It’s January 31st. I stop my car in front of a Japanese shop in the area of Düsseldorf’s central station. It is a grey day and the person I am picking up is my friend Vitaly Friedman. He took the train from Berlin to Düsseldorf to meet me there. From Düsseldorf we drove over to Belgium to explore and check a few venues for a possible new adventure. When entering my car Vitaly says:
Ahh. Marc, that feels like in the old days, when we were checking venues for our very first event in Freiburg. Do you remember?
Indeed it had a similar feeling. The event business is on some kind of re-start. Especially when I hear from web related events, a lot of them struggle to sell tickets these days and not because their line-up is bad or their marketing. Many reasons exist – too many to go into details here – why this is the case and those who don’t stop running their events wonder what they could do to get the word out and sell tickets. And selling tickets, plus getting financial support by companies who team up with events like mine, is crucial for those events to survive, as they are mostly community based or community driven events. Maybe even only by a very small team or single person.
But back to where we were … so Vitaly and I ended up in my car for 3 hours chatting about all things events and Smashing Magazine. About the difficulties mentioned above, but also about the curiosity and excitement of running those events. We both share this passion to bring people together on those days and create something that is valuable and wonderful. Time was flying and we arrived in Antwerp, where we wanted to check two possible venues.
The first venue we arrived at was the Bourla Schouwburg. Two very nice people welcomed us and showed us the venue. What a lovely, old theatre. Vitaly and I directly loved it and were giggling about ideas we had for different areas in the venue, imagining where what could happen during the days of the event and felt that this one had the right atmosphere and spirit.
Our next stop was the Zuiderpershuis. Again a very lovely person welcomed us and showed us around. This one is not a real theatre, but more like an event venue. Very nice and authentic also and we could directly see the kind of events that would take place here. Festivals that would be containing of more hands-on experiences than talks. Smaller workshops, shorter presentations and hands-on in depth sessions. But for what we were thinking of there would be too much we would need to get done and many details missing and to be added, so that we decided not to go with this one.
For our next stop we had to drive roughly another hour to arrive in the wonderful city of Gent, after we had some tasty fries iN Antwerp. I have never been in Gent before, but the city centre is just amazing. So were the two people waiting for us, when we arrived at the NTGent. An what a lovely venue was waiting for us again. Similar to the Bourla in Antwerp it has wonderful balconies and both of us, Vitaly and I, were directly in love with the theatre, the opportunities the rooms next to the theatre offered us and the wonderful view from the balcony of one of the rooms at the theatre.
We left this theatre impressed, but with a sour taste in our mouths. A sour taste not because all those venues were nice, but because we did not know which one would be best of our two favourites.
On our 3-hours ride back to Düsseldorf we spoke a lot about pro and con of Bourla vs NTGent, we left voice messages for Charis, Amanda and the rest of the Smashing Team to describe those benefits and possible negative bits.
In the end we did not decide against the NTGent as a venue, but for Antwerp as the city. It is better known, better reachable from most places and offers more of what we need, in the summary, compared to Gent and the NTGent.
Well and now? Now we are on to a new adventure in Belgium. Today we announced Smashing Conference Antwerp, a conference focusing on Design and UX topics. Early birds tickets are online (48 left by the time writing these lines!) and we are all extremely looking forward to exploring the options we have in Antwerp. New lessons learned at a new city in a new venue and you can be part of this and help us to make this a memorable experience for everybody coming!
See you at October 9–11 in Antwerp for a new Smashing Conference and thanks for reading this little memorable story about how Vitaly and I visited the venues in Belgium!