Dagstuhl for First-Timers
Over the years I've been fortunate to visit Schloss Dagstuhl, a computer science meeting venue, many times. What follows is my very personal, very opinionated, very non-official advice for first-time visitors. Please note that this document is in no way endorsed by the official Dagstuhl organization.
I will do my best to keep this document up-to-date. If you see anything outdated, please let me know.
Note: In everything that follows, I write as if the event runs from Sunday evening through Friday. Many events are only three days long. Also, if there's a national holiday on a Monday, then everything is shifted later by a day. Therefore, please read “Sunday” as a virtualized day (could be a Monday in practice), and also replace “Friday” with the day your event ends or when you depart.
Below, I will repeatedly suggest contacting Dagstuhl about specific matters. The simplest way is to email back the person who sent you the invitation. They are extremely helpful and responsive.
When you write them, please tell them your seminar number. While you may have only one Dagstuhl seminar on your mind, they are in charge of several. In particular, you want to make sure any arrangements you need are made for the right week!
There are two main buildings, one modern and one baroque. Rooms labeled N (Neubau: new building) are in the modern one; ones labeled S (Schloß: castle; more like a “country seat”) in the baroque one. Bedrooms are in both buildings, but most seminar meeting space is in N and all dining is in S. The two buildings are connected by a bridge, so in principle you never need to go outdoors the whole week!
There is also a third building, the Guest House. Most probably this won't concern you. But if you are housed there, note that you will need to go in and out between it and the rest of the facility.
The office is to your right after you enter the N. The staff are extremely friendly and helpful.
You will be sent an entrance code. It's critical to remember this (or record it someplace you can easily access it)! Especially if you arrive before the office opens (e.g., on a Sunday afternoon), you won't have any other way to get in.
The code will get you into the two main Dagstuhl buildings. You type the four digits followed by “F” on the keypad next to the door; when the door buzzes, it's unlocked, so you pull it. These days you also get an electronic room keycard, which you can tap against the keypads. However, the code will work even if you've left your key behind in your room or elsewhere, so it's always helpful to have it handy during the week. (You will find it written on the back of your badge.)
Food and Seating
All food is in S. When you enter through the main steps, go down half a floor for the dining room, up half a floor for the coffee room. Usually there are two separate groups meeting at Dagstuhl in a given week, so the dining area will be segregated between them. Please find your area by following signs.
All food is provided from Sunday night through when you leave (presumably no later than Friday afternoon). It's generally frowned upon to go out to eat, so I will not be offering recommendations. If you're that much of a foodie, you won't want my opinion anyway.
Dagstuhl is more like a cafeteria than a restaurant. Some meals are buffet (serve yourself); others, they will bring the food out to you. But either way, you need to bus your plates and utensils. Please don't leave them lying on the table when you're done. Similarly for any additional plates, glasses, etc. that you may have used.
There's a protocol to busing that may not be evident. At each cart, you will find two baskets hanging to the side. One is for waste, the other is for utensils. So empty the leftovers on your plate into the waste, put your utensils on the other side, and stack your dishes on the flat surfaces. You'll make life much easier for the staff if you follow this protocol.
Dagstuhl is very sensitive to dietary restrictions. Of course, you should tell them up front: your registration form will let you indicate your needs. But they make a genuine effort to consider your needs.
It was not always so. Personally, I have seen a tremendous evolution in their handling of vegetarians and vegans over the years. They do their best. You're also not there for the culinary experience. If you do have a real problem, and your German isn't up to snuff, and there isn't another attendee who can help you get sorted, talk to the office staff and they'll deal with it.
On Sunday night there will probably have free-form seating (sit at any table you like with anyone you want). Similarly, breakfasts are free-form, as people roll in at different times. But for lunch and dinner, you will be assigned a seat: look for your nametag. It's considered in very poor form to move the nametags around to sit with someone else; if you want to do so, do it after the meal.
An endless source of conversation at Dagstuhl is how random the seating algorithm is. No doubt you will have your own views. You might even conduct your own experiment and post it on arXiv.
Don't be late for meals. The otherwise very cheerful staff can get very, very annoyed. Please be respectful of their constraints: they have homes and lives and families too.
Historically, rooms at Dagstuhl were not locked. (You could lock it from the inside, but not from the outside.) This “openness” was part of the culture, but it also made some attendees very uncomfortable. This changed during the pandemic; now every room has a hotel-style electronic keycard. You should always carry this around to get into your room.
You will be given a keycard by the office when you check in.
If you arrive before the office is open, you can still get a keycard. There's a machine between the office and entrance in N that mints room keycards. You will need to remember your Dagstuhl login to do this. When you log in, it will tell you your number. When you use this machine, you will probably be quite upset that you chose a secure password when you have to enter it into this console. You may say choice things about tradeoffs between security and usability. (If you choose to simplify your password to make it easy to type on a touchscreen, I won't judge you.)
If you misplace your keycard, you can generate a new one. Use the machine described above for early arrivals.
When you're leaving, you can drop off all your keycards. Please don't throw them away, they get reused!
All basic costs are charged at a fixed rate (seminar, accommodation, meals). This includes some things you will find lying around, like coffee and fruit. But you do have to pay (very reasonable prices) for some extras like wine, beer, snacks, emergency toiletries, etc. These will be marked.
When you enter, go to the office and take (a) your name card, and (b) an expenses sheet. Carry this sheet around with you at all times, and mark off all the things you take. You turn it in at the end, when you pay and check out. Dagstuhl runs on an honor system. Please don't try to “test” it, it's just not interesting and it is rude.
Children and Family
Dagstuhl is very child-friendly, at two levels.
First, the physical space is great if you have a child who can reasonably control themselves. Our child has roamed all over the space without supervision. Since it's an enclosed space, we never had the slightest concern. Of course, you want to make sure that they understand to not disturb the seminars, etc.
Second, with advance warning, Dagstuhl will also arrange for child-care. We have used multiple nannies provided by Dagstuhl. Admittedly, the ones we had spoke little to no English, but managed our (non-German-speaking) child perfectly fine anyway. Talk to the office about their current arrangements.
Similarly, partners are also welcome. Again, talk to the office.
The bottom line is, Dagstuhl wants to make sure that family concerns and constraints do not keep an invitee from attending (especially given that these issues often have disproportionate gender impacts). They want to do what they can to help out. Approach them with that mindset, and hopefully you can find an arrangement that works out for you.
Relationship to Frankfurt
If you fly in and out of Frankfurt airport, there's a convenient train that gets you most of the way to Dagstuhl. As of this writing, you have two choices: you can go to Sankt Wendel and wait an hour to two hours for an inexpensive bus; or you can get off at Türkismühle and take a (possibly shared) taxi. There's a lot of information on the official site.
I most frequently go in and out through Frankfurt, and need to spend a night at one or both ends. Frankfurt itself is a perfectly reasonable city but—remember, this is my personal opinion—not that exciting. I've always made my base in Mainz, a charming city that is just as far from Frankfurt airport as the city of Frankfurt itself, but in the right direction (i.e., in the direction of Dagstuhl).
Entertainment and Enjoyment
Dagstuhl is a wonderful place with many things to see and do. Other than the bedrooms, and the one or two office rooms marked as private, everything is public and open to you. If in doubt, go on in!
Walk through the S and see the old baroque rooms, the medieval tower, the magazine room, the spiral staircases, the chess sets, the books, the billiards room with the old maps, the music rooms!
Check out the legendary wine cellar in S! (It's the cellar, and its convivial atmosphere, that's legendary; the wine is the same as available elsewhere in Dagstuhl.)
If it's open (often is on Sunday afternoon), go see the interior of the Baroque chapel!
Visit the garden across the street!
Visit the ruins at the top of the hill!
Visit the town of Wadern!
Go for a run on the n2 trail! (Look out for the steep bits!) Maps are available at the front office.
Borrow a (free) bike—one of the ones sitting by the door in N—and go for a ride!
Walk back and forth across the bridge between the two buildings, reading the quote!
Walk through the N. See the library, the signed books, and the collections in the basement dating back decades!
There's always an art exhibit on show on the walls of the N. Check it out!
Go to the top of the N: on a clear night, you can get a decent view of the stars from the roof!
Walk around in the fields, hang out by the brook next to the N!