An essay based on personal experiences

The German version of this post:

The largest conference of the worldwide WordPress community in June 2019 took place in the Estrel in Berlin-Neukölln.

This hotel and convention center in the south of the city is virtually invisible to most of the city's residents. A giant hiding in a Bermuda triangle of motorway construction site, industrial park and suburban train. The postmodern building, with its sharp (totally Fēng Shuǐ unsuitable) glass facades, does not invite the eye to linger, and no one suspects that this is actually the tip of an iceberg – a hiden conference giant.

The Estrel on the Sonnenallee in Berlin's Neukölln district is Germany's largest hotel with 1,125 rooms and a turnover of 73.5 million euros in 2017. In total, the Estrel Congress Center covers more than 25,000 m² of space for congresses, conferences, trade fairs and events and can accommodate up to 12,000 visitors.” [1]

According to the organizer, this edition of the so-called WordCamp was the largest conference of all times with 3260 tickets sold in 97 countries worldwide. [2]

WordPress is a free content management system that is constantly evolving as an open source project.

From the self-description on “We believe in democratizing publishing and the freedoms that come with open source. Supporting this idea is a large community of people collaborating on and contributing to this project.”

In 2018, 30% of all websites already used the open source CMS WordPress. The share of the CMS market was around 60%. [3]

As already mentioned, the iceberg and sleeping giant just outside the city is a perfect place for superlatives of this kind. Ready to stand up and to take a step into the legendary district of the the procrastinating hipster movement of digital origin ...

Though I am familiar with the software, I do not belong to the circle of the “nerds”, nor do I timewise own the flexibility of the young digital nomads. I note down what strikes me in the moment – incomplete, sometimes beside the topic ... no real-time recordings like the subtitles at the event.


In such a conference scenario, it is sometimes not easy for a recipient to follow the line of reasoning. Do I look at the left or the right giant screen, or do I turn to the speaker himself? The first option places the said subtitles in the field of vision and into subconsciousness and leads to constant comparisons between what one has heard and the words that appear on the screens. Strictly speaking, the words do not just pop up, you're witnessing an evolutionary process. From individual syllables arise words in order to further correct themselves content wise and grammatically to finally create full sentences.

For me it is much easier to follow the food car with pieces of cake during the break. It is pushed by an employee in full cooking gear. I see my chance to produce a clip for Instagram. I already have some moody commentary in mind, something like “the cake cart is rolling, the conference is saved ...”, as the chauffeur of the pastry mobile (a big multi-storey model about 2 meters tall) suddenly raises his voice: “Hey! Are you filming? This is not cool!”

“No, of course not!”  I'm so terrified that I press cancel and the movie snippet and my career as an Instagram influencer are history. Later, I allow myself to publish such events in textual form instead (a daredevil exercise).

Closer to the topic of networks and networking is another scene during the coffee break. I enjoy a cup of coffee at one of the high tables when a young man joins me and asks: “Hi, how are you? How do you like the conference?” I'll tell him what I do and where I'm connected to WordPress. He is a web developer and came specially from Poland. A useful contact I think, so I start fiddling around with my business card holder. It will be a disappointment for lovers of printed pulp. He does not use business cards and would not keep them. Today this is done with an app. He uses the LinkedIn app, which either presents a QR code, or scans the person's counterpart with the smartphone's camera. The savvy developer is overzealous and euphoric with my phone, and the contacts are exchanged.

Between the Coffee & Takeaway area and the main conference room (there are three in all), lies the Hall of Sponsors. Here the souvenir hunters receive their gifts (nowadays called “Swag”). In addition to t-shirts, charging cables and coffee cups my personal highlight is a pair of very colorful socks.

In the main hall, the keynote by Matt Mullenweg (co-founder and inventor of WordPress “WP”) begins. The following stage play is strongly reminiscent of the appearance of Apple CEOs, except that here obviously other rules do apply. The planned “cheers & fireworks” are replaced with the restrained clapping of some hands.

As new features of the WP's internal user interface Gutenberg appear on the screens, Matt has noticeable pauses in his speech, but it remains rather quiet. No standing ovations or screams of surprise from the audience. The WP community is otherwise quite enthusiastic, which often shows up at the conference. Now they are even more sympathetic to me by the fact that they cannot be used for show effects.

