The MetropolCon banner hangs from the upper-floor landing at the silent green Kulturquartier

A personal progress report by con chair Claudia Rapp, and a trajectory towards 2026

  • (written exclusively for Andromeda Nachrichten, the SFCD membership magazne; reproduction only with explicit written permission)

I was just in Sweden at the Eurocon, which once again showed me in the most beautiful way why I’m doing all this. Why I’m writing this text, why I’ve dedicated more than two years of my life almost entirely to planning and organizing an event that came out of nowhere, out of a late-night, epiphany-like idea (we tend to call those “Schnapsideen” in German, since most of them are fueled or aided by the consumption of alcohol), and finally became a reality in May 2023:

Eurocon. In the evening in the pub, you inevitably sit at the same table with all of Europe: there are Finns, an Italian, a Latvian, a Portuguese, Swedes, Brits, Dave Lally, a Ukrainian, a Swiss; at the neighboring table, the large Polish delegation, more Swedes, Danes, Italians, Brits, a Bulgarian – and so on, and on and on. Colorful conversations; we joke, we make plans, we tell stories, we share our worries; we talk about war and science fiction and the beer prices and the next conventions and the panels of tomorrow; we talk about aspects of the respective histories of our countries and how much the others know about it; we talk about myths and fantasy and horror and stereotypes and restaurant recommendations and favorite bands; we talk about the daughters we’re proud of, about previous cons some of us didn’t even know about at the time, while others think back nostalgically, about the books that excited us most recently. We are a community.    

The idea didn’t really come out of nowhere, it came from just that: that sense of community. One magical moment in April, 2019, I was sitting exhausted (after a long con Saturday full of input, having taken in as many program items as I could) by the wall of the great hall at Eastercon in London-Heathrow. Fantasy author and punk Mike Brooks was the DJ, spinning only 80s hits. People danced, oblivious and blissful, some barefoot, some in costume. Though I myseIf lacked the energy to move my feet, I felt the energy of this particular kind of event. The community-feeling of a convention.

That was the moment I knew: I wanted other people to feel that way, too. At home, among like-minded people, belonging, understood, accepted – no matter who they were and how they looked and how they presented themselves. Because that was (and still is) the special thing for me, besides the exciting topics and contents, the cornucopia of knowledge, whimsy, and fun you can find at a convention: The feeling that everyone is allowed to be who they are, or want to be, without judgment, dismissal, scorn. That was and is my motive, my motivation.

I had already asked the crucial question earlier that day, still quite sober. I was talking to Jukka Halme, Chair of the 2017 Worldcon in Helsinki. “Why does nobody do something like this in Berlin?” Jukka put an arm around my shoulders and replied, with the laconic air of a Finn, “You do it.”

At three a.m. that same night, no longer quite sober, the “Schnapsidee” had turned into the spark of a plan. And the following morning I was sure that I really wanted to try this: to organize a convention along the lines of the international model – think Eastercon, Eurocon, Worldcon – in Berlin; bigger, cooler, more varied and inspiring than anything that had come before … typical German megalomania?

That was in the spring of 2019. In summer (in August in Dublin at Worldcon) and fall (in October at the German Bucon in Dreieich) I gathered my first comrades-in-arms; then pretty soon, Covid happened, but that couldn’t last forever, could it? On Discord we got together again, brought other interested and experienced people on board, and in March, 2021, we finally founded “L.O.K.I. e.V. zur Förderung der Phantastik,” the registered association that would carry the whole thing. I will spare you the further steps through pandemic and bureaucracy here … and then we went into conceptualizing and planning. We had started with the idea of a Eurocon, but quickly came to realize that we should start with a “small” Berlin convention, more or less as an exercise for the bid for a Eurocon, which was envisioned for 2026.

The first MetropolCon was to take place in 2023, and an important aspect was the vision: What do we want, what does our desired event look like, where is our goal, our target, the utopian place to which we aspire? (Our diligent, multi-talented graphic designer Grit once put it this way: “We’re aiming for Mars, and if we land on the moon, we’ll have achieved a lot.” You can still read the vision we formulated back then on our website:

Now MetropolCon 2023 is history, and it’s time for a look back: How did it go, what worked and what rather didn’t, what did the participants like, what do we need to work on, and: did we get to Mars?   

