The VICE Channels

    Bitcoin Exchange Berlin Is Bringing Digital Currency to Market

    Written by

    Nadja Sayej


    All photos by the author

    On a clear Saturday afternoon in Berlin, I checked out the third Bitcoin Exchange Berlin (BXB), which is the first face-to-face marketplace of its kind in Germany—and likely in Europe.

    The monthly exchange shook down at the Platoon Kunsthalle, an art space made from stacked shipping containers. Aaron Koenig, the founder and organizer of BXB, rushed around the venue, as vendors had small blackboards scrawled with their prices. Everyone wore matching black hats emblazoned with the BXB logo and vendor name stickers.

    The marketplace focused on cultural fare—art books sold alongside festival tickets and of course the usual traders. It was a local market the likes of which are replicated the world over, but rather than fumbling for cash, vendors and buyers swapped digital currency.

    Bitcoin is picking up speed in Germany now that it is recognized as private money. Dubbed a “unit of account” by German lawmakers, the digital currency can now be used for private transactions. But as tax and accounting issues still need to be worked out, bitcoin's biggest value remains in person-to-person transactions.

    There are still plenty of opportunities to use it. There are streets where you can shop with virtual cash, like the scene hub, Room 77. At BXB, there was that crowd and more.

    While there was beer, it was less of a bar environment and more of a full-fledged street market. There was stuff perched up on crates, other products in a shopping cart. The DJ spun reggae records that kept the vibe chill and quiet. Business cards were exchanged, while others had their contact info on stamps to save paper.

    What makes this Berlin series different than the open air exchanges in New York, for example, is that people were actually buying and selling products, on top of the typical bitcoin exchange. Also, there were girls. And it was arty.

    Mirjana Tomic, a producer from Belgrade with the RE:MAKE Festival, was promoting DIY, sustainable culture through the sales of festival and workshop ticket packages for the upcoming Berlin debut September 11-15. When asked why she was selling here, she said the festival shares the same sentiment with bitcoin. 

    It was fun, too. I can’t forget an Australian country musician by the name of Bitcoin Bob, who sang a bluesy track called "Money Monopoly." One verse focused on Mario Draghi, with Bitcoin Bob singing, “The European currency is a flop, that we’re gonna stop.” It continued, “We’re gonna end the money monopoly. End the FED. End the ECB…” Of course, there was a QR code printed on the lyrics sheet with the phrase “Tip Bitcoin Bob!

    One vendor named Marcello Dato was selling titles published by Trolley Books from a shopping cart. He noted in conversation that every bitcoin sale will go towards the production of the publishing house’s next title. “It’s to keep the mission, not to make a profit,” he said.

    Generally, the German support for bitcoin made for an optimistic air. For example, Tamás Blummer, the CEO and founder of the Bits of Proof, flashed a wad of bitcoin cash from his wallet he used to promote his Hungary-based bitcoin IT company. Blummer, who left working IT in banks for a career in bitcoin, was just one of many BXB attendees that were sure bitcoin's rise would fill in the cracks in the euro zone. “Deutsche Bank will be wiped away,” he said.