Santiago de Chile interview with Internations co-CEO Malte Zeeck from 2011

We wanted to briefly share some of Ben Angel’s interviews prior to the coming Zoom teleconference session on Author Interviewing to be held on Monday, Mar. 30, 2020.

Malte Zeeck, co-CEO of Internations, and Paola Vega,
former Community Ambassador for Santiago de Chile
in 2011.

The world has changed a lot since May 6, 2011, when the following interview took place. Internations changed a lot. At one time, the monthly meetings organized by community ambassadors were all that officially happened. Since then, activity groups have emerged, focusing on the specific interests of its members. Among these, according to a survey conducted over the course of a recent night covering every Internations community on the planet, there are some 19 groups specifically targeted to writers, and 20 more that are more or less writer-friendly.

Needless to say, that didn’t exist when this interview was conducted on that distant Friday evening when founder Malte Zeeck came to Santiago. A Munich native, Zeeck was a former TV journalist and world traveler who got together with then partners Christian Leifeld and Philipp von Plato (the latter of whom is still co-CEO of the company), both of whom were one-time consultants for McKinsey & Company, Inc., and created a social network that brought expatriates and others with a “global mindset” together as a mutually-supportive community.

Going back to the original text of the interview…

Zeeck expressed surprise at the size of the Santiago Internations community. “I would have to look up how many members we have in Chile right now,” he said (it numbered 1,612 as of Monday, May 9, 2011). “But I think it’s amazing that there are already like 200 people signed up for events right now. I hadn’t expected that Santiago would be so strong.”

Zeeck lauded the efforts of Chris Emmott and Paola Vega, Internations Ambassadors for Santiago (today, the community operates under a different team, now composed of four persons). The Ambassador role in Internations is highly important, one that involves organizing events in their city of responsibility, fielding questions about the organization from individuals, and overseeing the forums and other activities that are provided by the organization. The popularity of the events in Santiago, Zeeck said, “is really due to the amazing effort particularly of Paola and Chris. You know, the Ambassador model is completely voluntary. They do this because they like the idea, they like bringing people together, they like to help people, and it’s really great.”

Ben Angel sat down with Zeeck at the California Cantina at the Friday night Internations gathering, and interviewed him on behalf of the readers of I Love Chile (this was at one time posted on their website, but following a change of owners, all ILoveChile.com content from this period was deleted – this text was taken from the Word document on which the interview was composed and submitted).

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What were your intentions with starting Internations? How did you come up with the idea?

I used to study business, together with a friend of mine, Philipp von Plato, and we both had the desire to start our own organization one day, but we both decided to get some practical work experience. So he went into consulting, used to work for about five years for McKinsey & Company, and I went into television, into journalism. I used to work as a reporter, mainly for German news channels, which brought me to many different countries, like Brazil, Spain, India, and here and there…

This was with n-tv?

Yeah, most of the time I worked for n-tv, but I also used to work for the First German Television (“Erstes Deutsches Fernsehen”) in India, and sometimes for CNN. I always felt in this new situation when you arrive in a country, like in India, in New Delhi, where you feel kind of lost, and you somehow want to meet up with other expats that can tell you (for example) where to find a German-speaking dentist, where to go out to have a beer – just to meet some friends, basically. And at the time I knew that there were many people in the same situation working for embassies, for companies, but it was not so easy to find friends. So that was how the idea was born to create a platform, to use modern technology to make it easier for expats to settle in, to meet other people, and to exchange information, basically.

Zeeck speaking to the Santiago Community
in 2011.

What year was this that you had come up with the idea?

We started working on Internations at the beginning of 2007, and then we went online with the platform on Sept. 11, 2007. That was a coincidence, actually. We were planning for Sept. 1, but with IT, it always takes a little longer.

The major challenge of course was that we had this beautiful platform, which we liked a lot, but a community without any members is kind of boring. So the big challenge was to attract expats from around the world to come to our website.

So what we did was we invited our personal friends who were living somewhere abroad working somewhere, and they then invited their friends, who invited their friends, and then there was this viral mechanism going. We also contacted embassies, foreign ministries, a couple of companies, and asked them to invite their staff that was working somewhere abroad. This went on, and now we have somewhere around 300,000 members on a global level in the network. It’s expanding quite fast, with about 15,000 new members per month. It’s really working very well.

There are a lot of other social media networks out there, of course, the most aggressively marketed is Facebook. What sort of a value does Internations have that it can add to the expat community over these other networks, like Facebook or LinkedIn?

These are two good examples – I think everyone nowadays is on Facebook. But Facebook is usually a platform which you use to stay in contact with the friends you already have on a private level. LinkedIn is what people use for finding a job, recruiting, or making business contacts.