The facts:

  • May 18-20, 2023, at silent green Kulturquartier in Berlin’s Wedding district.
  • Space for a maximum of 1000 people; 500 registered people over the 3 days
  • 44 publishers, artists, associations, etc. in our dealers’ room – we even had two tattoo artists on site!   
  • 120 program items, including panels, workshops, talks, audio and visual content, art and history exhibits, role-playing demo rounds, a pub quiz, general meetings, an auction, and last but not least: three live music concerts.

What did participants like:

  • The extensive, diverse program, especially the many program items on science, technology, and the future
  • The venue with its special atmosphere, the spacious outdoor areas in combination with the great weather, which invited to stay outside and chat
  • The tattoo artists’ booth: about half of the team alone had a new tattoo at the end of the three days!
  • The eye for small, useful details in the planning, such as listing the panels for each speaker on the back of their name tag, the pronoun stickers for the name tags, the hygiene products provided in the washrooms, etc.
  • The live concerts and interactive program items, such as the pub quiz, the talk on food of the future with small bites for tasting, role-playing demo sessions, etc.
  • Mr. Spock (an approx. 130 cm-tall  Playmobil figure, which greeted participants at the end of the access ramp and was auctioned off at the end of the con – the happy new owner is Dirk van den Boom)  

What do we want to improve and change for 2026:

Content-wise, of course, the program for a Eurocon has to be mostly in English. This time, only about one sixth was in English. We are aiming for at least 75% for 2026. Also, we almost offered too much, too many program items at the first edition. We want to thin it out a bit and also include more low-key, hands-on, entertaining, and “fannish” content.  

But even more fundamentally, we want to make sure that more people get to know the Eurocon model in the first place. We hardly need to convince the people who make the pilgrimage to every Eurocon anyway, but to everyone else who may not be in the know, we want to introduce and explain the concept of “membership instead of ticket purchase.” This is not as common in Germany as it is elsewhere.

Finances remain an issue anyway: We will try again and even more intensively to apply for funding and/or find sponsors. We would like to use that money to keep the costs for the participants (= members) as low as possible, while in the best case we can offer some form of compensation to the presenters. In the first edition we had little success in raising money.  

The lower the cost threshold for participation, the more likely we can expect fans from Eastern Europe as well as a younger, more diverse audience at our Eurocon. We are very keen to court underrepresented groups and con newcomers more actively, because we all know: the “core” scene is getting older and stagnating …  

Should we remain faithful to our location this year, we already have several ideas how to better integrate the dealers’ area and incorporate it into the con action, because the underground hall proved to be a weak point (again in combination with the wonderful weather), because the participants simply did not stop by there that often. However, we also noticed that the expectations here were differing wildly: A convention is not a trade show; this must also be reflected more clearly in the calculation for table fees next time.

It would also be necessary (in any case, but for a Eurocon, which usually involves a lot of socializing over beer, even more) to make the bar area in the venue more inviting and cozy, to ask for more efficient staff, and to make this room the center of the action.   

Also in regard to accessibility, we would have to check here what we can improve – together with the team of the location – because a non-functioning stair elevator to the upper-floor program rooms and an only conditionally functioning elevator from the outside lawn down to the bar were far from ideal.

Regardless of location and program content, however, we also found that the software solutions we were using for ticket purchase as well as program display were not necessarily the best. We are therefore looking into more user and admin friendly alternatives for next time, both for registration/membership management and for the program schedule.  

What do we do between now and the bid session in August 2024, when the decision will be made for Eurocon 2026?

In the coming weeks, we will be looking at other venues in Berlin, which should also be centrally located, well connected to public transport, and atmospherically special – ideally there should also be affordable parking options nearby as well as a sufficient choice of hotels. Currently, there are more options to choose from than in the summer of 2021, when we went looking for a location for this year’s MetropolCon; due to the pandemic, many venues were completely closed and didn’t know if and when they would reopen. The situation is of course different at this point in time. Due to the experience we’ve gained, we now also know which aspects we have to pay special attention to when choosing.

If we decide to go with the silent green again, we will suggest improvements to the team there and go over the convention feedback with them. The next step for all potential locations would then be to option dates (from our point of view preferably in June, 2026), and commit to a location and date by the end of this year at the latest.    

We will also start researching grants and possible sponsors again this year, as well as a start another search for partner hotels that might offer room blocks or special rates.  

