Living on Bitcoin in Europe: Wrapping It Up in the “Parallel State”


Bitcoin Journal provided reporter Colin Harper with a fistful of sats and set him free in Europe. That is the fourth 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, Living on Bitcoin in Europe: Excessive on the Hog in Arnhem and Living on Bitcoin in Europe: Lightning Strikes in Berlin.

Bitcoin Journal journalist Vlad Costea didn’t make it again to our resort room till Three:00 a.m. or so, which made for a short relaxation, as his flight departed round 7:00 a.m. I woke as much as discover his aspect of the mattress fully made, so I questioned if he even slept in any respect. He left me some cash with which to pay the breakfast tab we’d been accumulating with the resort, and I despatched him some bitcoin in return. 

After breakfast, I met up with Kevin Mulcrone, a Denver-based software program engineer for RADAR, who works on Lightning stuff. We had synced up earlier than the convention and I advised him about the Living on Bitcoin experiment. He was staying in Europe after the occasion like me and, with a while to kill in the days succeeding the convention, requested if he may tag together with me to Prague. 

“For certain, bro,” was the apparent response, as I used to be stoked to have a journey buddy. And together with his bushy beard, style for jam bands, dedication to Bitcoin and customarily chill vibe, it might be arduous to seek out one other companion whose persona was so in-kind with my very own (it additionally helped that I may purchase my practice ticket by him in bitcoin, however this was secondary). 

However earlier than we boarded for the (over) four-hour practice trip to Prague, I needed to go to a bit of the Berlin Wall. I hadn’t had a lot time for touristy issues throughout the convention, however this was one historic landmark I needed to see earlier than I left. 

Living on Bitcoin in Europe: The Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall

The Wall, whereas unassuming at a distance, towers with a bespoke gravity that solely turns into extra obvious the nearer you get. Its concrete — filled with chips, cracks, graffiti and body-sized clefts — do greater than inform a narrative: They emit an aura of significance. The Berlin Wall looms over spectators as a specter of certainly one of the most impactful geopolitical shifts in trendy historical past, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union.

“[T]he spectre of Communism,” as Marx wrote in the “Communist Manifesto,” is certainly “haunting Europe” to at the present time — for higher or worse, relying on who you ask. I had skilled this haunting myself in my transient interactions with Berlin’s hacker group. And I’d once more in Prague, as the impetus behind the cypherpunk ethos in Europe turned more and more clear. 

Paralelní Polis: Bitcoin Accepted “All the Time” 

We arrived in Prague shortly earlier than sundown and humped it to the Airbnb, which I’d booked with credit score bought on Bitrefill. After getting dinner and some rounds of the Czech Republic’s scrumptious and inexplicably low cost beer, we crashed early in order to be contemporary for our first full day in the metropolis. 

The subsequent day we breakfasted at a Czech bakery and checked out a Czech nationwide historical past museum. Simply as I’d completed with my different programmer buddy, Dustin Dettmer, throughout Living on Bitcoin in San Francisco, I had Kevin appearing as a flesh-and-bone bitcoin ATM. However hey, good for him, as a result of the cash he obtained in return had been KYC-free (in all probability shouldn’t have mentioned that).

Anyhow, I used to be a bit behind on writing the article sequence for this absurd experiment, so we determined to hit up Paralelní Polis (PP) to do some work. Kevin had a function he was coding for RADAR Ion that he wanted to crank away at, as properly, so PP’s Bitcoin Espresso store was an apparent selection. 

I’ve to be sincere, I had heard so much about what’s arguably Europe’s premier cypherpunk haven, so possibly I had too many preconceived notions. However it was not what I used to be anticipating. C-base had this grunginess to it, virtually like a frat home however for nerds, not jocks. 

Living on Bitcoin: The Parallel State
The parallel state

However PP was clear. Modern, even: a contemporary industrial constructing that belies the anti-state intentions of an intensely devoted faction of crypto anarchists. Bitcoin Espresso was only one facet of this crypto mecca. The hacker house was underneath development, I used to be advised, in order that must wait for an additional day. 

I ordered two flat whites. For my fellow, much less bean-house-cultured Individuals, a flat white is principally a latte with much less milk. Which is what I believed a cappuccino is meant to be, however no matter, man. Language is bigoted. I requested if many individuals pay in bitcoin. The black-haired pixie-like barista dressed in all black answered, “All of the time,” with a little bit of a snicker. 