Internations focuses on the expat’s situation related to people. It’s a niche topic. We try to make it easier for people to meet other people when they’re going abroad, when they’re moving somewhere – to meet other people and find expat-relevant information, on the country, on where to look for all these things I just mentioned, that’s our main added value.

Another big differentiating factor is that our members want to meet up in real life, which you don’t have on Facebook and LinkedIn. You might have that once in a while, but not organized the way as we do it. People find it nice to connect online and to exchange information, but with Internations it’s more important to go to these meetings like here tonight and meet others, to make friends, to make business contacts as well, maybe also for dating, whatever the reason might be. That’s the idea. We really will do more in this offline aspect as well.

The member base is also different. Our people have less time than people have on Facebook where they are spending hours in front of their PC. The average age is 35, and our people are working as expats abroad, viz a viz, in positions where they have less time to spend on the Internet. So they want to meet up in real life and make some friends.

What is the breakdown between the expat community and just the general tourist that goes from town to town and attends the different meetings? Is there a breakdown of that somewhere?

About 70 percent of our people are expatriates. The other 30 percent are locals who have a global mindset, who have been living abroad themselves, who speak English, who can feel somehow that they have this international connection. And of these people, as I mentioned, the average age is about 35, most of the members are between 30 and 40, 20 percent are above 40.

People stay for different time periods abroad. It’s the consultant who goes for 2-3 months on a project. It’s the guy that goes for one year. It’s the typical expats that go for 3-5 years as diplomats or being sent from a company. But we also have people living for 10 years or more in another country, and almost feeling like natives in a way, but they want to somehow keep their connections with the international community in their respective cities.

What are some of the network strategies that you would recommend to different members of the community that take part in Internations?

Well, it depends on what people are looking for. I think the best thing to do is to go to our offline events, because when you are in a new country, when you have just arrived, it’s amazing how fast you can build up your network of friends and also business contacts. If you are looking for a job, it’s just the same.

When you just pre-move, when you move to another country and you want to get some information, you can contact people that are living in that particular country, other Germans, other Swiss people, other Americans, whatever you are interested in. You can search for people who enjoy playing golf, who are in the same industry as you are, and you can gather information by contacting them, or share information with people asking in the local forums. Or look for information in the City Guides, where members provide information on where to rent hotels, international schools, all the topics that are relevant when you are going abroad, either with your family or alone.

A lot of the website seems to be in English. Is there any sort of catering for other languages on Internations?

The website is completely in English, and we want to keep it in English because that’s the combining factor that all expats have. We don’t want to exclude anyone by letting people speak other languages, so everything is in English, and we try to monitor that in a way so that it’s in English. However, we have some groups of Spanish-speaking people living in Germany, of Russians living in Turkey, and they meet and they exchange in their native language. That’s fine, but in the overall general forums, it all should be in English.

Internations co-CEOs Malte Zeeck and Philipp von Plato. Photo via Internations.org.

Was this purely something that came as a professional interest (“ it would be nice to have this if I were going to another country and there were a group of expatriates that was available to network with me”), or was this something that happened a bit earlier (like say in your earlier travels)?

Well, I always love to travel. I used to travel a lot already when I was a child with my parents, and later when I was studying – I studied in Brazil and I studied in Italy and in Switzerland and in different countries – during my studies, I used to work as a flight attendant for Lufthansa, which took me all around the world to the most amazing countries, and I always loved to meet other cultures and go around the world. And certainly this idea enables me to travel and visit other countries and meet other cultures.

Working on a professional level as a journalist also brought me to different countries, and it was the mix of the interest for the Internet and new technology, to facilitate these things through the Internet and make it much easier – to provide a simple solution which makes it easier for so many people around the world.

I think that my true motivation is also to solve real-life problems for people that they have when they are somewhere alone and they don’t know anyone. It’s very nice to get feedback from people that tell me “I have met my very best friends through Internations,” “I have found a job,” “I have met my wife,” – we also had our first “Internations baby” – this is really nice to receive this kind of feedback that you’ve really touched their lives.

Where was the first Internations baby born?

I think it was in Switzerland, actually. A guy from Dubai, and a lady, I think she was from Ecuador or somewhere in South America, and they met there through Internations.

How would you improve the networking overall, are there any sort of plans for technical advances?

Internations co-CEOs Philipp von Plato and Malte Zeeck.
Photo via Internations.org.

We have a few things that we are currently building. One is editorial content. At the moment we have only user-generated content on hospitals, schools, and so on. But we will offer soon – we are already preparing the editorial content for all the information you need when you move abroad. Health systems, education systems, taxation…

A Frequently Asked Questions sort of thing.

Yes, about a country when you move there. This is one very big aspect. We have set up an editorial team in our office that is developing this already.

