Living on Bitcoin in Europe: Lightning Strikes in Berlin


Bitcoin Journal provided reporter Colin Harper with a fistful of sats and set him free in Europe. That is the third installment in his “Living on Bitcoin in Europe” sequence. Catch up on Colin’s earlier adventures in Living on Bitcoin in Europe: From Amsterdam to Prague, No Money Required and Living on Bitcoin in Europe: Excessive on the Hog in Arnhem.

There’s one thing you could perceive earlier than we proceed. There’s a distinct vibe to the European bitcoin scene. It’s extra uncooked, extra “f*** the state.” The easiest way I can suppose to explain it’s — it’s extra cypherpunk. And this conviction bleeds into the mainstream, seeping from the perimeter of Europe’s tradition into its central fold.

For instance, on two separate events in Arnhem I met an entire stranger who, although not working in Bitcoin, owned bitcoin. As soon as was in the cab with Patrick van der Meijde (the founding father of BitKassa) upon arriving in Arnhem, and the opposite time was whereas speaking with a stranger outdoors the restaurant Meem: Eten en Drinken. These had been common dudes in a smaller Dutch metropolis (and, although it’s arguably a bitcoin hotspot, my level stands). 

Within the cities I went to on my journey, not solely did most precoiners learn about bitcoin, however they took it severely (sufficient). And this may solely make sense as a result of the bitcoiners in these areas took it very severely in a distinct, crypto-anarchist type of manner.

In fact, I’m talking from (not for) the angle of an America citizen. An uncannily proficient, impartial developer advised me in San Francisco that Silicon Valley is simply too steeped in shitcoinery and VC-backed blockchain initiatives; then, on the east coast, you have got the fits.

This isn’t to say America doesn’t have a powerful bitcoin group. We do; it’s simply completely different. Related incentives, completely different execution. My fellow Individuals, don’t take this as a derision or judgement. It’s simply an remark, one which I’m persevering with to unpack (and take a look at) throughout my European journey. 

With that, let’s go to Berlin.

‘No, You Didn’t’

I ended up lacking my prepare connection from Duisburg to Berlin as a result of there was a platform change and the PA system operator had the audacity to make the announcement solely in their native German. (I imply, actually, think about how annoying it have to be to accommodate a international language!)

Calling an audible, I caught a distinct prepare run by a distinct firm. My ticket wasn’t fungible, although, and all the seats had been reserved (some German prepare traces have an ingenious system for reserving seats for particular legs of a visit like, say, Duisburg to Dusseldorf). I spent many of the experience on the ground in the vestibule by the entry/exit doorways, alternating sides relying on which door was going through the platform at every cease. Enjoying the ignorant American, I prevented the reprimand of a conductor who, after checking my ticket and seeing it was for one more firm, stated she’d let it slip this time. 

Upon arriving in Berlin, I instantly topped off my Uber account with credit score from Bitrefill, ordered a experience and made my method to Room 77.

Room 77. Supply

If Arnhem is the Bitcoin metropolis, then Room 77 is the Bitcoin bar. It’s the oldest bitcoin-accepting bar in Europe, and conceivably the world, as its proprietor, Joerg Platzer, started accepting bitcoin in Could 2011. And it’s been a bitcoiner watering gap ever since, and for the weekend of the Lightning Convention, it might come alive every night time with a bustling throng of bitcoin freaks from all corners of the world.

The very first thing you see is the neon signal blazoning the Bitcoin emblem, a luminescent orange beacon glowing for many who know to look. Inside, Room 77 appears like every typical dive — solely it’s festooned with cypherpunk/Bitcoin memorabilia. Over two cubicles to the left of the doorway, posters of Ross Ulrbicht, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange (captioned with quotes) overlook patrons sipping pilsners. Amongst these icons of cryptoanarchy is a “Have you ever seen this house cat?” poster bearing hodlonaut’s psuedonymous caricature. 

