Majestic historic temple in front of a blue sky.

Over the last year, the name of a city is coming up in German news more often than I like it to be: Aleppo. It is not just a city involved in the war in Syria, it is the scene of a standoff that is lasting for months.

This city, the mention of its name on the news, the descriptions of the cruelty that happens there, is especially painful for me. When I was in elementary school, we had Syrian neighbors who fled during the Gulf War. Mohammad and I shared a class. We were good friends, played football together, learned together. I still long for his family’s traditionally baked bread sometimes.

After a few years, that felt like a whole life for me as a child, they had to go back. Although quite well integrated, there was no way for them to get a permanent working permit, and they were happy to get back into their home country. (Of course I don’t know if that was really really the case, but that was what I gathered as a child.)

The children, Mohammad had a little brother and – I think – a baby sister, were not too happy to leave, having their friends in that small town where I grew up. One day, we said goodbye, and they made their way to their home city of Aleppo in Syria.

The thought alone, that those people, including my elementary school friend, might be injured or dead is gruesome to me. Hearing from injured or dead children makes me think about the potential children of Mohammad and his siblings.

For most, the war in Syria is far, far away. For me, it feels close. This is why I think getting to know other people, other cultures is so important. It allows us to be close with people and to not brush this conflict away as “someone else’s problem”.

Image: Palmyra – Temple of Bel: A cultural heritage that was destroyed during the war. Uploaded by Juan Llanos on Flickr. See how that site looks today.

Over the past years my social web interaction shifted from Twitter and this very blog more and more to Facebook. I have so many contacts and interactions there that it feels very overwhelming and occupying a good chunk of my free time that I would love to spend otherwise: Hiking through the sun, having random thoughts and ideas, read long-form articles or play video games.

I was under the impression that engaging on Facebook – and to a lesser extend on Twitter – would allow me to relax, to have social interactions and would be worth the time. I have realized that this became less and less the case. Either things are fairly irrelevant for me, or there is in-depth political discussion. This made Facebook feel like a burden for me now, and the only way to reevaluate my usage is to stop using it almost completely.

While I had a pinned tab with Facebook open at all time, as well as the mobile app installed, I have now closed that tab and removed the app from my iPhone. I have disabled all notifications. This is day three and I only had brief looks into Facebook on the mobile web version to check for important notifications. I also allow myself to syndicate content to Facebook – like this blog post and via an iOS extension called Linky (which doesn’t currently support sharing to WordPress, e.g. this blog hint hint) but also using custom Workflows.

Although my brain doesn’t yet know what to do with those free cycles, it feels like a change for the better. I want to continue at least for another week or two. Then I probably need to make significant changes to the websites and people I follow to reduce the load.

The experiments of CGP Grey and Myke Hurley inspired me for this time-out. They outline their methods of “Dialing Down” in an Episode of their (much recommended) Cortex podcast.

(Image by Jonathan Bean via Unsplash.)

Wowza, that was a densely packed year 2015 for me. Here is my short,long, personal review of the year:

January

Slow start into the year, attended a reading by Max Goldt at Zeche Carl (Carl Mine), a former mine and now event location, and even got a poster signed (yes, I’m used to my name being misspelled with a “k” in Germany):

Max Goldt signature for Sandra and Erik

A week later we’ve been back to Zeche Carl to see the “Terje Rypdal Trio”. It was a nice evening of jazz music and very relaxing. Then winter happened: some snow fell from the sky on the 24th and we decided to do a nice hike through the snow:

Gull on a post
More photos on Flickr.

February

February started with a huge disappointment: We had tickets for Tenacious D in the Paladium in Cologne. The concert itself was fine, but the venue is built in a way so that you are unable to see anything from farther back in the room. It felt like the money for the tickets was pretty much wasted. The weather on Valentine’s day was really nice and as it was a Saturday, we used the opportunity to do a hike and then had our traditional Valentine’s menu.

A walkway with trees
More photos on Flickr.

The month concluded with an intercontinental flight to one of my most favorite cities: San Diego, CA for CSUN. As one of the best ways to cope with jet-lag is to just continue as if it is a loooooong day, we didn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a Nukem show in the Brick by Brick venue to see Norman Leggio of Psychotic Waltz play and have a chat with him.

March

It was quite cold and rainy in the first days in San Diego, but I have been at the CSUN conference all day anyway. I met all the nice accessibility folks and it is always refreshing to speak to people face to face instead of over the phone. The conference went swiftly by, including my two panel appearances and a lot of small meet-ups and 1:1 discussions.

Afterwards we rented a car and got out to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. It was beautiful, with all the nice landscape, cactus blossoms and animal wildlife. We even got to see some of the endangered Bighorn Sheep. I am always blown-away by the sheer size of the park. I got to drive a nice SUV for the week and it came in really handy when navigating the dirt roads.

Cactus blossom
More photos on Flickr.

For one day only, we returned to Ocean Beach in San Diego, saying goodbye to the Pacific.

Sea-Gull on the Ocean Beach Pier
More photos on Flickr.

The rest of the month, we were occupied getting out of jet-lag and adjusting to the freezing temperatures in Germany…

April

Slow-starting April had its first highlight with a Damian Wilson concert in Düsseldorf, which was really funny and entertaining, we will certainly visit again.

Damian Wilson

Damian Wilson

Then I hopped on a plane again, to Austria this time. I attended BarCamp Graz and met the students of the Content Strategy program that I lectured in the following weeks. As the master program is directed at people who are already in jobs, the lectures were on the evenings or weekends, so it had little impact on my usual work. It was a fun time and I think the students really took something away regarding multi-screen design and accessibility.

To close off the month we needed to make up for the disappointing Tenacious D concert in February. Good that Kyle Gass visited with Kyle Gass Band, this time playing in the Turock venue in Essen. We got premium spots on the staircase and could see very well. An enjoyable evening.

Kyle Gass Band

May

In May we visited the local botanic garden called Grugapark where we saw ducklings and goslings.

A Duck
More photos on Flickr.

Just a few days later, I hopped on a train to Paris to attend the W3C@20 symposium, set in one of the nicest venue I’ve been to, and AC meeting. Another great opportunity to get into contact with the W3C members.

Thalys train to Paris
More photos on Flickr.

And to continue the maniac travel, I again took the plane to the US, shortly after arriving from France. The destination this time: Austin, Texas. I was invited to give two presentations at the lovely AccessU conference and we did some light user testing of the How to Meet WCAG 2.0 prototype I worked on. In addition we had a two-day Education & Outreach Working Group meeting. I had half a day off and got to see a nice squirrel:

Squirrel in a tree

Of course there needed to be some more live music that month as well, and thus we attended the Rock Hard Festival, which is conveniently located just around the corner in the Amphitheater Gelsenkirchen. It was really awesome, three days of Metal and the festival allows for strolling around in the surrounding Nordsternpark.

Venom @ Rock Hard Festival

June

In early June, we took the opportunity to attend a Jan Delay concert that was “free and outside”. The concert was given at the nice world cultural heritage site of Zeche Zollverein here in Essen.

Jan Delay at Zeche Zollverein

Also in June, I got my Apple Watch (finally!). I still find it useful and wear it every day, but it is not as indispensable as a smartphone.

Of course I also got onto a train that month. this time my destination was Utrecht in the Netherlands where I attended the face-2-face meetup of the AutoWCAG CG. I again collected user feedback sessions on the How to Meet WCAG 2.0 redesign.

Afterwards another train ride brought us to my home town for a few days where we also attended Everyman, a reinterpretation of the classic play in a rock-opera style with support of the there-local band Vanden Plas. I can’t recommend seeing this enough.

Everyman at Pfalztheater Kaiserslautern
Photo by @screenorigami.

July–August

The month of the Sankt Peter Ording and Wacken Open Air vacation in a camper came. Luckily I have already blogged about this muddy mess, so no need to repeat that here. Shortly after coming back from the vacation, the annual Turock Open Air was in full swing. I think we only attended the Sunday because we had to harvest our field that was neglected while we were away.

The week after that another short-range trip to Hamm where we stayed in the vegan hotel next to the Kurpark, where we got to watch the reggae night featuring Gentleman and Jahcoustix.For me, that was a welcome change to the whole Metal this year.