Second thing is we want to develop even more off-line activities. Right now we have these kind of monthly events, where people get together. We have them in 80 cities, once per month (in 2020, they’ve targeted some 420 cities, most of which have active communities). But we feel the need for people to meet even more in groups that are following special interests. So we are building a new feature that will be called something like “Activity Groups,” where people can meet up to go salsa dancing, to have a wine tasting, to play soccer in the park, to have a family picnic, whatever the interest. In groups of 10-20 people, it is even easier to meet people.

So the idea is that if you move in a year or two to a place like Shanghai, you look in the events calendar and there is something going on every day.

Is there any advice you would give to people who are serving as Ambassadors for Internations, or for individuals to improve their networking?

For the Ambassadors, we have compiled a very long and extensive Ambassador Manual, where we have gathered information from all the events that we’ve been doing all around the world. We have been building up a lot of knowledge on how to organize events well, what makes people come to the events, what makes them come back, how to do it right so that people enjoy it a lot. Things like, changing venues so that people can experience different places in their city, and also how to create a very nice atmosphere by welcoming members and introducing them to each other so that no one is alone, using name tags that serve as ice breakers for people who might be a little bit shy, things like that.

For the individual, I think I can only encourage everyone to use the meetings to talk to everyone, because everyone is there for the same reason, to meet others. This is the big difference from when you go out on Friday night, you may never go to the person standing next to you and go, “Hey! Who are you? What are you doing?”

Here, this is wanted, and that’s what makes it so nice. It’s easy to meet other people. No one will look at you and think, “What do you want from me?” It’s very easy to get in contact, to have a nice conversation. And I find it’s really interesting people you meet, not only from many different countries, but also many different professional backgrounds. You find lawyers and doctors and artists and academics, professors, and whatever.

The last question I wanted to ask was, say that it’s the year 2021, ten years in the future. How do you see Internations functioning at that point?

Of course we have a vision. Ten years is long for an Internet company.  I always plan in shorter distances. But we already are the community for expats, the biggest one that there is. We want to be the leading expat organization, community, the platform for international exchange. Whenever someone is saying, “Hey, I’m moving abroad” or “My friend is moving abroad,” people should know about Internations and say “Hey, you have to go to Internations, you will meet nice and interesting people there.” That is our vision.

And we really want to create a very active community, as I’ve described with all these activities and creating big families of global minds.

We also have a charity vision. We have set up a scholarship with AFS Intercultural Programs (formerly American Field Services). They are our partners. They do a high school exchange program, usually between industrialized countries, like Germany to America, Japan, and so on. We set up a scholarship for people from third world countries that cannot afford to go abroad. So we support students from these countries.

AFS volunteers building mediaguas at Los Lomas, Chile, following the 2010 Chile earthquake (“Teremoto del 27F”).
Photo by Ben Angel.

But our idea is to support one social project in each of our communities that we will select, based on certain criteria that we will develop, and we want to support it through our community, through the financial support of our members. All of our members live a privileged life, study, have a good background and usually a higher income – the expats. So I think they are willing to share some of that with people who do not live this privileged life by donating on the platform and at meetings.

More important, we have people who have traveling spouses, family partners, who cannot work, who do not want to work, or are not allowed to work when they are abroad, but they want to engage. So the idea is to enable these different people to engage charitably by supporting projects, like supporting street children in Santiago, or another project in Dubai, or whatever there is.

It’s just a vision, but we’ll take it step by step to get there.

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Other samples by Ben Angel include an interview with an early ambassador team for the Minsk Internations community, and a series of author interviews conducted on behalf of A Word With You Press, the most recent of which was posted on Friday, Mar. 27. Feel free to review these at your leisure.

Bridging our way into the New Year

On Monday, Jan. 13, the Kaffeeklatsch opened its activities for the year with its second short story writing session, led by our favorite writing session enthusiast, Anna S.

As with the first session, held in early December, participants were to use three random words within a 30-minute writing session. However, the rules for generating words changed slightly – participants were asked to bring along a book, and opening to three random pages, choose a noun, a verb, and an adjective. However, rather than exchange these words, the writer would then use these themselves.

For those who were at the first session, the writing was to be a continuation of their first story. However, one writer elected to start a whole new story. (Both options were considered acceptable.)

The stories turned out quite well, and everyone seemed to have fun sharing what they wrote – it’s likely that many of the stories will be shared here as future blog entries. However, the setting in which the meeting was held was one of its highlights.

Timea Balzer manages The Bridge Wroclaw MGallery, a 5-star hotel located on Tumski Ostrow, just steps away from the city cathedral. She also happens to be one of our members, so naturally we had to try her place out as a meeting venue. Timea set aside for us a table in a quiet corner of the hotel’s Craft Restaurant, which was a perfect place to compose thoughts and set them to paper.