On this similar wall, there’s a fiat foreign money burner, which does precisely what it appears like. Within the stomach of its plain glass equipment, discarded euros of assorted denominations lay crimped, curled and charred in a mattress of grayish soot. Maybe mockingly, a KYC-free bitcoin ATM sat throughout from this fiat disposal (why burn and never convert?).

Additional studying: Take a look at technical editor Aaron van Wirdum’s expertise at Room 77 final yr after the #lightninghackday.

As I got here in, I greeted Rod Roudi and John Christovich, two of our gross sales employees at Bitcoin Journal, and took a seat subsequent to Bitcoin Journal Technical Editor Aaron van Wirdum. Instantly throughout from me on the nook in the bar the place they course of bitcoin transactions was an indication demanding that clients not ship cash from Coinbase, Gemini, Bitstamp, and so forth.

Nearly instantly upon my arrival, Sergej Kotliar and a few Bitrefill group members got here in, a humorous coincidence since I had simply taken Uber, paid for with Bitrefill to get to the bar — or so I believed.

“I simply used Uber credit score from Bitrefill to get right here,” I semi-shouted over the rising noisiness of the bar.

“No, you didn’t,” Sergej responded definitively after a short pause. 

I’ve come to study in this business that, for those who suppose you’re completely proper and somebody whose been round longer than you says you’re improper, it’s best to most likely shut up (one thing I discovered early on working below Aaron). In fact, this logic could possibly be prolonged to something, however anyway, after going backwards and forwards for a minute, I noticed that I used to be, in truth, improper.

I had purchased USD credit score; Bitrefill doesn’t promote EUR credit score but (one in every of Bitrefill’s advertising and marketing and technique guys on the bar stated that he was really working on this). My error was in assuming that, as with bank card transactions in Europe, this credit score would mechanically convert. A silly assumption, bro, however bitcoin positively fixes this.

I had cheated unintentionally, which was a bummer as a result of I used to be trying ahead to utilizing Uber credit score for the Spin bicycles and scooters which have invaded Berlin’s streets. However powerful luck, I assume. 

After swallowing my pleasure (and a beer, or two or three with it — which I paid for on-chain to the chagrin of a disgruntled, bushy-bearded bartender), I walked to the lodge The Firm™ had booked for the Bitcoin Journal writers to relaxation up earlier than the primary day of the convention.

Lightning Strikes

The following morning, I wakened subsequent to a Romanian man. No, I didn’t get that drunk. Let me clarify:

I had initially meant on reserving a room by CryptoCribs, the crypto-only AirBnB different that you just’ve doubtlessly by no means heard of or used and which, as I discovered, apparently nobody registered on the positioning nonetheless makes use of both. I attempted to e book six or seven completely different lodging however heard crickets; once I lastly thought I had one nailed down, they cancelled on my method to Berlin.

So I shacked up with Vlad Costea, a tall Romanian with shoulder-length, curly black hair who’d lately joined Bitcoin Journal as one in every of our principal writers. He was variety sufficient to let me crash in the king-sized mattress we had booked for him. Missing lodging, I fortunately acquiesced. 

“After which I might be in your story,” he advised me with a smile.

We woke and went right down to the foyer for breakfast, which, at 21 euro, Vlad critiqued as being fairly steep. So, dude piled on the meals — a mountain of pastries, fruit, yogurt and meat such as you wouldn’t consider. I revered his rationale: “If I’m going to pay that a lot, then I’m going to have my fill,” he defined.

Vlad paid my manner ahead (I had discovered one other human ATM, it appears) after which we made our manner by way of elevated rail to the convention.

A Lightning-Powered Playground

We entered the convention website, a two-story industrial constructing close to the banks of the Spree River. The talks had already begun and Jameson Lopp was wrapping up his presentation on enterprise Lightning companies. Rows of conference-goers numbering in the tons of sat listening attentively. 

Wanting to spend my bitcoin in each conceivable manner, I rushed to the hackerspace on the second story, the place a sandbox of Lightning-powered instruments had been ready to be performed with.