Stage at the Kurpark Hamm

September

In early September I attended the NightlyBuild conference which had a few interesting talks.

NightlyBuild.io Conference is about to go

The day before speaking at A-Tag in Vienna, we had planned to attend a concert in Hamburg, so I took Thursday evening off and we traveled to Hamburg, had a look at the Speicherstadt and then attended a concert of the band Eclipse. It was totally worth the hassle to take the really early flight to Vienna the next morning.

October

…or Fronteers month, as I prefer to call it. I did my usual talk at the Jam session and attended two extraordinary great days of talks in the main conference. The week after Fronteers, I started going to the gym and do exercises. I am still rolling with it although a medical annoyance has forced me to pause my efforts over the holiday break.

View on the display of a cycling device in a gym

In the same week, we hit the Turock again to attend the concert of The Poodles. The concert was so great that we decided to attend the concert the following day in Cologne. The venue was also a bit smaller and thus the whole concert more intimate.

On October 21st there was a showing of all three Back to the Future movies in the historic local cinema called Lichtburg which we attended, it was lots of fun and I enjoyed seeing all three back to back. The cinema also hired someone who parked a historic DeLorean in front of the cinema:

DeLorean in Front of the Cinema

As my working groups did not meet, there was no need for me to travel all the way to Sapporo, Japan to meet my colleagues, which was a bummer, but honestly, I was traveling enough that year anyway… Instead we went to Bochum to see Eric Martin of Mr. Big play a nice solo concert.

November

We attended a show of the very entertaining comedian Willy Astor in Cologne, and watched James Bond: Spectre in the aforementioned Lichtburg cinema. I flew to Graz, Austria (and back) to speak at UX Day Graz, which was a very well organized event with great speakers. I can’t recommend it enough.

Uhrturm Graz

Sunset as seen from Graz Airport

Then I flew to Vienna (and back) to speak at DrupalCamp Vienna 2015, which was also a very good event with a very diverse audience and very diverse speakers. I also took the opportunity to visit my colleague Shadi and talk face to face about work. Somewhere in between I celebrated my birthday…

Vienna Subway Train

December

December was rather uneventful, I made it through without travel of any kind. I was published in the 24ways and Webkrauts advent calendars which made me quite happy. Of course we watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We also took advantage of the good weather over the holidays and hiked a lot through the sun.

Kettwig Mühlengraben with the market church

Mintarder Ruhrtalbrücke over the river Ruhr

We also played the Thrash’n Roll board game, which has been tremendous fun.

Thrash’n Roll board game

Review & Outlook

I have the feeling that I have forgotten to mention so many of the little things that happened. 2015 was a really dense year but it was totally worth it. Let’s see what 2016 brings.

Sankt Peter-Ording beach

The weather was not our best friend during this year’s vacation, but we didn’t let that spoil it. For the first time, I took three weeks off, without work availability. My state before vacation was what Germans call “Urlaubsreif”, literally “ripe for vacation”. I needed to recharge my batteries, and not thinking about work, change context and have my mind roam freely was very relaxing.

Now I can’t wait to get back to work tomorrow, determined to tie together the loose ends of the projects I’m working on.

Here is a quick recap on what Sandra and I did during the vacation:

The Wadden Sea

Since 2009, the German and Dutch parts of the Wadden Sea (“Wattenmeer” in German) is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List, with the Danish section joining in June 2014. The sea is dominated by the mud flats when the tide is low and that was exactly what we first saw when we arrived in Sankt Peter-Ording: Nothing. For me who visited the region for the first time, it was really stunning to see how far the water pulls back. The tide has such an effect as the sea is rather shallow.

Sankt Peter-Ording itself is a hot-spot for tourists and has a really nice infrastructure – for example, public transport is included in the visitor’s tax (3€/night). It not only features a beach that is 12 kilometers long but also dunes and salt meadows. The latter are large areas that are only sometimes covered by sea water and thus have a vegetation that consists out of salt water tolerant plants. The salty smell and the clean air really made a walk through those meadows very enjoyable.