Most likely, our Kaffeeklatsch has found a new home. We thank her profusely for the hospitality.

Our next meeting will be on Monday, Feb. 10. Check the Internations website for the time (or contact a member if you just want to try us out).

What’s Up (Edition 2) – Wroclaw’s Lit-head Calendar for the end of 2019

We’ve managed to make it to yet another calendar year’s end! The miracles never cease…

In all seriousness, we’ve all reason to be pleased with the growth of our team. We’ve a full triumvirate of consuls to plan for events and writer outreach, and with the help of a consul from another group, we’ve started a regular set of writing sessions that should take us through the winter months. And with one of our members managing the newest five-star hotel in the city, we may even have a permanent home for our activities! Not a bad place to be at the end of 2019.

This year, both of our published writers, Richard Grainger and Jacek Skrzypczynski, have produced new books, and indeed, if you go to Amazon right now, Jacek’s book, Alpinist of Life: Expedition to the Peaks of Your Dreams, the E-book version, is on sale for 99 cents during the first 40 hours following its release (through noon Central European time, Saturday, Dec. 13) . It makes an excellent gift for anyone who wants to turn their ambitions and dreams into accomplishments.

The Lit-Head Calendar for December, meanwhile, has already begun. The Good Books Fair (“Wrocławskie Targi Dobrych Książek”) has already come and gone, and Kaffeeklatsch members went and visited it last Saturday, the day that Ebi, the dwarf statue of Eberhard Mock (fictional detective created by Wroclaw author Marek Krajewski ), was unveiled (photo above). To briefly summarize the experience, our visit to the fair will likely turn into an annual event.

Looking ahead over the remainder of the month and into the start of next year, the following literary events and Internations events may be worth your while:

Saturday, Dec. 14 (daytime): Karkonoske-Samotnia Glacier Valley hike (for time and meeting place, contact Consul Florin Wlad through Internations website).

Saturday, Dec. 14 (late afternoon): DinnerNations Christmas Dinner (for time and place, and to make pre-payment to reserve your place, contact Consul Anna S. through the Internations website).

Saturday, Dec. 14 (6 p.m.): Author’s meeting with poet Marcin Drelichowski, Klub Pod Kolumnami (pl. sw. Macieja 21). Polish. Free entrance.

Sunday, Dec. 15 (evening): Joyeux Noel de Mont Blanc Trio with the Music, Arts & More group (for time and place, contact Consul Alicja Dworowska through the Internations website).

Tuesday, Dec. 17 (7 p.m.): Author’s meeting with Wojciech Orlinski, author of a recently published biography of internet engineer Paul Baran, Klub Proza (Przejscie Garncarskie 2, Rynek). Polish. Free entrance.

Wednesday, Dec. 18 (evening): Introduction to Ayurveda with the Professional Networking Group (for time and place, contact Consul Nitish Chhabra through the Internations website).

Thursday, Dec. 19 (6 p.m.): Egora Society Meeting at Vega Restaurant (Rynek 27a), hosted by Cezary Jurewicz. (Discussion on politics, philosophy and the International Logic Party and its Egora platform generating system.)

Thursday, Dec. 26 (6 p.m.): Egora Society Meeting at Vega Restaurant (Rynek 27a), hosted by Cezary Jurewicz. This will be the last meeting hosted in Wroclaw before Cezary travels to Lviv for three months. (Discussion on politics, philosophy and the International Logic Party and its Egora platform generating system.)

Sylwester Tuesday, Dec. 31 (evening): New Years Eve Party with the Na Zdrowie! Group, hosted by Ambassador Pawel  Majdak and Consul Agata Karnasiewicz (for time and place, contact Pawel through the Internations website).

Saturday, Jan. 11 (daytime): Mindfulness training and lunch afterward with the Music Art & More group (for time and place, contact Consul Alicja Dworowska through the Internations website).

Saturday, Jan. 11 (19:00): Wroclaw January Meeting at the Double Tree by Hilton (Podwale 84). Basic members who sign up 35 PLN, who don’t sign up 40 PLN, Albatross members free of charge (it pays to be an Albatross).

Monday, Jan. 13 (evening): Short Story Writing – Part 2, with Anna S. (for time and place, contact any of our Consuls or activity host Anna… we’ll be happy to have you as a guest).

And with that, for the last time in 2019, the Wroclaw Writers’ Kaffeeklatsch wishes everyone the best over the holiday season, and an even better New Year.

A new writers’ conspiracy begins!

What would you write if given three random words that you have to fit in somewhere, anywhere? That’s what a group of seven Kaffeeklatsch writers found out on Monday, Dec. 2, at the Café Konspira off Wroclaw’s Solny Plac.

