From the very first days of Bitcoin, the community was its key driving force. Even more: it was the only one.
Without any marketing or PR, it was the community that helped transform the anonymous 9-page whitepaper from an obscure cypherpunk list into the functional Bitcoin software we use today. It was the community that propelled Bitcoin across the globe, spreading the knowledge and engaging all sorts of people and businesses that recognize the need for better money.
Bitcoin is a global phenomenon now, but its community is still the gravity center fostering technological development and adoption. It also represents something else: an elusive, yet precious quality that binds very different people from all walks of life, political preferences, age, occupation…
Indeed, the Bitcoin community shares not only the love for memes, but also a unique mix of libertarian principles, entrepreneurial spirit, and readiness to change the world.
Bitcoin events have played a crucial role in brewing this particular blend of values and expanding the community across the globe. To try and define this magic sauce that holds Bitcoiners together, I have gathered testimonials from several people attending eight European Bitcoin-only gatherings, both big and small.
From the urban pavilions of a 10,000-people Bitcoin Amsterdam to the forest tents of a 100-people BEF in Brittany, these experiences could not have been more different. However, they were also somehow similar, and sometimes – even complementary.
BTC Prague and Bitcoin Amsterdam stand out as the biggest Bitcoin events in Europe, drawing thousands of attendees, major Bitcoin-related companies, and of course an impressive speaker lineup. The latter can also include people outside of the strict Bitcoin circle, often featuring freedom fighters and businesses operating in the broader crypto spectrum.
On a smaller scale with hundreds of attendees, Surfing Bitcoin in the French Biarritz shared the same ethos, although this year’s edition was marked by a number of troubles.
For the most ardent Bitcoin maxis, Baltic Honeybadger in Riga is probably the most OG Bitcoin event, fiercely defending its Bitcoin-only stance.
The majority of people who attend these events are already orange-pilled and well-versed in the intricacies of Bitcoin. One can cross miners, cypherpunks, developers, economists, freedom fighters, investors, and a large number of influencers of all sorts.
These events represent an opportunity to promote a wallet, a mining rig, a payment solution, an association… or yourself. This commercial dimension, even though not explicitly put forward, is definitely one of the important aspects of big Bitcoin conferences, together with the extensive opportunities for networking.
On the opposite range, a lot of small – even intimate – Bitcoin events are popping up all over the world. However, don’t get fooled by their size. Those close-knit gatherings, which often do not exceed a hundred people, bring together some of the most active Bitcoin community members, both known and unknown by the larger public.
Such events rarely advertise and often ban any on-site recordings to protect the attendees’ privacy. The Chatham House rule is applied, meaning that anyone who comes to a meeting is free to use information from the discussion, but is not allowed to reveal who made any particular comment.
Beyond the sheer size, privacy rules, and the abundance of beer, such events often include communal living and unique experiences.
BTC Azores featured scenic hikes across this beautiful Portuguese archipelago. It was also marked by the absence of a pre-determined agenda: the attendees created the schedule themselves, submitting the topics they would like to discuss.
The BEF (Bitcoin Economic Forum) brought French bitcoiners into a deep forest in Brittany for a series of discussions, talks, and barbecues.
The upcoming B-Only in the Annecy region of France will unfold in the majestic Alpine setting, encouraging fireside conversations over a tartiflette. Scheduled for November 3-5, it will be one of the latest additions to this type of Bitcoin gatherings, and also one of the last ones this year.
These small-scale events look more like a friends and family retreat than a professional conference, and in some way, they are. Human connections grow particularly strong through new experiences, common tables, and shared living.
Bitcoin is still at the heart of the event, but the ambiance and goals change noticeably compared to the traditional conferences. People are much more accessible, and discussions more inclusive, which is particularly conducive to brainstorming and introducing new ideas.
There is another type of Bitcoin event – the one that focuses on integrating Bitcoin into the local communities.
This concept is not possible everywhere in the world. In most places, Bitcoin still encounters resistance from government officials, and many public and private companies are wary of its negative image that mainstream media has so thoroughly crafted.
Switzerland stands out in this regard as one of the most crypto-friendly countries, and it is visible in its Bitcoin conferences, which are more institutionalized than elsewhere.
Paradigme Bitcoin, a relatively small event organized in the Swiss canton of Neuchatel, makes a point of inviting not only Bitcoiners but also municipality and industry leaders. Together, they discuss the ways of using Bitcoin in the region’s watch-making industry, University curriculum, and other local endeavors.
Plan B is another remarkable initiative. For a couple of years already, the city of Lugano in the Swiss canton of Ticino has been educating and encouraging the city’s merchants to start accepting Bitcoin as payment. The Plan B conference is a part of this effort, but in the best Swiss traditions, the usual set of Bitcoin proponents here has been completed by bankers, officials, lawyers, and financial regulators from different parts of the world. While strictly speaking not a Bitcoin-only conference, Plan B helps Lugano to share its experience with thousands of attendees.
From the Portuguese Azores islands to the Latvian city of Riga, European Bitcoin events are as varied as Europe itself. From a tent deep in a French forest to the bank of a Swiss lake, they can exude very different vibes, but at their core, they are the same.
In fact, they are even complementary. I witnessed instances where a new technological solution was conceived and brainstormed at BTC Azores and then found funding and support at BTC Prague.
By taking a closer look at these events, we can also discern the trends that are marking the community.
First of all – no “to the moon” talks. In fact, BTC price, which is one the most popular Bitcoin-related topic in most media, is hardly ever mentioned. And for a good reason: Bitcoin denomination in dollars and euros is secondary to its role of independent money.
Personal freedom is still a huge topic, and Nostr is now regularly highlighted at Bitcoin events. While not exactly a Bitcoin technology, its decentralized and censorship-resistance mission aligns perfectly with the Bitcoiners’ worldview, making it increasingly popular within the community.
On the technological front, this year was marked by heated debates between the proponents of the Ordinals and the supporters of a more conservative approach to Bitcoin.
Finally, family is coming into focus, both in figurative and literal sense. While ‘fam’ has already become a common address term within the community, the real family is becoming increasingly seen in conferences, as the attendees bring their close ones. There were children notably at Honeybadger and BTC Prague, the latter also featuring a whole talk by a 12-year Bitcoiner. The next generation is here, and it is no stranger to Bitcoin.
Overall, while large Bitcoin conferences are still indispensable for developing business and networking, a point can be made that the community is also becoming stronger by decentralizing its events and by building stronger connections with the local communities.
A special thank you to Aurore Galves Orjol from Leonod, Franck Pralas from D.Center, and Cyrille Coppéré from B-only for their testimonials.
This is a guest post by Marie Poteriaieva. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.