It was a dumb query, I noticed later, as a result of PP — each its espresso store and the cowork house it supplies upstairs — solely accepts cryptocurrencies. Certain, somebody may pay in litecoin, monero or ether, however like, c’mon, who would try this?

Normies, apparently, I’d discover out on my final day in Prague. Landon and Man got here into the store with the specific objective of shopping for crypto to pay for his or her coffees. Landon, an All-American boy from Kentucky with a happy-go-lucky perspective, had heard about PP and had come there explicitly to purchase espresso with cryptocurrency. So, he purchased some litecoin. (“Are you certain?” I winced, however he was simply spending it on espresso.)

Personally, I used to be amazed that anybody would undergo the extra steps of shopping for cash to purchase espresso after they may have gone throughout the avenue to purchase a cup with out the added trouble. However individuals do all of it the time, one barista advised me. Typically they get 20 individuals a day doing this. 

A curious Malicious program, I believed. However there it was once more — the fringe cypherpunk motion, even when solely as a novelty, bleeding into the centerfolds of society. I mentioned this ingenious consequence of Bitcoin Espresso’s solely accepting bitcoin with certainly one of its co-founders the identical day that Landon purchased child’s first crypto. 

“That Sounds Like Digital Gold”

However I’m getting forward of myself — again to our first full day in Prague. We requested the pixie woman if she knew of any good bitcoin-accepting eating places in the space. She advisable a Czech pub, U Sadu. Ending our espresso and work, we set out for the pub and hitched a free trip on Prague’s public transportation (which isn’t free, however, provided that we didn’t see a single public official examine for validated tickets, it was a helpful train in recreation idea).

Kev ordered a steak and I ordered pork with potato fritters, and we each had our fill of beer. I paid for the dinner on-chain, with Michael, the joint’s proprietor, processing the fee himself.

Sated by cheap-but-delicious Czech pilsners and porters, we headed again to the resort to show in.

The primary half of the subsequent day was fairly uneventful. We each labored for many of the morning and early afternoon. After we had been completed, we went to a Czech trendy artwork museum (which was free) after which took an evening tour of Prague Fort.

“Taking notes for my citadel,” Kevin wisecracked to me on the tour.

Marcus, who’s Irish however had moved to Prague after graduating from college, accompanied us on our stroll down from the citadel (located on a hill) to the Outdated City metropolis middle. Bitcoin inevitably got here up and we fielded his questions. After going forwards and backwards on a number of “bitcoin starter pack” strains of thought, he dropped what felt like a bombshell.

“Nicely, it sounds a bit like digital gold,” he mentioned. 

“Sure! Oh, my god,” I sputtered, fully flabbergasted. “You got here to that on your individual.”

Neither Kevin nor I had actually prompted that response or used these actual phrases. He got here to this conclusion by simply listening to us blabber on about bitcoin.

If this dude can come to that conclusion by simply listening, then possibly we’ve obtained a shot.

Again in Outdated City and subsequent to the Metro, I requested Marcus for his telephone quantity so I may ship him some bitcoin by DropBit. This, I consider, is the finest method to win individuals over. Give them some bitcoin, allow them to play with it, after which they’ll attain their very own conclusions.  

“Now you’ll be able to say you tipped your tour information in bitcoin,” he mentioned, earlier than making his descent into the Metro.

Hanging With Hemingway

Kevin and I made our method to the Absintherie, a bar that Katia Dolzhenko from Trezor had advisable, which, sure, sells absinthe and accepts bitcoin.

Living on Bitcoin - Kevin
Kevin was very excited to drink absinthe paid for in bitcoin.

Inside, we took a seat at the bar. The bartender greeted me in Czech, in fact. I flashed a clumsy and reticent smile. In an aggravated tone, she mentioned one thing about vacationers to her colleagues. I don’t know Czech, however I do know sufficient to grasp a cognate once I hear one. 

We ordered a respectfully run-of-the-mill absinthe and the waiter set it up. As the chilly water dripped from the fountain and into our cups, obliterating the dice of sugar on the serving spoon on its method down, I used to be telling Kevin that I used to be optimistic I had been in this actual bar a number of years prior. I had been visiting Prague with one other buddy, who had studied overseas with me in St. Andrews, Scotland. The déjà vu was a bit eerie, not simply because I had been to that bar earlier than, however as a result of I had returned to it because of bitcoin, as if it had been one thing inevitable. 