In a meeting hosted by guest Consul Anna S., participants huddled around a table in the middle of a busy dining room, and after a brief introduction and the obligatory round of coffees and beers, they set about learning a new “game.” The rules were explained by S., who had each participant had to come up with three words, write them on a Post-it note, fold them up, and place them in the “hat” (a bowl knitted from yarn) that she had brought for the game. Each writer was to then draw from the hat one slip of paper that was not supposed to be their own and think of a story to write.

After a few minutes of thought, S. set her timer in motion, and everyone had 30 minutes to come up with something. Some of the writers actually produced works from their own life experiences that nevertheless incorporated their three words, while others delved into their imaginations and composed stories on the spot. When the 30 minutes were through, everyone who was still writing put their pens down or closed their computers, etc., and each in turn read out what they wrote.

Consul Alan Townend, who was the first to read his work, later commented that everyone seemed to have a good time, noting that everyone got involved and really got creative. Consul Richard Grainger, who came in late owing to an unavoidable engagement and took the spot of a guest who had to leave early, likewise had only good words to say about the results. And of course this writer was pleased that everyone seemed to have a good time.

If this sort of activity interests you, our Kaffeeklatsch will do this again on Monday, Jan. 13 (Internations Albatross members, please refer to the activity post for time and place once it is up – if you are not an Albatross, get in touch with a Consul, and we’ll invite you as a guest, as part of our continued effort to recruit writers and other literary/creative types into the Wroclaw Internations community and encourage them to become Albatross members). A total of five sessions will be held, during which writers are invited to either continue their previous work from previous sessions, or start all new stories. In the end, we will publish those stories that participating writers want published here on this blog sometime after the fifth and final session (likely in April 2020).

Other activities coming up

Over the course of four days, Thursday through Sunday, Wroclaw’s Hala Stulecia will host the 38th Annual Wroclaw Good Books Fair (“Wrocławskie Targi Dobrych Książek”). Each day, the floor of the stadium-sized hall will be filled with stands organized by Polish publishing houses and book stores, most of which will be selling their wares for prices lower retail. On Saturday, our Kaffeeklatsch members will be taking a field trip out to see the fair, and maybe take in a meeting or two with visiting authors, or see the dedication of Ebi, the new dwarf statue designed to resemble the literary character Eberhard Mock, a “hardboiled” detective that operated from pre-WWII Breslau in a series of crime fiction books written by local author Marek Krajewski. You might run into us if you happen to be at the fair this weekend (free admission).

A Word with You Press, which recently adopted a new slogan – “What’s Your Story?” – is introducing its new inquisitive attitude by hosting a writing contest from their online website. Entitled “Something to Wine About,” the competition asks that you produce a 1000-word piece that can be anything at all, but must somehow be related to wine. The cost to enter the competition is 10 USD (payable through PayPal), but the prize will be a 100 USD gift certificate for the “vinotka of your choice” (bear in mind that AWwYP is nominally based out of Editor-in-Chief Thornton Sully’s spacious digs in Ceske Budowice at the far south of the Czech Republic), and publication in the next anthology.

Additionally, Jacek Skrzypczynski’s interview with Kaffeeklatsch Consul Ben Angel is still featured on the AWwYP website (naturally, as it is part of the collection of interviews of published writers who have associated themselves with Sully’s group over the years). Check out Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 through  these links, and contact Skrzypczynski to get your copy of his book “Alpinist of Life: Expeditions to the Peaks of Your Dreams” today.

Likewise, Richard Grainger’s book, “Losing the Plot,” is available from Grainger himself (talk with him at any of our meetings) or contact him through his website.

Lastly, many thanks to new member Kasia Czyrek for this one – the Australian Writers’ Centre is hosting monthly competitions, with the payoff of 500 Australian dollars – you just have to follow their simple brief and produce your best under-500-word story before time runs out. As I post this, the next competition will begin in one day and three hours (about 7 a.m. Friday, Wroclaw time). Visit their website to learn more.

What’s Up (Edition 1) – Wroclaw’s Lit-head Calendar for Late November 2019

Although our next meeting will be in the first week of December (sign up if you are an Internations Albatross member, get in touch with us if you want to attend as a guest), there are plenty of other events that are going on around us here in Wrocław that should appeal to the literary and visually artistically minded. The following is a local calendar, as collected from the November 2019 edition of Wrocławski Niezbednik Kulturalny (Wrocław Cultural Guide), Klub Proza (Wrocławski Dom Literatury) program, and the Wrocław Internet Portal.

Tuesday, Nov. 19 (19:00): Salon Silesiusa: A discussion on the works of Julian Kornhauser at Klub Proza (Przejscie Garnczrskie 2 in the middle of the Rynek). Kornhauser was a leader of the New Wave generation of Polish poets in the 1960s. Event is free, but the discussion is in Polish.