The entire ground was wealthy with alternatives to spend LBTC. There have been two Lightning ATMs, a Lightning merchandising machine, a Lightning photobooth and a Lightning electrical scooter (which, to my dismay, didn’t really work). There was additionally a Avenue Fighter clone that required a 100-satoshi deposit from every participant; by the match, every hit would subtract a sat from the injured participant’s HP bar and reward it to the opposite participant, and you could possibly refill your HP by satisfying a Lightning QR bill displayed on the display. 

Two “Blockstream spies” duking it out on the Lightning Avenue Fighter clone

And that was only for starters. I’ve typically held the opinion that conferences are simply massive events. The talks and networking, whereas positively helpful, aren’t way more than an excuse to get hammered with individuals in your line of labor — for bitcoin, this implies throwing a rager for a bunch of buddies you’ve solely ever met on-line.

So it was to be anticipated that there could be alcohol for buy with bitcoin. And there was, for 402 sats or three cents. It was so grime low-cost, it felt, I think about, like ingesting throughout Prohibition, besides I used to be paying with a cyber foreign money that will be unimaginable to clarify to somebody from that point, when the best technological achievement was the radio. 

There was additionally a punch mixer (the Satoshi 12) created by Bitcoin im Turm, a German bitcoin podcast and collective. The dispenser, for a nonetheless modest 12,000 sats, would spit out punches with such punnily colourful names because the Matt Colado, the Hal Ginney and (my favourite) Shitcoin Punch. Tastes like school, I believed, wincing at my shitcoin combine.

The Satoshi 12 punch mixer

All through the convention, I might return to those founts of liquidity time and time once more. I additionally examined lots of the hacking initiatives on show, specifically, the ATMs and the photobooth. As I tinkered with these, an worker from Fold sauntered by sporting a building helmet flanked on both facet with miniature propellers and a QR code — a Lightning fee would ship the propellers whirring. 

It is a playground.

A Spacecat, Romanian and Dutchman Stroll Right into a Bar

A geeky playground however a playground nonetheless. I used to be weaving in and out of conversations when Vlad messaged me. 

“Colin, I’ve somebody right here who needs to satisfy you. He is likely to be an area cat.” 

Oh hells yeah. 

Again in February 2019, I coated a narrative about an nameless Twitter consumer (represented by an astronautical tabby cat and bearing the deal with @hodlonaut) beginning a Lightning fee chain referred to as the Lightning Torch. Then I wrote about him once more when Craig Wright sued the astrocat for calling him a fraud on Twitter after which once more when funds had been raised for his authorized protection. (This was all moderately arduous to clarify to my girlfriend.) 

We’ve been in contact and have at all times spoken of assembly. Extracting myself from a dialog or two, I rushed right down to the stage space. Towards the again, he was leaning in opposition to a concrete windowsill subsequent to Vlad and Katia Dolzhenko, Trezor’s social media head.

Now, I do know what you’re considering. The place’s the descriptor Colin? You at all times describe them. Given the lawsuit with CSW, it might be impolite — no, reckless — of me to explain our good friend. However I’ll. The story calls for it, and the reality could shock you. You might discover it arduous to consider, even, however nonetheless. 

The hero we’d like however don’t deserve, hodlonaut.

What you could know, or perceive, is that he’s not nameless in any respect. Not even pseudonymous. He’s really a cat, man (suppose Khajiit from Skyrim). However he hardly ever travels with the spacesuit. This time, he wore a black shirt and black pants, creamsicle fur spilling out of the collar and cuffs.

We clasped arms and headed out to the Bitcoin espresso space outdoors, offered by Paralelní Polis. Peter Bas, a Dutch programmer who coded the Lightning Torch web site, joined us.

The dialog bounced between the absurdity of the lawsuit, the unlikely success of the Lightning Torch and the way electrical the convention was. I needed to keep chill across the spacecat and never gawk an excessive amount of. In spite of everything, this cat had reached near-mythical significance throughout the Bitcoin group.

When the convention concluded, he, Vlad, Katia, Peter and I went out to dinner. The meals of selection? Tacos, in fact — nicely, German tacos, which extra resembled deconstructed enchiladas.

