun, though, and they seemed to enjoy it once they'd recovered from the antics of these strange English guys. We also presented a couple of sessions on Web Parts and ASP.NET Caching techniques that were (or appeared to be) well received.
Talking to the attendees, you get to realize just how varied their development tasks are, and it was interesting to hear about the ways that they tackle problems we don't always think about – such as internationalization and adapting software to local requirements. And that fact that - to many people - Microsoft .NET is still a technology that they plan to adopt in the coming year or two, rather than the all-encompassing focus of their development life as it is with us. Another indicator of how far removed we are from the day-to-day world of many developers.
It was nice to see that, despite the majority of the attendees being from Germany and Austria, almost everyone spoke excellent English, and seemed able to benefit from our sessions. It makes me feel somewhat humble that I can't speak to people in their native tongue. However, I did make the effort to open with "Good Morning and Welcome" in German. I also thanked the conference organizer for the kind words during his introduction speech, though to be perfectly honest, the only words I understood were "Dave" and "Alex", so he could have been saying anything! And, as with our trip to PDC in Vienna, I didn't really manage to benefit from any of the other sessions as they were all in German as well. I wonder if I'm too old to learn a new language...
On the final evening, Frank - a good friend from Addison Wesley Germany - took us into Munich to find a nice relaxed place for a meal and a few beers. The hostelry we ended up at (thanks more to the abilities of the nice lady inside his car's GPS than any navigation ability from Frank) was certainly unlike anything I'd expect to find in this part of the world. I don't know about you, but the name "Günther Murphy's Irish Pub" doesn't suggest something that might be anything like a real Irish Bar. But, amazingly, it was! The girls serving beer and food were all Irish (or, if not, they'd put a lot of work into learning the accent), and it was as close to the real thing as I've ever seen.
Wonderful pictures, newspaper cuttings, road signs and all manner of odds and ends fill every available wall and shelf; plus great music including The Who's "Tommy", old Beatles tracks, The Coors, Catatonia and lots of other stuff you haven't heard for years. On top of that, excellent Kilkenny draught beer, and the best fish and chips I've tasted for a while. Dave even went completely over the top and had Irish bangers (sausages) and mash with baked beans. If you're in Munich soon, be sure to give it a try.