Thursday, Nov. 21 (17:30): The final exhibition of the Be Together project will be held at Studio BWA Wrocław gallery (Ruska 46a). This will feature works completed as part of the “Recently I made flowers from toilet tissue” workshop, with the artists presenting their ideas behind what they did. Entry is free, but in Polish.

Thursday, Nov. 21 (18:00): Interview by academic lecturer Urszula Glensk with noted writer and World War II reporter Jozef Hen at Klub Proza. Event is free, but the interview is in Polish.

Friday, Nov. 22 (18:00): Premier of the book “Rebellious Silesia” (“Śląsk zbuntowany”) along with a meeting with its writer, Dariusz Zalega at Klub Proza. This work, about the international volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War, attempts to set the record straight about those who left to fight with the Leftists. Free, but in Polish.

Friday, Nov. 22 (20:00): Polish Slam Poetry night at the Pan Tadeusz Museum on the Rynek. Want to participate? Free of charge, but you have to register ahead of the event (gabinetliteracki@ossolineum.pl )

Monday, Nov. 25  (19:00): Last meeting of the free “Genre School: Literary Lectures” series, featuring Andrzej Ziemianski, two-time winner of the Zajdel Award for Science Fiction at Klub Proza (Przejscie Garnczrskie 2 in the middle of the Rynek). This series was held primarily for high school students interested in literature, but open to a general audience (held in Polish).

Tuesday, Nov. 26 (18:00): Meeting with author Lilia Dmochowska of the book “Fern Flower: A Tale of Barbara Pieasecka-Johnson” (“Kwiat paproci. Opowieść o Barbarze Piaseckiej-Johnson”) at Klub Proza. The book will be offered at a promotional price (in Polish).

Thursday, Nov. 28 (19:00): Salon Silesiusa: A discussion on Czeslaw Milosz at Klub Proza. Milosz was a local Nobel Prize winner (Olga Tokarczuk, this year’s Literature Prize winner was not the first Wrocław native to win this prestigious award) whose works are being celebrated 15 years after his death in a new book, “Conversations Abroad, Vol. 3.” Event is free, but the discussion is in Polish.

Friday, Nov. 29 (19:00): Opening of Mobilki – an exhibition of works by Mariusz Waras at Galeria Studio BWA Wrocław (ul. Ruska 46a). Toys, or figures that can be operated by hand, that symbolize a reaction to specific political and media events that have taken place in Poland over the last two years.

Sunday, Dec. 1 (17:00): Evening commemorating Natalia Gorbaniewska, entitled “Poetry and Freedom” (“Poezja i wolność”), starting at Klub Proza. Associated with Wrocław in her early years, Gorbaniewska will be commemorated with a new plaque on the Rynek following a reading of some of her more influential works. (Free, but in Polish).

Tuesday, Dec. 3 (13:00): Father Grzergorz Kramer, Jesuit priest and blogger, will speak about his blogging at the WCRS Senior Center (pl. Dominikanski 6) in Room 210. Event is free, but in Polish.

Thursday-Sunday, Dec. 5-8: The 28th Annual Good Book Fair will be held at Wrocław’s iconic Hala Stulecia. This annual event features the best in Polish literature for the year, and features books and games sold below retail price just in time for Christmas. Free admission.

Saturday, Dec. 7 (19:00): The 43rd Annual Literature and Music Night will be held at the Big Hall of the Impart Theater (Mazowiecka 17). Ticket prices are 70 PLN (balcony) and 80 PLN (ground floor), and can be bought either at Impart, or at Barbara (Swidnicka 8b, off the Swidnicka tram stop).

Saturday, Dec. 14 (20:00): Not really a literary event, but definitely an international event, Klub Proza (Przejscie Garnczrskie 2 in the middle of the Rynek) will host a free showing of Jazz bez Markijana and EntCentryfuga, a pair of Polish-Ukrainian jazz groups that will tie in the literary scene of the city with the 19th Polish-Ukrainian Jazz Festival. Free admission.

Sunday, Dec. 15 (19:00): Part of the 19th Polish-Ukrainian Jazz Festival, the US-Israeli YES! Trio will play at the FAMA Library and Cultural Center (ul. B. Krzywoustego 286). Ticket price, 10 PLN.

So, can you, or rather should you, teach creative writing?

Creative writers should be suppressed so that only the ones who are most determined will become writers.

On Monday evening, Nov. 4, The Wroclaw Writer’s Kaffeeklatsch met and discussed the question, “Can Creative Writing be taught?” at the Wywrotowa Pub and Restaurant on Plac Solny.