I had at all times been advised about European Mexican meals however had by no means skilled it. I didn’t have the center to refuse hodlonaut his cat meals of selection. It was nonetheless good, simply completely different. Like every time one tradition appropriates delicacies from one other, you find yourself with an odd mix of the 2.

A gaggle of Norwegian bitcoiners joined us, and after we paid (hodlonaut coated my meal), we made our method to the official convention afterparty…

Which was full, so we went to Room 77 as a substitute.

I purchased a spherical of drinks with Lightning, however the first time I attempted, the fee didn’t undergo. Second time, the community discovered a method to route it.

We sat down in a sales space below the adventurous gaze of hodlonaut’s avatar postered on the wall. In sum, we had been Norwegian, American, Dutch, Ukranian and feline. Distinct nationalities united below a standard trigger.

With the night time stretching into the later hours, Room 77 swelled with bitcoiners. They got here from each continent save Antarctica to commune, study, educate and collaborate. A collision of tradition, enthusiasm and concepts. 

If I might translate the present of enthusiasm and artistic power that surges by these convention — what I see when a developer’s eyes mild up they usually focus on the tech — people again dwelling wouldn’t suppose that the bitcoin factor is so loopy.

This, and different matters, filtered by my thoughts whereas Vlad and I walked again to the lodge.

Day two of the convention: New day, similar routine. Breakfast then convention and loads of these spotty, happenstance conversations that materialize once you stumble upon individuals you recognize (whether or not from on-line or irl).

I sat in on impartial journalist and “Block Digest” host Janine Roem’s presentation on Lightning and journalism. I spoke to many builders and groups, brushing up on the variations between Lightning implementations and studying about what new options they’re all growing.

My funds had been working low (and bitcoin was taking a beating, slumping a handful of proportion factors over the week), so I took benefit of one thing I by no means get to do in the U.S.: I purchased bitcoin with money, KYC-free.

Paralelní Polis, the hackers commune in Prague that I might go to just a few days later, put in an ATM by its Bitcoin Espresso stand. It politely requested me if I used to be a politically-exposed citizen, which I discovered virtually comically thoughtful. The method was easy and really low charge, one thing like 1 p.c. I couldn’t shut up about all of it convention; coming from the States, KYC-free bitcoin, by way of ATM or in any other case, is tough to come back by until you’re utilizing Bisq or “know a man.” Right here, I might do it with out batting an eye fixed.

Time flew because it’s need to do — particularly once you’re bombarded with social stimulation at a convention like this. 

As issues wound down on the second day, I discovered myself outdoors trying to find a course. I discovered it, or it discovered me, when some French bitcoiners grabbed me to see if I needed to go take a look at c-base, the self-described oldest hacker group in the world. I had meant to go along with Brennan, a man who began, a bitcoin-only supply service manned by a fleet of supply bikers (enterprise had been booming due to the convention). I had missed my likelihood although, having been caught up recording a recap of the convention with Vlad and Aaron for the Bitcoin Journal “Bitcoin Blissful Hour” podcast.

As destiny would have it, I might be going all the identical.


The French bitcoiners had been variety sufficient to let me apply my frightfully American French. One in all these poor souls, who bore the worst of my linguistic transgressions, was a petite girl with wide-rimmed glasses, Léa Thiebaut. She’s one of many co-founders of the Breaking Bitcoin and Constructing on Bitcoin conferences, alongside Pierre Lorcery and Kevin Loaec. As bitcoiners do, we spent the stroll waxing poetic concerning the expertise’s potential and what attracted us to the business.

After a brief promenade, we had reached c-base. The doorway was tucked away in an alley. The all-metal door bore varied Bitcoin and cypherpunk stickers. An outdated PC mouse served as a doorbell.

We gave it a hoop and had been promptly granted entrance by a gangly, bespectacled American whom we’ll name Hyperlink. Hyperlink’s blond hair was common right into a ponytail and an unusually distinguished Adam’s apple bobbed up and down his skeletal neck as he talked.

