Last fall I was invited to participate in a seminar on digital evidence and forensic readiness at Schloss Dagstuhl, February 22-28, 2014. This post is a reflection of this week.
Sunday February 22 – Uneventful overnight flight from Vancouver to Frankfurt – no screamers. It is a little stressful getting the train ticket – although really dead easy (the train leaves from the airport in Frankfurt – the travel infrastructure in Europe works!) Now I am sitting on the train from Frankfurt to St. Wendel via Mainz. We are 15 minutes out of Mainz – the countryside is beautiful – rolling hills, cultivated – field upon field of grape vines. In several places by the tracks are tidy garden plots with sheds and obvious signs of habitation, although very rough. Makeshift shacks, but signs of life such as chairs, toys. In fact the best descriptor is “tidy” – this is a tidy country – at least in the countryside. It is Sunday so people are cycling, walking their dogs, running. The temperature must be about 12 degrees Celsius.
The landscape is changing as we get closer to St. Wendel – more forested, no more grape vines. When the train arrives in St. Wendel it was considerably colder. St. Wendel is not attractive. Less tidy than what I have seen so far! I have an hour to wait for the bus and nothing is open except for a magazine shop in the station – Sunday – the town is shut down. I get a bottle of water to sustain me, but now all I have had since last night’s dinner on the plane (at 3:30 pm Vancouver time, 12:30 am here) is yogurt at 7:30 am and a handful of almonds. I’m starved! There is another person waiting for the bus – young, male, with a suitcase and a computer bag. I make him for a Dagstuhl participant, but we don’t talk. Two strangers aware of each other but not about to actually communicate.
The bus ride is pretty, through little towns along a winding road. When we get to the turn off to Schloss Dagstuhl, the driver takes us all the way to the gate – it is not on the normal route (are you going to the Informatics Centre? The driver asks me when we board). The only other person on the bus at this point is the guy with the computer bag. Pat, it turns out, doing a postdoc somewhere nearby, with a PhD from Waterloo. In a different seminar. The office is not yet open when we arrive, so we
I am staying in the guesthouse – I seem to be the first one here. Very clean, functional room. I have turned up the heat, and am now going off in search of another blanket! And food.
I am able to explore before the others arrive and poke around the castle, the chapel, the crypt, and the main building – the library and the archives (saved journals from the library). The site was first developed in the 13th century and over the years was first in German hands, then after the French Revolution was transferred to the French, then back to German owners. The last owners were there until the mid-late 20th century, when an order of nuns took over and ran a home for the elderly (what a retirement spot!). When they could no longer maintain it, the state (region) bought it and converted it to a conference centre – well, not really a conference centre as North Americans would think of it, but a centre for seminars, workshops, and study. Each workshop that comes here has an obligation to produce a report, that gets published by Dagstuhl and their funding depends on the products and quality of the workshops. Apparently China tried to develop a similar centre some years ago and brought people over from Germany to set it up, but it didn’t fly.
The entire place has an open door policy (once you get into the buildings, which is strictly controlled by an electronic code or passkey). There is a dining hall, a wine cellar, a cafeteria, a music room with baby grand, cello, guitar, and violin (I should have brought my music!), a billiard room, and lots of meeting rooms of different sizes. There are espresso machines in the guesthouse, cafeteria, and wine cellar that are available at any time, and beer, wine, soft drinks, juice, and chocolates all available on an honour system – you keep track of what you consume, and pay when you check out.
By 6 pm people have mostly arrived and there is dinner in the dining hall. Most people turn in early, although there is a core that congregates in the wine cellar (this happens every night – I only start to join in on Tuesday). I go to my room after dinner to work on my presentation. The guest house is completely quiet – it feels as though we are in the middle of wilderness.
Monday – we start at 9:30 with talks. We are scheduled to get through all the talks that day, but of course everyone takes longer than the allotted time, and then there are lively discussions. It is very stimulating and the day flies by. Lunches and dinners are organized with reserved seating, different at each meal to encourage conversation with different people.
