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How Bitcoin Captured the Imagination — and Enthusiasm — of a City

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Ian Jackson, European correspondent for Inside Bitcoins, is visiting Arnhem, a bustling little city in the Netherlands — proclaimed as the “most bitcoin-friendly city in the world.”

ARNHEM, GELDERLAND (InsideBitcoins) –The Dutch are much beloved to Europeans. A polite, attractive people, well known for their friendliness, hospitality and sense of humour, the most inoffensive people on the continent remain open to innovation and forward thinking on a level which puts much of the rest of Europe to shame.  Everybody likes the Dutch.

When Inside Bitcoins reported that the city of Arnhem, located in the East of the country, was the most bitcoin-friendly city in the world, local enthusiasts were both surprised and delighted. The story went national, being reported initially in the regional newspaper Der Geldlander before being picked up elsewhere.

This is the reality of bitcoin. Friends sat around spending bitcoin, getting excited about its potential.”

Cafe Kleyn, ArnhemThe group of people I meet at bitcoin friendly Cafe Kleyn are a mixed group of bitcoin friendly enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and self confessed fanatics; the conversation drifts from topic to topic but always moves inexorably and perhaps joyfully back to the field of cryptocurrencies.

Most of the members of the group are here to spend an evening with friends but two in particular, Annet de Boer and Rogier Eijkelhof are particularly vocal in their appreciation of what bitcoin can do for the world; organisers of the Bitcoin city event and two members of what Annet affectionately describes as ‘the three’ — both have dedicated themselves to raising the profile of bitcoin by setting up Bitkassa, a free-to-use payment system for merchants.

“I compare bitcoin to email,” Rogier explains. “Email did not replace letters overnight; it was a really slow burn, but now? Hardly anyone sends letters anymore.”

Bitcoin is the future

For Rogier bitcoin is the future. A self made entrepreneur he casually mentions that the majority of his net worth is held as bitcoin the volatility of which does not concern him.

“When it goes down I lose a bit of money.” He shrugs, it’s new, and it will find its level. At any rate, I see existing financial institutions as morally wrong; the financial crises would not, could not have happened with Bitcoin.”

Annet agrees. “Bitcoin is still so young, but it will be as huge as the coming of the Internet. What motivates me,” she continues, “is that there are so many opinions out there but it’s all so ill informed, the press is so negative.”

A general murmur of agreement passes round the circle and though the rapid onset of Dutch expletives is lost on me, words such as ‘drugs’ and ‘mafia’ float by laden with sarcasm.

A buzz about bitcoin

This is the reality of bitcoin,” Roel, another member of bitcoinstad’s inner circle points out, “friends sat around spending bitcoin, getting excited about its potential.”

The conversation rolls on as the chill of the night air closes in outside; one member of the clique, Rob,  receives a good natured ribbing for his appearance on national news that day as the first person in the country to pay for his groceries using bitcoin at the ubiquitous ’Spar’ chain of stores.

Which begs the question, why is Arnhem so bitcoin friendly?

“We were very proactive,” Rogier explains. “Really, it’s just about education; we have been giving free seminars to the general public explaining why this new technology is so exciting. We developed Bitkassa and we went to the merchants, we showed them how it works, we explained that it is free and we said, look, try it ok? Try it for a week, try it for a day, it doesn’t matter.”

But it did matter; Arnhem is now a shining jewel of the bitcoin world, an example of how the enthusiasm of just a few people can create something so much larger than the sum of its parts. There is a buzz in the air of this unassuming city, people here understand the currency like nowhere else; bitcoinstad is not just a name, it’s a reality.

Bitcoin among friends

The evening draws to an end and phones are raised in an odd looking salute as bitcoin is transferred seamlessly from one to another so that the bill can be settled via a somewhat ironically by  ‘going Dutch.

“You only sent me 60 cents!” one of the attendants complains.

Roel double checks his wallet. “I sent my pin code by accident,” he confesses and endures a few minutes of rapid Dutch dripping with mocking tones.

This is Bitcoin City; this is the future of the currency, not multinationals wading in on the action, not furtive speculators trying to make a quick buck and certainly not financial institutions hell bent on monopolizing wealth. Just this: good food, good people and good times.

Ian Jackson is an Inside Bitcoins correspondent based in the U.K.
Feature photo credit: Dutch Open Air Museum, Arnhem, by Gabriela Cabrera

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