Salt Meadows

Traveling with a camper, we didn’t need to depend on the food provided by the local restaurants. There were little vegan options but I can recommend the vegan sushi at Deichkind and the vegan goa curry at dii:ke. (Don’t bother with “Vegan aus dem Wok” at Deichkind which was overcooked and boring.)

W:O:A – Wacken Open Air

Wacken is a small town with a population of just under 2000 people. It is also synonymous with the largest Heavy Metal festival on earth, the famous Wacken Open Air.

The festival was a cold, wet and muddy mess. It was also totally awesome! While construction was in full swing, huge masses of rain hit the area, turning this year’s 26th installment of the festival that is situated on farmland into a mud fest. The main paths through the area basically consisted of liquified sand, walking through it was extremely hard. Campers needed to be towed to its destination by tractors and Unimogs.

Our Camper’s wheel next to the  sign for our location
Our Camper’s wheel next to the sign for our location

Wacken has different sub areas, including a tent with two stages (and a wrestling ring), the so-called infield that has the three main stages, a beer garden (with the beergarden stage) and the Wackinger Village. It is even larger than I thought it would be and the muddy surface did extend the time needed to get from one part to another.

On Wednesday, we arrived and saw Uli Jon Roth and Europe perform. Unfortunately we were ill-prepared for the mud and cold temperatures, so after the show we arrived at the camper freezing and wet. For the rest of the weekend, I decided to go with shorts so my pants wouldn’t soak full of water (again). I can now understand why kilts and boots are a common combination with metal fans.

Apart from the Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) double feature, there wasn’t much in the line-up for us on Thursday, so we decided to walk to the actual Wacken village. As expected there were many, many metal fans there. The whole village is celebrating the festival, there are snack bars and beer pavilion all over the place. Almost all houses were decorated with Wacken flags. Some restaurants had opened their beer gardens and the tiny super market made a lot of business. The W:O:A headquarters are located on main street. The building includes a tower featuring the Wacken logo that is visible from miles away. There also is a merchandise shop that is open all year long.

Savatage and TSO

Back in the infield, Savatage and TSO rocked the house, playing simultaneously on two stages at times, it was really a night to remember. The performances were flawless, seeing musicians work together without seeing each other was very impressive. In addition the light/fire/fireworks show was extraordinary. Almost one hour of the concert can be found at Germany’s ZDF TV station. (Likely not available outside of Germany.)

On Friday the weather cleared and although we missed out on The Poodles, we had been in time to see Stratovarius, Queensrÿche, Death Angel and Annihilator.

Saturday, we took some time to regenerate, seeing “only” Steve ’n’ Seagulls and Judas Priest but also walked around the Wackinger Village.

I have to say that the sheer amount of FOMO overwhelmed me at times, there was so much to see and so little time overall.

The food situation was very good for vegans, we had hand-made noodles with pesto, vegan hot dogs, burgers and gyros. A vegan crêpe was also available and it tasted very much like the egg and milk version. Apart from those, falafel, asia veggies and vegan steaks were also available but you can only eat so much ;-)

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m glad we did it. Having 75,000 metal fans on one place, celebrating music peacefully is really special. \o/

Südsee Camp

After Wacken, we wanted to relax a bit, so I just searched for a campground somewhere along the way home. We found the “Südsee Camp” (South Seas Camp). It is laid out in a very nice way, very family friendly and one of the restaurants was even able to provide us with a huge fresh salad and a baked potato. We brought Creamy Garlic and Vegan Bleu Cheese dressings by follow your heart for enhancement.

Palatinate forest

After stopping at the “Südsee Camp”, we briefly got home to unpack and wash our clothes and to return the camper. Then we traveled on to celebrate my father’s 60th birthday which was also my parent’s 35th wedding anniversary. To celebrate we had one of their wedding photos printed on glass (by fracture). It looks stunning. (They don’t like to be on the internet, so no picture unfortunately.)

Instead of a picture of my parents here is a picture of the bull fountain in Pirmasens, near the small town I grew up.
Instead of a picture of my parents, here is a picture of the bull fountain in Pirmasens, near the small town I grew up.

All in all this was really relaxing and exciting, and relaxing.