A total of eight people attended the November gathering, including seven of the activity group members and two guests, making it one of the most well attended sessions to date. Richard Grainger, who has been nominated by the two original consuls to become a third consul, or group leader, moderated the meeting, ensuring that the round table discussion that was the focus of the meeting stayed on track while at the same time encouraging members to share their opinions.

The discussion was based on a couple articles that Grainger had seen in The Guardian in 2014 (see here and here), which reported on the opinion of a creative writing professor, Hanif Kureishi, admitting that he felt that creative writing could not be taught to a person who didn’t already have talent. The Guardian followed this story up with a quick poll of other well-regarded professors in both England and the United States to see if they felt similarly. The results were mixed, with some suggesting that no, creative writing couldn’t be taught, and others saying yes, it could (and all but one, unsurprisingly, attempting to defend the content of their own courses).

The first aspect of the topic that Grainger led the discussion through seemed focused on the difference between genius and craftsmanship, or rather what a story really required in order to be considered good. Participants suggested elements that were needed in order for a book to work well, and these included an entertaining story, connection at an emotional and experiential level, a purpose, and an arc for the characters (and hence the readers) to follow.

The discussion then followed into whether any of the skill sets required to provide all of these can be built into a writer from scratch (the “nature vs. nurture” debate), or whether latent talent exists in every writer, waiting to be coaxed out. This prompted one of the guests, Cezary Jurewicz (who hosts a political-philosophical Meet-up group called the Egora Society), to issue the challenge that because there were too many writers out in the marketplace already that creative writers should in fact be suppressed, so that only the ones who are most determined, and as a result, most likely to successfully hone their talent, will become writers. Too much mediocre writing results from uninspired attempts at developing a talent for creative writing by writers who don’t even have a story within them. The same could be said for other creative professions.

Wlad Florin, a group member who also serves as a consul for the Sports Watchers and Hiking groups in the Wroclaw Internations community, suggested that writers should be genuine, have good memory, and a strong imagination.

Grainger expressed his admiration for the words of Jeanette Winterson, who teaches at Manchester University (and has been awarded an appointment as Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, or CBE, for her literary work): “Reading is not telepathy,” she concluded in her first statement, saying that it doesn’t matter what’s in a writer’s head – if it’s not on the page, it doesn’t exist. A good writer realizes this without prompting.

Timea Balzer, a new Kaffeeklatsch member who moved from Budapest to this city and today manages the Bridge Hotel, where this month’s Wroclaw community meeting will take place, expressed her admiration for the words of Toby Litt, who said that creative writing courses serve the function of giving a writer permission to experiment, and Curtis Sittenfeld, who suggested that if her students didn’t enjoy the process of writing, they shouldn’t do it (but that you’ll never know if you have any latent talent unless you try).

Kasia Czyrek, another new Kaffeeklatsch member from southwestern Poland, indicated that it seemed to her that writers are best taught one-on-one, rather than in classrooms, noting the similarities of writing to other creative arts.

Alan Townend, meanwhile, expressed his admiration for YouTube, suggesting that video is better than writing anyway as you don’t need to sit down in order to get something from it, and like radio, it allows you to multitask.

(The author of this account spoke his opinion that if artificial intelligence can be made to produce passable works using only memory from a large body of material and predictive text technology, human writers might be taught to write creatively as well, if the student and the teacher are adequately determined.)

Toward the end of the discussion, guest Malgorzata Szindler responded to the question of who a real writer is by suggesting that these are people who successfully turn their writing into a profession, which seemed to support Jurewicz’s assertion that writers should be made to prove themselves before they can call themselves “writers.” Before leaving, Jurewicz expressed his admiration for Scottish poet Don Paterson, who teaches at the University of St. Andrews, for stressing that writers are good readers first.

Anna S., an early Kaffeeklatsch member who also serves as a consul for the DinnerNations Group here in Wroclaw, said at the end that the session went well, and expressed her willingness to help organize the next activity, which might involve a creative writing session where participants actually write during the session (similar to activities favored by the Internations writing group in Bern, Switzerland, among others). The next Kaffeeklatsch meeting will likely be on the first or second Monday of next month (noting the success in getting participants to come for this event on that day of the week), before the usual migration of just about everyone out of town to visit relatives or otherwise escape the darkness of the Polish winter. For more details, contact any consul: Alan Townend, Richard Grainger, or Ben Angel. We’re always happy to welcome guests.

The Wrocław Writers’ Kaffeeklatsch

Organized between July 12 and Sept. 14, 2018, the first meeting of the Wrocław Writers’ Kaffeeklatsch was on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. As a writers’ activity group affiliated with the Wrocław community of the Internations social network, it achieved 37 members from 17 countries in its first year.