Living on Bitcoin: Our absinthe setup
Our absinthe setup

“Wasn’t there, like, a well-known creator who, like, drank straight absinthe all the time?” 

Kevin was speaking about Ernest Hemingway, and I answered by referring him to the protagonist, Robert Jordan, of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” who guzzles absinthe all through the story whereas he fights with a guerrilla resistance group in the mountains of Spain (and pursues the codependent affection of an excessively dainty maiden, Maria). In the left-hand nook of the bar, Hemingway loomed in portrait over patrons who had been consuming the consequence of his technology’s affect on “tradition.” The drink’s legendary significance has been fully abstracted away from actuality at this level (no, you don’t see inexperienced fairies).

Anyway, it was time to pay, so I requested if I may use bitcoin. A neatly dressed waiter with short-cropped blond hair started fiddling with a smartphone. It took him some time, however he lastly figured it out and produced a BitPay bill. Audible hissing.

Sure, reader, hiss away, as a result of I truly couldn’t pay the tab. My Samourai Pockets didn’t settle for the QR code normal set by BIP70, a typical that (so far as I can inform) BitPay alone makes use of. This was the first time I had run into BitPay on my journey and I used to be disillusioned, not least as a result of I couldn’t add “absinthe” to the record of issues I instantly bought with bitcoin. It was additionally proof that this bar, promoting bitcoin with a gilded sticker because it does, in all probability wasn’t a “true” bitcoin bar.

How poisonous of me. And to assume a 12 months in the past I didn’t contemplate myself a maximalist. 

Kevin paid and, a bit disillusioned, I instructed we head in for the night time.

The “Parallel State”

Technically, that is the place the story ends. The subsequent day, I’d be departing for Belgium to fulfill up with my girlfriend, Molly, and our associates, however I had one last item to do: I needed to return to PP to interview certainly one of its co-founders, Pavol. 

Kevin and I parted methods early in the morning and I went to a restaurant to work. Like a sinner with a responsible conscience, associates, I do admit: I spent fiat. Hélas, quelle tragédie! My convictions are in the rest room; I’ve deserted my ideas! 

However nah, it was type of a reduction. I didn’t have to fret about checking the restaurant beforehand or relying on another person for the buy. Plus, I’d be making my method to PP, anyway, which might give me the possibility but once more to spend bitcoin on espresso. 

Ivca, a tall blonde lady with lucid eyes who runs the coworking house, greeted me once I got here in. Pavol can be there later, she advised me, and she or he gave me a fast tour, which included the hacker house.

It was smaller than I anticipated, containing a convention desk in the entry room and a separate, plane-glassed room that I used to be advised would grow to be a podcast studio. PP was launching a brand new multimedia journalism challenge for the Czech hacker group, therefore the development. This basement was suffering from hacker widgets and doodads, together with a number of low-end laser cutters and Three-D printers. An outdated ASIC collected mud on a shelf. 

Upstairs is a coworking house, whose patrons pay solely in cryptocurrency. When PP started, they usual tables partly out of varied cardboard cartons as they had been low cost and durable, Ivca advised me. The aesthetic stays, and it provides an city, utilitarian appeal to the house. Upstairs is the lecture corridor the place talks, meetups and (most not too long ago) PP’s Hacker’s Congress happen.

Ivca regaled the historical past of the hacker house throughout the tour. Its inspiration dates again to Charta 77, an anti-Soviet inventive group that manifested in the late ’70s and dissolved in 1992. Certainly one of the founders, Václav Benda, penned an essay entitled “Paralelní Polis.” Actually translating to “Parallel State,” it conceptualizes another sociopolitical construction that operates exterior however side-by-side with the trendy state.

With this as a foundation, PP materialized with all of the ideology espoused by its predecessor group however with one essential, previously lacking part: decentralized forex.

“It’s a part of this place and its values,” Ivca advised me.

Certainly, bitcoin was the lacking piece and is what makes PP totally different than different anarchist communes. It has an anarchic forex, as properly.