In parallel, the website is being cleaned up and redesigned for 2026, and we are planning smaller events to keep us on people’s radars until the next Con: a regular online format, as well as readings and roundtable discussions in Berlin, so that we can both establish ourselves locally as a “household name” or “brand,” and reach out to our followers and more people all over the web, in Germany and Europe. We will post regular updates on the website, on our social media channels, and in our newsletter, whose subscriber numbers we would like to increase. A brand new YouTube channel has been added, where we will gradually upload the video footage from this year’s convention as well as our live online formats in the aftermath. We hope that we will also find more supporters and people who would like to become part of the team.

Also parallel to all this, we are returning to our original vision and trying to sharpen it by taking into account our collected experiences and the feedback on the first MetropolCon; perhaps formulating it more clearly, adapting it, refreshing it.

We were slightly surprised when in the run-up to the event, fault-finders had zoomed in on the vision,  and even now, some of the inquiries we receive fixate on that: A spelled-out vision is an ideal, a list of signposts for a target that is then aimed for, approached as closely as possible. Reality, the practical organization and implementation of plans, consists of compromises in order to be able to act at all.

For example, we had formulated in our vision: “MetropolCon considers itself an inclusive, accessible, diverse, and sustainable event. It strives to provide a safe space for all participants, guests, and members. We want to foster exchange, discussion, networking, and all-around inspiration based on mutual respect, openness, acceptance, and consideration.” We tried to approximate this during implementation. What did that look like in concrete terms? In the run-up, the team completed a workshop on the topic of “communicating in ways that appreciate and acknowledge diversity.” For the convention, we made sure we had as many different needs as possible on our radar:

– When communicating with the program participants and in the ticket-purchase process, we asked about access needs and whether people needed special support of any kind.

– We designated the cinema room as “quiet space” several times during the convention (and also listed those times in the program) to provide a retreat for neurodivergent people and anyone who might be exhausted from the hustle and bustle; this could be expanded next time by offering a retreat space all the time

– We had a team of listeners on standby in multiple shifts to take care of code-of-conduct violations, unwelcome and problematic situations. The inbox of the dedicated email address was also constantly checked. The planned procedure for on-site reports was as follows: All team members (identifiable by large buttons) were available to be approached at any time and were instructed to refer the reporting person to a listener if necessary. A room slightly away from the main event was available for any confidential discussions. Furthermore, we had three people (chair, substitute chair, treasurer) taking turns as “boss on duty,” i.e., they would apply house rules in the event of serious violations and, for example, expel people from the con.

– We are very happy to report that there were no reported violations of the Code of Conduct during MetropolCon, and that no report came in via the mentioned mail address either.

– The location is considered accessible, or “barrier-free,” as far as mobility is concerned, and has also confirmed this for applications for cultural funding by form. Those who were on site for the con can attest that the term is not really accurate; therefore, we consciously chose the term “few barriers” (or “barrierearm”) in the German version of our vision, on the advice of affected/disabled people: It would be wonderful and is desirable that all places are barrier-free, but in practice it is also true that we can only strive towards this with all available means. We very much hope that we can influence the location in this area and improve the conditions. And: even things that are almost taken for granted, such as putting microphones in the rooms and reminding all presenters to please use them, serve to make an event more barrier-free.

– We were and are aware that the cost of attending a con is a barrier for many people, so we set up a solidarity fund for tickets. When buying tickets, you could donate any amount towards this. This time we collected a total of 447 Euros, which meant that we could give 6 people each a ticket for 3 days.     

My personal conclusion

We reached the moon right away, and we’ll set our sights on Mars next time with additional thrust and new energy – because if there’s one thing MetropolCon has given me – and, in fact, the whole team, it’s a lot of fuel to keep going!

Three days flew by as in a daze and a frenzy, and I was repeatedly told that I didn’t look stressed at all, in the midst of the hustle and bustle, constantly on the phone to clarify something, to procure replacements, or in conversation with people because I repeatedly had to make sure that they were having fun, enjoying themselves, content with what was on offer.

And at the end of it all, I was left with the incredibly great feeling that we had accomplished and created something; that we had offered the community a new convention that obviously also gave them a bit of that feeling that started it all: community, belonging, being allowed to be myself in the midst of people with shared interests and passions.

And next time we’ll do it in European!  

(photo by Lucie Lukačovičová)