The Wrocław Writers’ Kaffeeklatsch is led by Richard Grainger, Alan Townend, and Ben Angel. Official membership is limited to Albatross members of Internations, but in the interest of recruitment, we frequently welcome guests. Don’t be shy – get in touch if you want to visit with us.

What is the purpose of the Wrocław Writers’ Kaffeeklatsch?

  • We seek to help writers (published, unpublished, and wannabe) and associated artists to develop artistically and professionally through round-table discussions, guest speakers, peer reviews, workshops, and other similar activities.
  • We want to help writers and associated artists network with each other, both within Wrocław, and in different cities through other writers’ groups affiliated with the Internations social network.

Most of what the Kaffeeklatsch does will be advertised on the Internations page of the activity group. This blog is supplemental to what Albatross members will find on the Internations website. Again, if you want to stop in and see if what we do is of interest to you, and you are not an Albatross member, get in touch with one of us and we’ll let you know where and when we’ll next meet.

Activities we’ve hosted:

  • Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 – First Roundtable: Travel Writing (7 signed up)
  • Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018 – Roundtable: How Do You Get People To Read Your Blog?
  • Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018: Guest Speaker: Jacek ‘Skyski’ Skrzypczynski (6 signed up)
  • Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018: Roundtable: Publishing and Illustrations
  • Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018: Guest Speaker: Olga Diacova – Light from the dark side
  • Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019: Roundtable: Technically… writing.
  • Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019: Creatively overcoming Writer’s Block, with Jacek Skrzypczynski (7 signed up)
  • Sunday, March 31, 2019: Intellectual Property Rights in Poland (7 signed up)
  • Sunday, Apr. 28, 2019: Peer Review No. 1 – Positive Feedback (6 signed up)
  • Sunday, May 26, 2019: The Share-Your-Favorite-Author Boat Meeting
  • Sunday, June 9, 2019: Bookshop Tour of Wrocław
  • Sunday, July 28, 2019: The First Annual What-Will-We-Do-Next-Year Boat Ride
  • Friday, Aug. 16, 2019: Let’s Evangelize Warsaw Writers into Forming a Group!
  • Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019: Peer Review No. 2 – How I Spent My Summer Vacation (6 signed up)
  • Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019: Gab session – celebrating Richard Grainger’s new book
  • Monday, Nov. 4, 2019: Roundtable: Can Creative Writing Be Taught? (7 signed up)
  • Monday, Dec. 2, 2019: Short Story Writing – Part 1, with Anna S. (6 signed up)
  • Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019: Field trip to the 38th Annual Good Books Fair (6 signed up)
  • Monday, Jan. 13, 2020: Short Story Writing – Part 2, with Anna S. (Sign up if you are an Albatross member, or get in touch with Ben Angel [ben.3.angel@gmail.com] if you’d like to be a guest.)

What’s a Kaffeeklatsch? This is a German loanword that means a discussion carried on over coffee.

Why Kaffeeklatsch? Ben Angel selected the name in 2018 because it sounded “sophisticated,” sort of like how the Algonquin Round Table of 1919 seemed “refined.” Of course, the Round Table, a luncheon held daily by several writers over a number of years, carried the nickname “The Vicious Circle,” particularly after Groucho Marx (brother to Table regular Harpo Marx) remarked, “The price of admission is a serpent’s tongue and a half-concealed stiletto.” As we frequently meet at venues that also serve beer, we promise not to be as vicious.

Do you have any actual published authors? Yes, we do. Richard Grainger has published one memoir (“The Last Latrine” [1997]) and one novel (“Losing the Plot” [2019]); he’s already working on his next novel (“Saving Dave”). Our frequent guest Jacek Skrzypczynski has published a book of poems with his US colleague Ann Betz (“Coaching the Spirit” [2012]), and a memoir/self-help book (“Expedition to the Peak of Your Dreams” [2019]) in connection with his work as an executive coach. Past visitor Thornton Sully, whose work with the Prague Writers’ Group inspired the creation of the Kaffeeklatsch, has likewise published two novels (“The Boy With a Torn Hat” [2010] and “Almost Avalon” [2015]), and is in the process of producing a third as a serial (“The Courtesans of God”); he also has edited several anthologies as the Editor in Chief of “A Word with You Press,” originally situated in San Diego, California, later in Moscow, Idaho, and today in the Czech city of České Budějovice. Ben Angel hasn’t published a book as yet (he’s a “wannabe”), but he has worked as a journalist in Tacoma and Detroit in the United States, and Kyiv in Ukraine. Most recently, he’s appeared in the staff of online publications “I Love Chile” and “The Minsk Herald,” has had a story published by Russian news agency RIA Novosti back in 2007, and has even found one of his freelanced stories for “The Georgian Times” of Tbilisi in a Wikileaks news dump from 2009.