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Bitcoin in Berlin

Over the past two years, Berlin has gained a reputation as one of the Bitcoin capitals of the world. Around the city, there are nearly two dozen restaurants and shops accepting the currency, including six concentrated in a single block. Room77, the restaurant that started it all, holds Bitcoin meetups on the first Thursday of every month, and dozens of people attend. The most recent meetup on August 1 saw unusually high attendance, with a number of prominent Bitcoin activists from Europe and around the world attending; stateless political activist Mike Gogulski, Defense Disributed‘s Cody Wilson, Bitcoin developer Amir Taaki, operator Oliver Flaskamper and Mihai Alisie and myself from Bitcoin Magazine were all present.

The story started with Room77, a restaurant specializing in burgers located in the heart of Kreuzberg, a district of Berlin known for its left-anarchist history. The restaurant’s owner, Joerg Platzer, first started accepting Bitcoin in 2011, just before the peak of the first bubble in June. Several news sources in the local media reported on the event, showing customers paying around 0.5 BTC for a burger. Like all other Bitcoin-related businesses, Room77 faded somewhat in prominence as the 2011 bubble collapsed, but the restaurant kept going, and at the end of 2012 Platzer started the Bitcoin Kiez, a campaign to expand Bitcoin’s presence in the city to beyond just the one restaurant. In November, Platzer announced two new businesses accepting Bitcoin, by December the figure was up to six, and now, after seven months of continued expansion in 2013, the total count on the semi-official map stands at 17.

It is important to point out that the picture of the Bitcoin Kiez in Berlin is not quite so rosy as some of its more fervent enthusiasts claim. The media hype around the area can easily lead one to have the impression that the neighborhood around Room77 is plastered with Bitcoin-accepting businesses almost one after the other, and Bitcoin is “as easy to use as cash“. In reality, however, even in the heart of the Kiez around Room77 one needs to look hard to find the other Bitcoin businesses around. Having nine businesses all within several hundred meters of each other may seem like a lot on paper, but given that there are several hundred fiat-only businesses within three hundred meters of Room77, it ends up appearing somewhat underwhelming when one actually goes there. The other nine Bitcoin-accepting locations in Berlin are scattered around the city; you need to make a specific effort to find and go to each one. That said, however, the success of the Bitcoin Kiez in Berlin should not be understated; there is no other city in the world with even ten Bitcoin-accepting locations, with second place perhaps going to San Francisco with around five. Berlin is thus pretty much the only city in the world where one can live entirely on Bitcoin without relying on an established support network, and enjoy the experience. The city has restaurants accepting Bitcoin, a tour guide, places to live through either 9flats or and a thriving Bitcoin and hacker scene. And things are only going to get better.

For a more detailed look at Bitcoin in Berlin, be sure to look out for the upcoming issue 13 of our magazine. Additionally, Solene and Lorenza from the European Bitcoin community have provided a large number of pictures from the Bitcoin meetups:

BTC: 1FxkfJQLJTXpW6QmxGT6oF43ZH959ns8Cq

LTC: LaBhvWiAP7msku6w8QSQ5G7omVWMF3uxJC


Vitalik Buterin is a co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine who has been involved in the Bitcoin community since 2011, and has contributed to Bitcoin both as a writer and the developer of a fork of bitcoinjs-lib, pybitcointools and, as well as one of the developers behind Egora. Now, Vitalik's primary job is as the main developer of Ethereum, a project which intends to create a next-generation smart contract and decentralized application platform that allows people to create any kind of decentralized application on top of a blockchain that can be imagined.

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  • The Three A’s

    I was having my children learn Chinese, and was going to also emphasize Spanish. Perhaps, I should dust off my old German language books instead!

    • Vitalik Buterin

      Hehe, I have plans (well underway for German and to a lesser extent Spanish so far) to learn all three well myself.

    • Lucas

      As German is the most spoken language in Europe you definitely should ;)

      • Alby

        Technically, Russian is the most spoken European Language, with 140,000,000 people using it. Unless the Europeans don’t view their neighbor to the east as European. lol

        • Lucas

          I’d say the geographical Europe ends at the Ural Mountains, so most part of Russia isn’t (through the part with the biggest population is). But since even Israel is part of Europe when it comes to Eurovision Songcontest, European Football Championship, etc. I’m also ok with the rest of Russia^^

          It would have been more accurate if I’ve said it’s the most spoken language in the EU, as Wikipedia says.

          • Alby

            That is interesting. Israel is part of Europe. More like the Middle East to me. I suppose the Israelis don’t want to be associated with their Arab brothers. lol

  • Alby

    If the business owners accept Bitcoin and then turn around and sell them for Euros, the bitcoin experiment is a failure. Such practices make bitcoin nothing more than a Coupon.

    • Vitalik Buterin

      I elaborate on this in the print issue :) Most of these business owners actually keep the BTC for themselves.

      • Alby

        ..and do what with them? Are they buying their supplies with bitcoins? Paying employees with bitcoins? Paying taxes with bitcoins? They can “claim” they are keeping their bitcoins. But in reality, it’s just a matter of time until they sell their bitcoins for Euros in order to exist in the real world. Workers need Euros. Commercial Landlords expect rent in Euros. Restaurant suppliers expect Euro payments. The Government wants their taxes in Euros. This all means businesses which accept bitcoins have to turn around and sell them for Euros. Thus making bitcoins a coupon with a time to live date stamped on them.

        • Lucas

          I think you are on the wrong website?
          You must have a starting point. Of course they can’t do much with Bitcoins they earned right now, but maybe the next business accepting Bitcoins is hairdresser and the owner of the restaurant is able to get his hair cut for Bitcoins and so on. The world doesn’t change from one day to another

          • Alby

            The thing about “money” is that it’s just a tool we use to facilitate trade. Using bitcoins is really more of a wealth transfer tool than a facilitator of trade. Also money must be accompanied with Trust. One must have trust that money used in a trade is able to hold it’s value. Bitcoin value changes so rapidly, that trusting it for more than a few minutes comes with major risk. How could anybody sign a contract denominated in Bitcoins for a year or more and reasonably expect it’s value to remain unchanged? Just imagine somebody who would have signed an apartment lease at $240US=1/Bitcoin in March/April, only to now have that value cut in half? Great for the renter, no so much for the owner. These unstable prices will also keep bitcoin in the margins of finance. One would be better off using Gold or Silver Coins than Bitcoins.

          • Lucas

            As I said, we need to start somewhere. With wider adoption comes more price stability. Gold and Silver Coins are just less unstable because they are harder to trade.
            Or what is your solution for the problem?

        • Vitalik Buterin

          I don’t know, I did not ask them. I think that there’s a high chance that they are just saving them at this point.

          • Alby

            It would be interesting to get an accounting of their bitcoin inflows and outflows. If they accept bitcoins and just stockpile them, how do they keep buying ingredients to supply their restaurant? Oh course, if bitcoin inflows make up 1% of the sales, maybe they can just stockpile them. But if bitcoins make up 20% or more of revenue, I can’t imagine they aren’t selling BTCs for Euros in order to replenish their supplies in the real world.

  • George McHugh

    Awesome article! That meetup sounds like it was a blast.