In the Q & A round, Matt is put under fire by the community. One of the interrogators tries to present a kind of manifesto for a certain direction of development, and must be interrupted. Peaceful de-escalation works in this room, no one is really at odds.

There are insider-trench fights over the role of GitHub and Envato platforms. A young woman from Brazil wants WP to get more involved in her country. Finally Matt is enthusiastically promoting a talk about Blockchain in WP.

Once again my impression is to attend a family reunion (only without children). The distant relatives are seldom in town, and maybe there are differences of opinion, but at least once a year they all want to see each other.

With a portable lunch (a buffet offers a wide selection of really delicious treats), I walk into the leafy courtyard of the nested building complexes. There is a pool with a Berlin bear in disco optics. An aesthetically confusing mix of German “garden gnome romance” and the Berlin club style. I am glad that there is no Currywurst. This area also contains a few elements of the Berlin Wall, which of course is very convenient for conference visitors who never want to leave the hotel, keyword: evidence photos.

For conference T-shirts and fabric bags you have to stand in a short queue. I do it like the young man earlier today and greet the next person behind me in line. He comes from Japan and tells me that WordPress is very popular in this country.

He is not to excited about LinkedIn apps, so I have the opportunity to exchange traditional business cards.

A little later, when I visit a toilet, I see a business card on the floor next to the toilet brush. Not a place to pick something up, but fortunately it's not my own. However, this sight develops a metaphorical force. Quo vadis printed paper? The WP community is working diligently to digitize Guttenberg's heritage, but fortunately keeps the memory of its origins alive (for example, with the Gutenberg Editor).

I am confused to see a visitor to the toilet standing in front of a urinal and using his smartphone with both (!) hands ...


The second and last day of the main event in Berlin.

I “treat” myself with tekkie talk – “Web components and custom elements in frameworks today.”

I stumble upon handwritten “reserved” signs. Are the foreign visitors familiar with the special German “towel game”? I still fantasize about towels with “Reserved“ prints instead of WordCamp T-shirts, as the applause at the end of the talk begins.

The guy who hiked 748 km to the conference is now on the main stage (Marcel Bootsmann [4]). He has organized and realized this with the help of the WP community and donates the financial support received to DonateWC ( – a fundraiser for conference attendees who otherwise could not afford the travel expenses.

As a thank you he receives a specially designed sticker that immortalizes him as a kind of Pokémon. The story of this mascot called “Wapuu” was completely unknown to me. Invented for a WordCamp in Japan, it quickly became a cult figure in the WP community that is constantly evolving. It reminds me of the mascots of past Olympic Games. It's a bit “to sweet” for my tastes, but the creativity of the wapuu scene is quite exiting. Just look at the the Frapuu from southern Germany, and how it is clinging to the iconic Bembel:

The following talk on multilingualism ends with the sobering conclusion that WordPress is not yet ready to offer truly complete solutions.

Later, a mixed-gender duo of a Dutch company plays comedic inserts on the stage in order to enthuse the audience for their topic.

In one of the lectures, the subtitle states “insomnia” instead of “in social media“. What a brilliant cross-reference for the audience. With its blogs and social media plug-ins, WP is finally a door-opener technology for insomnia and addiction to endless social media streams. Caught in an endless loop of snippets struggling for attention, that claim they have more, better, more useful things to offer (“absolute best ever ... tips you do not want to miss in your life ...”) to improve the lives of the sleepless. WP is also about followers, they want to be “followed”. Only the guy who wandered to WordCamp felt uncomfortable when he thought he was hounded alone on the track. I do wander from the subject …

The most profound contribution I've heard came from Mark Uraine. [5] He explained how working with people around the world greatly improves the process and quality of communication. The confrontation with different types of thinking (categories versus relationships) provides food for thought. You are forced to constanty question how to present and share your work, thus optimizing the communication itself.

Once again I feel the strong spirit of community, because exactly at these points, WordPress connects as a free and open platform. Everyone can communicate and cooperate worldwide without economic interests and without having to give their data to a corporation. The community around this software develops visions for meaningful and sustainable communication with the whole world. A spirit of optimism and enthusiasm is in the air, and both are driving means for turning utopias into reality.

The next WordCamp will take place in Porto in 2020. Drinking port with unknown friends ... that's all pleasantly optimistic.

About the author:

Justus Wunschik works as a freelance art director in Berlin. He has a diploma in media design from the Bauhaus University-Weimar and 20 years of professional experience with a focus on digital media. Website: