Fortunately shift-space aka "|" works, so solution is relatively easy... pango-querymodule | tee /etc/pango/pango.module. Now I can get gpe booting, asks me for my username/password, complains about missing image loaders a lot, and then presents me with (dead) "Home" screen.
Funny, on second boot, "Home" screen actually works, and I can navigate around menus. Entering games, but no games installed ;-). This actually looks like usable system!
Trying to launch system info gives me "couldn't recognize the image file format for file /usr/share/gpe/pixmaps/default/save.png"