It has been quite some time since I have been to re:publica for the last time (to be precise, it was in 2010, when the event was much smaller), even though I always followed the content of the sessions online. This year, I was thrilled to make the trip to Berlin again.
Things didn’t go as planned though. I spent the first day with a bronchitis in my hotel room and was only able to join the fun on day 2.
Still, there were a lot of things, I loved about re:publica:
This is a first. This year Deutsche Bahn and re:publica cooperated on a special re:publica train from Munich to Berlin. During the journey we enjoyed several talks on the future of mobility and were introduced to some projects of Deutsche Bahn. Since a train carriage is not perfectly designed for lectures and presentations, everybody received a set of headphones, so you could listen to the presentations without having to look at the speaker the entire time. A little bit like a live-podcast.
As always at a conference, the conversations on the train were even better than the presentation. I was seated next to Klaus Eck, whom I have been following on Twitter for years, but never met in person, and our conversations made the trip much shorter.
Conversation & Meetups
Re:publica has grown immensely in the last years. Now, with around 10.000 participants, it’s hard to imagine that there could be more participants without being fully out of proportion. However, I did not find it overcrowded (yes, some sessions were), because there were lots of rooms (like the area on the right of the entrance with some fun art projects) and hidden secret corners (like the relaxation area with a cleaning ritual for your smartphone) that were hardly visited. Also, there were not really any long queues to get food or coffee, so it all felt very smooth. The re:publica team made a great effort in compiling a program that contained topics on digital politics, society, business innovation, and much more and it was easy to be overwhelmed by the variety. As opposed to the last time that I have been to re:pblica, I rather visited the smaller workshops and meet up sessions which were designed to facilitate discussion.
Personal encounters and conversations are what makes re:publica special. You can walk up to everyone and start a conversation – I did not meet a single person that did not have an interesting story to tell. This spirit of openness and curiosity was noticeable among all participants. I would love to see more workshops, barcamp-style meet ups, and smaller sessions at re:publica.
It’s only when you are actually at a conference with 50% women in participants as well as speakers that you notice that something feels different. From my experience of organizing the Mobile Business Forum I know that often you look for executive speakers or speakers that have been to other conferences. However, thus you get the same stories that have been told before. Once you make an active effort to look for different people, you get new stories and you also attract a different audience. This is one value that re:publica offers and it shows that it is possible – you can compile a great conference program with 50% female speakers, you can offer child care and have people bring their children, you can cater for special needs and remove barriers, you can offer live translation or sign language translation. It is possible if you give make these things a priority. And this sets the tone of the conference and makes a great impact on the participants.
The re:publica team did a fantastic job with the organization, I know that it is hard and probably a lot of things behind the scenes did not go as planned, but for me and many others it was a great event and one of the highlights of the year. I try to be back next year!