45 months as host of CreativeMornings Cologne

2019 is coming to an end, and for me it’s the finale of an exciting year with CreativeMornings Cologne. Because after more than three years as host of the Cologne chapter, this is the first year that I’ve been there in person. Before that, approximately 9,000 km separated me from the monthly event and after a total of 45 great individual events, it’s time for my personal summary…

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My first team support: Nahal Tavangar and Manuela Hess from USA. Photo by Manuel Kniepe

My path to becoming host of CreativeMornings Cologne (CMCGN) is actually rather unspectacular. In September 2011, I founded my design studio, Veedelswerk GmbH, in an old bakery in the Südstadt district of Cologne. After almost ten years as a freelancer in art direction with various assignments throughout Europe, when I entered my 30s, something whispered to me that it was time for security and provision – only those who think entrepreneurially will be provided for in old age. 😉

Today, more than five years later, I know the path wasn’t wrong, but it was definitely a test. I’ll take you on this journey some other time. The first few months in the renovated loft in the Biberstraße were still full of enthusiasm for trying everything imaginable: From the expansion of the agency business to the rental of coworking spaces and event locations, everything was there. And so, through contacts, I also got to know Michael Gerharz, founder of the CMCGN series. 

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Michael Gerharz at my second event as CMCGN Host. Photo by Manuel Kniepe

After two events at our Veedelswerk he surprised me by asking if I would be interested in being his successor as host of CMCGN. He had brought the event series from New York to Cologne about 14 months prior and was facing new professional challenges through his work as coach, speaker and author.

I was interested right away, but the thought of it made me a bit nervous because I had just started my company, I’m not a fan of network events and I’d just recently decided to go to Hong Kong for a few months. But challenges always appeal to me, so I ended up accepting. Of course, I had previously been promised some great speakers for the next twelve months and the first location were arranged, etc. I still had Veedelswerk as a backup.

We were off to great start with the first event, thanks to my dear friend Claudia Dalchow, who was also the speaker. In April 2016, she talked about RISK and her journey from graphic designer to sought-after actress with all its ups and downs. In the end, she concluded that the risk always paid off. Her talk was even voted one of the “Top 5 Talks of CreativeMornings 2016” worldwide. The bar for speakers was set high from there on, but of course there was still room for improvement in the implementation. 

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Claudia Dalchow talking on on the global theme #cmRISK in April 2016.

The first months were pretty difficult, and it was hard to get into a flow. Speakers and venues gradually emerged, but I was not entirely satisfied. It took a few months until the team had settled in. The distance between Hong Kong and the event locations were huge hurdles. But thanks to great co-hosts like Karina Schmidt, Eugenie Koch and Michaela Berghaus, these difficulties were easily overcome. 

I was able to prepare the events in peace and quiet from Asia, and a great team successfully implemented everything onsite. Because I’m still a late riser, the time difference during those three years was actually a real blessing for me. In the early afternoon, beginning at 2:00, I sat in Wan Chai in my coworking space (“The Hive”) and tuned into our events in Cologne via video or WhatsApp. From time to time, I was even there myself. 

2019 was the first year I actually participated in every event. Since then, a lot has happened to the CMCGN family and our community has grown steadily. A particularly big boost came after our CreativeMornings Summit 2018 in New York. Many members from our current team flew to New York at the end of August. 

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August 2018: CreativeMornings Summit in New York with more than 300 hosts and volunteers from all over the world …

Vera Drewke had been our permanent photographer for almost a year and travelled with me to NYC a few days before the summit. There, we met Nadja Felk. She had proven herself to be a big help at our morning events for the past several months and hoped to meet other CreativeMornings hosts and volunteers to help us overcome new challenges within the team. In addition, Rabea Knippscheer came by plane. Still new to the team, she was well-connected through her experience as founder of Limmaland and was very helpful finding new sponsors for us in Cologne. My dear friend Maelle from Hong Kong also joined us. Although she had never experienced a Cologne event, she had always actively given me tips from Asia. She had just moved to Montreal and hoped to find a place on the Canadian Team at the summit. A detailed report about our time will follow soon…

In the end, all our expectations were exceeded. During the four days at the event, we turned infrequent team members into true friends with lots of inspiration and motivation. Looking back, I believe this led to a big change in CMCGN. After the time in New York, everyone found their permanent tasks, and our team expanded with permanent helpers like Petra SonnenbergAnna Dąbrowska and Cecilia Tejada.

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June 2019: Team picture with our speaker Stefan Lausberg (Leybold) at Publicis Sapient #cmWONDER

For me as host of the CMCGN series, it was difficult at first because I was considering the idea of giving up the position in the summer of 2018. I saw the project as finished for me because I wasn’t seeing any more growth. All the events had about 60 attendees, and somehow I went around in circles. Thanks to the team and the new momentum, we now consistently have well over 120 registrations per month. Locations with less than 80 seats are hardly possible anymore and CreativeMornings is now well-known.

Exciting speakers are joined by insider tips, and even I am always surprised at what Cologne has to offer in terms of variety. New sponsors such as Heilandt Kaffeemanufaktur, Gaffel Kölsch or our own Mug Library from IKEA Köln are just a few of the successes of the last 16 months which infuse the volunteer work with lots of fun.

Another highlight of the last four years was definitely the time with Nadja in Edinburgh in May 2019, where a small group met to exchange ideas at the “Wee Summit” with participants from London, Washington, New York, Lisbon and Hamburg. A detailed report by Sofia Karakaidou (CreativeMornings Lisbon) can be found here: Wee Summit 2019 in Edinburgh. I myself got really excited about the coming months with CMCGN…

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Wee Summit in Edinburgh in May 2019

Now that 2019 has come to an end, the next year is half planned. So German! 😉 In the meantime, we’ve also become such a cohesive team that the work seems much less. Still, at least two days are lost every month. Of course, you keep asking yourself how long you’ll be the host and whether a different host would be good for the concept. Self-doubt is ever-present. 2020 will reveal where the journey is headed, but I’m still motivated and am looking forward to at least twelve more great months!

Besides great new friends and inspiring talks, I’ve found great new colleagues for my design studio, Veedelswerk, with Anna and Nadja through CreativeMornings: Ready for 2020! Anna’s path to CreativeMornings and her first FieldTrip Workshop at Veedelswerk can be found here: #02 FieldTrip „DIY Mug Library“

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Veedelswerk team: Nadja, Anna and Alina at WeWork Cologne (02.01.2020)

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Dezember 2019 at eyeo #cmSILENCE (Photo by Vera Drewke)
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