Coming to the Agile Testing Days for the first time can be intimidating. If you are a native European, you just fly into Tegel or Berlin Schönefeld, catch a train, and walk from the tram or bus station to the Dorint Hotel Potsdam. For non-Europeans, if that feels a little awkward, you can hire a taxi at the airport for around 50 to 70 Euros. Alternatively, arrange with the hotel to have a private car for about the same amount to pick you up from the airport. Still, it is socially accepted to prefer to take a taxi over a train for your own comfort.
Most Germans under the age of 50 had English in secondary school; most people in the professional and hospitality trades speak a very good or at least good English. Every year, Potsdam attracts many tourist from all around the world. So don’t be afraid to ask for help or directions in English.
As for speaking German, consider starting the conversation with “Hello, do you speak English?” instead of “Guten Tag”. If you start with German, the locals will reply in German! If you’d like, end the conversation with “Danke” (thank you) or “Auf Wiedersehen” (Goodbye) — showing you put a little bit of effort into learning the language will help.
That’s enough for now. After all, I did say a “Tiny Bit.”
Welcome to Potsdam!
(Image: "Castle Sanssouci" by Tobias Nordhausen)
The Dorint Hotel is located at the intersection of two major roads, Jägerallee and Reiterweg. To get to the main city, turn South and head toward Jägertor, which is a very large symbolic gate. At that gate, you can turn left and walk three blocks to the next gate, called Nauener Tor. In the Nauener Tor area you will find restaurants, including Petite Pauline’s (French), Restaurant Cancello (Italian), and Café Heider (German and Coffee Café). With the rise of the European union, all of the regional restaurants are incredibly authentic — so don’t feel awkward about having Italian in Germany — it ain’t gonna be no Olive Garden.
If you want Indian, there is a recommendable restaurant on the South side of the Jägertor (Masala Haus). Continue South to Brandenburger Straße, and there are is a major walkable area. To the West you can walk a quarter mile to the famous Brandenburger Tor of Potsdam (not to be confused with the Brandenburger Tor of Berlin); to the East is the St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Along the way you will find small shops, restaurants, snacks, and a bar or two. (If you want a full gym with free weights, squat rack, bench, etc check out FitnessStudio Vader, about two blocks South between the Jägertor and Nauener Tor.)
You don’t really need to explore the city; the conference will provide nearly all your meals, including snacks at the coffee breaks, lunch and dinner at the MIATPP Award Party and the Sponsor Reception.
There is no need to go out alone, either. If you find yourself wanting a meal and you aren’t interested in the hotel restaurant, just go to the hotel’s main bar (Jimmy’s LA Bar), strike up a conversation, and create your own group. The social environment is designed for these sort of quick meetups. The “Agile” in the very name “Agile Testing Days Conference” implies focusing on individuals and interactions over process and tools. The root word in “Conference” is, after all, “Confer”, to share together in collaboration.
If you have a half day, take a walk to the West right off of the hotel and check out Schloss Sanssouci. Less than a mile walk from the Dorint, Schloss Sanssouci is a palace built by Frederick The Great over a period of decades.
On your way home, ask the hotel to arrange a taxi to take you back. If you like, find other people to ride home with. Share what you’ve learned … and what you’ll do when you get back to the office.
If you don’t already have one, get a chip MasterCard or Visa with no international fees. If you are more comfortable with a little cash, you can convert Dollars to Euros (or use a debit card) at a currency exchange at nearly any major international airport. Minimize the fees by doing the exchange in your home country. The cheapest exchange will to get cash from your home bank with no ATM fees, then use that cash at the Exchange store. Ask for a receipt so you can turn the paper bills back in for the same exchange rate on the way back.
North American appliances run on 110 volt power, while Europeans have a different plug that runs on 220. You can get a converter for under $30, or, for the Macintosh-inclined, just get the Apple Universal power kit.
The United Kingdom has a different type of power, so if you have a long layover at Heathrow Airport in London, you may want power for that as well - get a universal converter. An outlet converter will allow you to use hair dryers and razors, something the Macintosh converter will not.
Germans and Northern Europeans are serious about efficiency. That includes turning the power off in your room when you leave. When you slide the key in the door and enter the room you will have power for about twenty seconds, which continues if you stick key-card in the slot on the wall in the entryway. Remember to stick your card in the slot every time! If you don’t, the lights will go off after twenty seconds - at which point you will likely be in the bathroom! Also, you will lose after you leave, so if a laptop is charging, leave a credit card in the slot.
Your clothes may get wrinkled. Consider bringing a plastic hanger to hang them up in the shower and letting the steam air-press them.
So there you have it, a half-dozen little tips you probably didn’t need, and could figure out for yourself anyway. Having them up-front might allow you to be a little more confident, and little more comfortable - so you can focus on enjoying the conference instead of worrying. And if you couldn’t figure it out, that was my secret goal with this post.
Have fun in Germany!