“One factor we present individuals with cryptocurrencies is that you need to use it if you wish to be a member of parallel society,” Pavol Lupták, certainly one of PP’s founders, advised me over a piping-hot, glass pot of black tea. 

He recounted the origins of the group that Ivca had advised me about an hour earlier than, however he included a dialogue of Ztohoven, a Czech guerilla artwork group that’s well-known for, amongst different issues, changing the Czech flag at Prague Fort with a large pair of crimson underwear. (This group has collaborated with PP to hack into parliament members’ cell telephones to ship texts to one another urging reform, and to falsify a nuclear blast on nationwide TV.)

Differing Views

Artwork is definitely certainly one of the pillars of this cyber group; its triangular image represents artwork, science and expertise, and the widespread political intersections of every piece of this trifecta. The break in the triangle is supposed to represent the level the place PP’s confined, radical concepts leak into society’s bigger consciousness. (Case in level: Landon coming in to purchase espresso with cryptocurrency.)

“We wish to be international, and we wish to goal all individuals with a style for freedom. We wish to assist individuals transport their lives to [a] parallel society utilizing crypto applied sciences,” Pavol advised me. 

In the early days, accepting solely cryptocurrency was dangerous, he admitted. However finally, it caught on, he claims, and some native companies started accepting bitcoin as a result of they knew PP’s foot visitors may spill over into their very own shops.

I pitched Pavol my argument that Europe’s Bitcoin group (or at the least the members of which I had interacted with on this journey) had been, at the least, extra prepared to spend and settle for bitcoin and, at the most, extra cypherpunk than their American counterparts. He tended to agree and chalked it as much as historic variations.

“Not like the Central European, not like the Japanese European, Individuals don’t understand it absolutely,” he mentioned. “As a result of you don’t have any expertise with socialism, authoritarianism and dictatorial regimes. In Czechoslovakia and Central Europe, we even have much less freedom than we did 30 years in the past. However individuals understand that we’re transferring in the flawed path, again to totalitarian states. So the factor is that, what I feel the distinction is, it’s that Central Europeans, due to the historic context, they’re much extra capable of mirror on these totalitarian actions.”

Individuals, in contrast — and these are my phrases — are complacent and prepared to commerce privateness for comfort. To make sure, there are these of us who aren’t like this, and there are clearly these in Europe who’re just like most Individuals. However we have now lived in a democracy largely unimpeded by authoritarian atrocities. That’s why denizens of a state with the most monolithic surveillance capabilities in the world, satirically, aren’t as aware of the penalties of doubtless incipient authoritarian practices. 

“It’s a bit unusual as a result of the authentic cypherpunk motion got here from San Francisco,” Pavol mused. “I feel it’s that the U.S. is way much less free than it was in the starting of the ’90s throughout the cypherpunk motion. At the moment we had a freer, unregulated web; no censorship, no KYC, no AML — nothing.” 

This modified regularly with issues like the Patriot Act and the modern surveillance system that Edward Snowden blew the whistle on. 

Maybe the distinction is just expressed in belief: Most Individuals, disgruntled as they might be with the state of issues, belief the material of our democracy. 

“We don’t belief the authorities,” Pavol mentioned of his circle, joking that everybody thinks the identical in his group, so this may not be the finest instance. Then there’s the scarring impact of Soviet-era communism. 

Telling that Timothy Could lifts the first line of his well-known “The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto” from Marx: “A specter is haunting the trendy world, the specter of crypto anarchy.”

I thanked Pavol for the alternative to speak (and the inspiration) and took my go away.

In the Uber to the airport, I skilled what I can solely liken to mental fireworks. I ought to have been doing work, however the erratic navigation of my driver made me queasy every time I checked out my laptop display screen. So as an alternative, I stuffed my head with fantasies of constructing my very own hacker commune again residence in Nashville. Or maybe it might be a sustainable commune out someplace in the center of bumhuck nowhere, a crypto anarchist commune outfitted with mining rigs for warmth and earnings. By no means earlier than had I felt so energized or affirmed for working at this level in time with this particular expertise. Worth be damned. It is a software that works precisely as meant. 

The longer term is ours, associates. Now let’s exit and construct it.

The submit Living on Bitcoin in Europe: Wrapping It Up in the “Parallel State” appeared first on Bitcoin Journal.

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