It was in autumn 2012, the first participants of our New Year's Eve event in Berlin had just registered. Until then this event was a German Mensa event, organized in a different German city every year. But when I was monitoring the registrations as part of my work for our organizing team, I realized that something was different this year, that we were going to have an amazing number of guests from foreign Mensas. They came thanks to an incredible advertising campaign by a fellow Berlin Mensan named Lina. At the end we had guests from eighteen different countries, including countries as far away as China, Singapore and the United States. When I visited the Sydney Mensa regulars table a few weeks before the event, I got a copy of the Australian Mensa magazine, and even in this magazine from the other side of the world there was an advertisement for it.
All this made me think about this being a chance to start an annual international New Year's Eve event, to make sure that what was about to happen in Berlin could be organized again.
We already have one big annual Mensa event in Berlin, the Sommerfest, which you are welcome to attend at the end of every August. We have some really great volunteers here, but organizing two big events in one year was a bit too much for us. So I knew if I want this to be organized again, then it can't be done in Berlin, and I probably need to find a new host every year.
And there is a bit more work to do to make this possible. In recent years it became more and more difficult to find hosts for our big events. Events are becoming larger, because Mensa Germany is growing quickly. And every team had to start from scratch. Of course one can always ask the team that did it before, but they are always in another city, so they can't give more than a few tips about how to do this.
In Mensa Germany Berlin is the only exception from this "rule". Since we do the Sommerfest every year we have a strong tradition to pass knowledge about organizing to the next team. I have been part of organizing teams of big events both in Berlin and Dresden, so I had the chance to compare the efforts, and the different conditions for the teams in these cities.
Now, how can we make sure that a team, from a city that is hosting such an event for the first time, like the team in Dresden, has similar, or even better conditions to learn from previous teams like the teams in Berlin?
1. We need a second team, consisting of Mensans with organizing experience, who are willing to provide advice and if necessary guidance to new New Year's Eve party teams. A support team. This team is meant to work for more than one year, and former organizers could join it after their events if they want.
2. We need some IT infrastructure that is helping both teams to communicate efficiently, to pass knowledge from one team to the next, and to give the support team the chance to do parts of the work, parts which don't need to be done in the host city. For example it would be good to have a database supported website that can be passed from team to team and evolves from event to event. We already have a first version of this website, including a team of volunteer IT experts which will work on it depending on the needs of the organizers.
A member of the Dresden team named Christoph suggested to use an issue tracking system to coordinate our work. We weren't using something like this in Berlin before, so I was a bit skeptical about it, but it turned out to be very useful. I was able to support the team in Dresden from Berlin thanks to this system. And when a member of the team had to go to intensive care from one day to another, without any chance to pass information about his work to the rest of us, we were able to get all necessary information from his tickets in the system. Fortunately this member was recovering and rejoining our team quickly. Obviously this can be very useful for this project, so one of my first efforts was to get such a system and thanks to the Mensa Hochschul Netzwerk, in English: Mensa University Network, a society within Mensa Germany, we now have one for this project.
While I was trying to find all the volunteers and IT-infrastructure needed I was also searching for a catchy name for this event. One of the organizers of our last AG named Sabine was suggesting to me to call it Silvensa. Silvensa is a combination of Silvester, a Latin name which is a loanword for New Year's Eve in many European languages, and Mensa. After a small poll in the forum of mensa.org it became the name for this project.
So, now there was a support team, some useful IT-infrastructure, and a catchy name. Is there anything missing? Hm. How about a host city and a team to organize it? I've tried to find one in six different European countries, but at first without success, and I realized that this was going to be difficult.
There is a small Polish-German twin city about sixty kilometers east of Berlin officially called Słubice and Frankfurt (not to be mixed up with the famous Frankfurt in western Germany, the financial center of Europe). Locals sometimes call it Słubfurt, and it was in this little twin-city where Polish and German Mensans started a series of meetings four years ago thanks to Monika, a Polish Mensan living in Berlin at that time. Later we also met in Szczecin, another Polish city not far from Berlin, we joined Polish Annual Gatherings, and welcomed Polish Mensa guests at our events. The connections between both Mensas became a hobby of mine, and I made a lot of new friends with Mensa Poland.
Polish Mensa Annual Gatherings are very special to me, because it is quite different from the AGs in England, Germany and the EMAGs I had attended before. It is always at a very remote place, far from the big cities, often close to a lake. There they rent a hotel, fill it with Mensans completely, and have a big party. There is an official program of course, but a lot of events are organized spontaneously by the participants. From the beginning I wanted put some of the features of the Polish AG into Silvensa, because I really like it, and because the whole concept makes it easier for the OrgaTeam to organize it.
A few weeks after last year’s Polish AG two of the Mensans I’ve met there came to Berlin, one of them being Anna, a regional coordinator of Mensa Poland. I told her about this project, asked her if her city could become the first Silvensa host city, and together we started negotiations with the board of Mensa Poland. A couple of weeks later I met her organizing team, and together we had the first orga session, the kickoff to a big event.
Anna is from a city which many Mensans all over Europe and beyond want to visit, but a lot haven't done so yet. A city which is full of history and culture. A city with a Mensa group big, active and courageous enough to make this dream come true.
Witamy w Warszawie :-)