The story of the first walkable Bitcoin neighbourhood in the World.
The Netherlands were the first Bitcoin Boulevard in the world as of March 20th. Eight restaurants, bars, and an art gallery located on quaint old canal streets in The Hague, unofficially have renamed their area to Bitcoin Boulevard. You can pay for your meals and drinks with Bitcoin starting from that day. Having already worked together as Avenue Culinaire to promote the fine cooking of their restaurants, the entrepreneurs of these bars and restaurants now join forces to promote the option to pay with Bitcoin -the much talked about digital cash- in what is labeled as The Bitcoin Boulevard.
Three volunteers from The Hague were the driving forces behind this project. They spent many hours and worked voluntarily aside from their normal day jobs to make this first Bitcoin Boulevard possible. I interviewed two of them, Hendrik Jan Hilbolling and Peter Klasen, to tell me their story on the launch of this first Bitcoin Boulevard.
Christien Havranek: Please tell me, how do you know each other and how did it all start?
Hendrik Jan: Peter and I have known each other for 20 years, and did a couple of projects together. Our first project had to do with the developing of internet in the Netherlands. Around 1995, when internet was coming up, there was a battle between Amsterdam (De Digitale Stad) and The Hague to get internet accepted. We started the Digitale Hofstad and we had the goal to get internet in every living room. Now we are working to integrate Bitcoin as much as possible. Next to internet, we see Bitcoin as the biggest development of the last 100 years. The similarity between internet and Bitcoin is that they both change the society and economy. They push the state and the bank aside, and stimulate the direct cooperation of people. The relation of trust pays the central role and a 3rd party is eliminated.
CH: How did you learn about Bitcoin?
HJ: In May 2013 during the Cyprus crisis I heard a lot about Bitcoins. It got me interested and I started reading about it. After that I bought some Bitcoins. Although I already knew about their existence before, they did not interest me much. But after the bank problems in Cyprus, the idea that it is possible to put the normal bank out of the game triggered me.
Peter Klasen: During our usual pancake night, the ‘soirée crêpes’, HJ told us about Bitcoins, and wanted to introduce the acceptance of it in some restaurants in The Hague. I was not motivated immediately, because I did not really know about the digital currency and its possible consequences, but became open minded to the coin and started thinking about it though. In the autumn of 2013 I was on a hiking holiday with Her Putman, the owner of the eatery ‘Eethuis de Zon’. A couple of days earlier he had bought some Bitcoins. Hendrik Jan was sending sms messages to Her with the current Bitcoin rate every day. The rate was increasing and it started to interest me more and more. That made us think seriously that it would be a good idea to introduce Bitcoins in some restaurants in The Hague.
CH: How do you know the people from the Dunne Bierkade and why did you decide to start the initiative there?
PK: I know Her, owner of restaurant De Zon, and he was already busy starting to accept Bitcoins in his restaurant. To us it seemed a great idea to make paying with Bitcoin possible in this whole street, and even area, that was already well known and working together as the Wereldgracht and Avenue Culinaire. We were brainstorming and came with the idea to give it a try, especially because The Hague would be the first in the world with a whole street where it is possible to pay with Bitcoins. So we went to Henk van Tijen, to introduce this idea, and he was enthusiastic to introduce the Bitcoin to the proprietors of the restaurants to enlighten them about Bitcoin. And a lot of them were positive, reacted with enthusiasm.
CH: Please tell me something about the integration of the Bitcoin payment system at the participants. Is the Bitcoin payment system already integrated by all of them?
HJ: We’ve setup a simple solution that didn’t cost anything and without any obligation. I made wallets at Blockchain.info and a Gmail address for all the owners. Peet created a printed card with the QR-tag of the receiving address of the wallet for each owner. This card could be placed on the bar. And Peter made an interactive webpage where the owner could enter the amount in Euro. Clicking OK presented a webpage with a QR-tag that contained the receiving address and the amount in bitcoin to be paid. The customer could then scan this QR-tag with a wallet app on a mobile phone and send the money. A crucial moment was the failing Blockchain.info site, but luckily it came back up. Now we start rolling out a professional system of either BIPS.com or Bitmymoney.com.
CH: How are the participating restaurants coping with the acceptance of Bitcoin?
HJ: As the Bitcoin payment is not already booming at the moment, a lot of them come around very well. One participant stopped accepting Bitcoins right after the first day, we still don’t know exactly why. Another had some problems on the first day with an employer and the system. They did not have the right tools for the payments. Their attitude towards Bitcoin was a bit struggling right from the beginning. After this particular bar stopped accepting Bitcoin, the owner almost became anti-Bitcoin. Which is a pity of course. But the others are all doing very well. Just one restaurant had a small problem on a day when there were too many Bitcoin payments. So they had to take a break for one evening with accepting the crypto currency. We improved the system and everything is working perfectly now, even at busy moments.
CH: You have the first Bitcoin ATM of the Netherlands in The Hague. Congrats! How did you get it?
HJ: When we introduced the Bitcoin Boulevard to the world, we received a lot of positive reactions. One of our tweets was retweeted at Reddit, and spread out by others, who proposed that we actually should have an ATM at the Boulevard as well. As we are doing the whole Bitcoin Boulevard voluntarily, we had no money to purchase one. It was really amazingly nice that people started a call for help, to get an ATM to the first Bitcoin Boulevard of the world. Bitcoin Suisse’s owner, Niklas Nikolajsen, was the one who could deliver us an ATM. They stopped all their other activities, and with 12 employees they worked on it to get the ATM as soon as possible to The Hague, to be right on time for the grand opening. They raced in a Jaguar with 2 ATM’s in it to the Netherlands with a speed of 250 km/h on Germany’s autobahns, – I think it was two ATM’s to keep the car in balance – and despite a big traffic jam in the Netherlands they made it on time and arrived in The Hague at 11 AM on the day of the grand opening. After a few hours of sleep, 2 hours before opening time they fixed it to install the ATM. That was really exciting! We are very thankful to everybody who made the first Bitcoin ATM in the Netherlands a fact, and feel very honored that people helped us making it possible to get it here, in The Hague.
CH: What about it being the first Bitcoin Boulevard in the world? There must have been a lot of attention for this.
HJ: The opening was a big success. In the Netherlands big cities have an unofficial “night mayor”, who has a leading role in nightlife, bars and special events. We asked René Bom, the night mayor of The Hague, to perform at the opening of the Bitcoin Boulevard, which took place at the exact starting time of the astronomic spring – on 17:57 at the 20th of March. There was a lot of press attention like Dutch newspapers, and even a journalist of the French newspaper Le Monde came to do an article on the Boulevard for his paper. It is great to experience that others are contacting us now for advice about introducing Bitcoins in their companies and even for cooperation – for example people in Denmark, Belgium and in Ohio. At the moment we are busy to connect with as many initiatives as possible that want to start Bitcoin Boulevards too. We would like to build a whole network of Bitcoin Boulevards, connecting all over the world.
Visit the Bitcoin Boulevard in The Hague.