Getting into the premises, we discovered ourselves in a metallic terminal referred to as the airlock. On the opposite facet of this passageway, the house opened as much as a bar (which accepts bitcoin relying on the bartender working it) and a lounging space. Displays dotted with a motley of switches, and dials and blinking buttons lined the partitions. The whole room, dimly lit with neon fluorescence like a laser tag enviornment, was glowing like a cypherpunk Christmas tree. A multi-monitor display was positioned behind one of many communal tables, although it was off and I didn’t know what its perform was.

C-base entrance. Supply

There have been a variety of us, so excursions of the place had been break up into two teams; after ready round for the primary tour to complete, Léa, Pierre and I started ours, together with just a few others. We began in the airlock and had been rapidly educated about c-base’s completely legit origins.

“So, c-base,” Hyperlink started, pausing with just a few “uhhs” as he spoke, “is an area station from three,000 years in the long run which crashed in this space four billion years in the previous.” 


This lore got here out of nowhere, and Hyperlink introduced it with both stoic sincerity or deadpan irony. On the very least, he didn’t break character (if there was one to interrupt) and defined the entire thing very soberly. 

As we continued to the basement, the mystique grew. An area station module, whose USB port unlocked the secrets and techniques of the universe (its previous and its future — our previous and our future). The rust-bucket spacecraft was additionally able to launch again to its dwelling in the celebs at a second’s discover, Hyperlink assured us. Round us, members tapped away at their computer systems. Behind the module, a person (presumably the resident librarian) watched over a library.

Persevering with into the bottom, we needed to ring an alarm that introduced to the c-base members that “Aliens are right here.” A warning ring adopted by a tongue I couldn’t decipher heralded our trespass for the opposite members. On this communal space usually closed off to extraterrestrials, hackers had been located at multi-monitored stations and watched us as we walked by.

From right here, Hyperlink took us into a pc hardware workshop, a good room with cabinets stocked and bins bulging with cords and chips and another hardware you could possibly think about. 

“Issues simply present up right here. It’s loopy,” a rotund German hacker seated at his desk in the room stated. As he stated this, Hyperlink picked up what appeared like a toy alien gun which had miraculously spawned there the opposite day. 

In one other room, a carpenter’s workspace. Hyperlink defined to us that hacking isn’t restricted to what you are able to do on the pc. C-base additionally welcomes craftsmen and artists. Principally, the thought goes, for those who can create one thing of worth or enhance on one thing else, the phrase hacker applies (the idea of “life hack” involves thoughts). One instance: The house has an automatic web page turner for books that employs a vacuum. 

‘The Thought of Bitcoin Existed Earlier than Bitcoin Itself’

Having seen the house, we went again above floor, and since everybody was both hungry or thirsty, we made our method to Room 77.

For the third night time in a row, I purchased my beer with bitcoin (which, with my Lightning pockets depleted, took some time for the on-chain fee to clear) and communed with the worldwide Bitcoin scene. 

I had the pleasure of connecting with Joerg, the founding father of Room 77. Asking him concerning the impetus for making the bar’s schtick a Bitcoin one, the long-time cypherpunk stated that bitcoin was the primary actually profitable cryptocurrency. As a confluence of the technical specs of its predecessors like e-gold, bitgold and others, Joerg stated, bitcoin lastly realized what had been dreamed of for many years. 

“The thought of bitcoin existed earlier than bitcoin itself,” he stated. “So when it was lastly created, I knew this was it. It did what the others earlier than it didn’t.”

I stayed out previous 1:00 a.m., clinging to the ultimate hours of the festivities and speaking to as many bitcoiners as I might earlier than all of us made our remoted journeys dwelling, hopefully to satisfy once more at one other convention at one other time.

Strolling again to my lodge, the whole lot was all of a sudden calm, just like the receding tide on a moonless night time. However my thoughts was dashing with a present of speedy ideas as I took inventory of the journey thus far and mentally ready myself for the subsequent and remaining leg to Prague.

The publish Living on Bitcoin in Europe: Lightning Strikes in Berlin appeared first on Bitcoin Journal.

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