Hey, I’m leaving Germany. I spent my morning and early afternoon hanging out with lovely smart people, as I’ve been doing all week — Taslima Nasreen, Michael Nugent, Rebecca Watson, Leo Igwe, and all the good attendees who’d come out to Köln for the AAI meeting. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon riding trains to get to the Düsseldorf airport (let me just say that civilized countries have rail networks painlessly linking their cities. Hint, hint, America). And now I’m waiting for my evening flight to Reflavik.
Now about the meeting…
It was a fine weekend, but there were a few awkwardnesses. There was no wireless at the venue (I was told it was broken and couldn’t be fixed in time), and access at the hotel was very flaky. You may have noticed that there was little new material here this weekend— and I also wasn’t able to live-blog or tweet what was going on. I just kind of relaxed and let the meeting flow over me, which was fine for me, but unfortunate that modern conferences use twitter to allow fast real-time reporting from an event, which helps build interest.
Another small problem: some of the talks were in German (I don’t object–it’s Germany!), but the language of the talks wasn’t clearly labeled. That meant that all the barbarous mono-lingual people fled the room at any hint the next speaker was native German. I think most of us experienced at least once the uncomfortable situation of finding ourselves in the auditorium with an enthusiastic speaker lecturing away in what was pure gobbledygook to ourselves — I imagine this is how a biologist would feel if he stumbled into a physics lecture– and trust me, no one would want to experience that twice.
It meant I missed what looked like very good talks, from their titles. It wouldn’t take much to fix it — I did attend one lecture by Prof. Bergmeier, in German, and he provided a handout with a rough translation of his text, organized by his slides. That’s all it took to make his talk comprehensible to us benighted foreigners. (He talked about how the medieval church was a huge drain on the resources of Europe, very interesting stuff. Note to meeting organizers: historians have a lot to contribute to atheist meetings. Invite more!)
The venue was just about perfect. It was held in a nice European theater: the big auditorium, with good acoustics, was upstairs, and the ground floor was a restaurant/bar. You could start drinking beer at 9am (I didn’t) and you could get drinks any time. It was a lovely environment for schmoozing.
Stars of the show were: Taslima, who quietly described the indignities and difficulties she fought her way out of as a Bengali woman; Leo Igwe, who so passionately talked about African injustice (about the Catholic church, he shouted, “ANY SUPERNATURALLY-INFORMED ORGANIZATION IS PART OF THE PROBLEM!” Yes!); and Rebecca Watson, who really let her anger out at the assholes who make excuses for the abuse of women.
It’s been a great weekend. You shoulda been there. Or even any more local Freethought event. If you haven’t gone to one, know this: to be among a group of happy enthusiastic rational people who reject supernatural events is a wonderfully invigorating experience. It is so weird to be sitting here now, feeling exhausted and jet-lagged, yet also feeling totally buzzed on a community-driven intellectual high. You have to try it — it’s like the best drug ever.