Tuesday – by the end of Tuesday morning there are still several presentations to go, mine included. When the leader suggests that after lunch we break into small groups and take up the remaining presentations on Wednesday I object – successfully – proposing that mine follow lunch as it related directly to the two previous ones. Of course no one knows that it would relate, as the whole archival enterprise is a puzzle to these computer scientists and lawyers – and in fact this is why it is so important to me that I be able to present before we break into small groups – I know that if my perspective is not in people’s consciousness when we began to discuss the issues further it never will be. Several people speak up in support of my plea, and so it is agreed. (And thank goodness! I am absolutely convinced that my contribution to the week would have been insignificant had I not been able to present then, and I have made many contact – both personally and for InterPARES Trust because of it.)
When we do break into small groups I volunteer to steer the group that is discussion notions of digital evidence. We explore types of evidence in common law and civil law systems, and in criminal and civil trials. In the evening I join another group to map the COP model to an ISO standard that is in development – this would never have happened if my presentation had been postponed!
Wednesday afternoon we have a field trip! About half of the group piles on a bus and sets off to visit the headquarters of Villeroy & Boch, which has been a fixture in the region since the mid-18th century. The current headquarters are in an old monastery building (since the mid-19th c) in a beautiful small town on a winding section of river. We see a movie on the history (narrated by Peter Ustinov – slightly dated, but still interesting) and then have a guided tour of the facility. Then of course – the outlet store! I buy two packages of paper napkins but I am a total light weight. One of our group has come with a shopping list from his wife, complete with pictures of the desired items and US prices for comparison – and an extra suitcase specifically to carry it all!
Thursday is another full work day – we hear the final presentations, and then get down to the business of drafting the manifesto which will be the product of our stay. This carries into the evening, but by 9 pm everyone is either in bed, or in the wine cellar. I leave the wine cellar around 11 – glad to return to the quiet of the guest house. Those who are staying in the castle are not so lucky! Festivities apparently continue until just after 2 am – I know this because the last man standing sent an email to everyone at that time.
Friday morning wrap-up – everyone is exhausted, but satisfied and excited for continuing connections and collaborations. Together in our groups we have come up with text for the “manifesto” – with the archival perspective well-represented including references! (I hope it all makes it into the final draft.) Although I have a train reservation, I ended up driving back to Frankfurt with the group who had driven up together on Sunday. They have one empty space squeezed in the middle between Nicolai, who is driving, and Carsten – really the best seat in the van! First stop, the airport for Joe who is flying out later that afternoon, then to my hotel, where because we had to make a pit stop for one of the others, I am able to quickly check in, throw my stuff in my room, and continue with the group into downtown Frankfurt. More people (myself included) disembark at the Westin.
Aaron and I then set out to explore old Frankfurt. This doesn’t take long as so much of the old city was destroyed during the war. But we do our best north of the river, including climbing 350+ steps to the top of the tower at the St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral. This is not technically a cathedral, as it was never a bishop’s seat. From 1356 onwards, according to the Golden Bull of Charles the IVth, kings were elected here. Between 1562 and 1792 ten monarchs were crowned emperor here in front of the coronation altar. The current church is the fifth to exist on this site. The first was a Merovingian chapel in 680, in 852 the Salvator Basilica of the Carolingian imperial palace was built, followed in 1239 by the consecration of the Late Romanesque Bartholomew’s choir, named for the apostle Bartholomew, whose skullcap is venerated as the cathedral’s most important relic (this may have been in the museum). Construction of the Gothic nave and the aisles that we wander through began in 1260. The west tower was built in 1415, and the spire, planned at that time, was added during reconstruction after a major fire in 1867.
Wandering on the pedestrian mall is as interesting for the architecture as for the shopping – more so, really.
Nigel joins us at 6 and we set off over the iron footbridge to the south side of the river, ending up to my great surprise at Struwwelpeter of child hood book fame (terrifying stories of what happens to children who do not behave! Suck your thumb and the great tailor comes and snips them off with his giant scissors!)
Finally I take the S train back to the airport and catch the shuttle to my hotel (free from the airport to the hotel, but 4 euros from hotel to airport as I discover in the morning!)
Home now, much to the relief of my geriatric and somewhat demented dog, sipping coffee and reflecting on a wonderful week inspired by the work and the people, and grateful for the opportunity to participate!