Arnhem is a city in the eastern part of the Netherlands — about an hour or so outside of Amsterdam. The region is known for its two names: the “home of the eagle,” and now “Bitcoincity.” Some call it Arnhem Bitcoinstad, which now has no eagles, but plenty of cryptocurrency in the air. In May of 2014, three Bitcoin enthusiasts, Rogier Eijkelhof, Patrick van der Meijde, and Annet de Boer decided they wanted their home town to emulate the Bitcoin Boulevard in The Hague. So, the three went on a mission to get merchants all over the local area to accept Bitcoin. It was difficult at first for the group, but they soon amassed a great list of over 80 venues to accept the digital currency.
“We help business owners accept bitcoins and organise informative sessions about Bitcoin. With some regularity, we give lectures about Bitcoin at universities, colleges and companies.”
Bitcoin.com spoke with Annet de Boer, who resides in Bitcoincity, and chatted about her home in the Netherlands. She tells us, “you can practically buy just about anything with Bitcoin here in Arnhem.” Additionally, she explains how it all started and how they “were convinced that Bitcoin might be the next revolution to take place.”
Bitcoin.com: Can you explain how you guys started the idea of Arnhem becoming a “Bitcoin city”?
Annet de Boer: We are a group of friends who first learned about Bitcoin in 2012 and got very enthusiastic about it. At the end of 2013 we decided to not just sit and wait what happens, but to start an initiative based on the inspiring story of Kreutzberg in Berlin which we read in a dutch article.
We organized free lectures about the basics of Bitcoin in our home city. We received very positive feedback and quite often we received the question “But what can you buy with Bitcoin?”. At that time we could only redirect to online stores which was not a very satisfying answer. So we decided to set up a project “Arnhem Bitcoincity” and we tried to convince café and restaurant owners to accept bitcoins. For this purpose we built our own payment processor BitKassa that would instantly convert the bitcoins to euros for the participants if they wanted to. On May 28th 2014 we organized an opening event where 15 cafés and restaurants were accepting bitcoins and Arnhem Bitcoin city was up and running.
Since then many other shops have joined our project and when our local SPAR supermarket accepted bitcoins we could finally dismiss the argument “As long as I cannot pay my groceries with Bitcoin it is nothing” 🙂
Today you can pay with bitcoins at more than 80 venues and we are able to pay most of our expenses in Bitcoin in our hometown. Just a few examples: besides many cafés, restaurants, lunchrooms and coffee bars, we have a dentist that accepts bitcoins, a car garage/carwash, a bowling alley, multiple liquor stores, clothing stores, toy shops, computer stores, hairdressers, book stores, hotel, a bed & breakfast, etc etc.
“Something like we did in Arnhem can be done in any city.”
BC: How did you three get into Bitcoin in the first place?
AdB: A common friend of us told us about Bitcoin in 2012 and that it might be worth checking it out. The more we learned about it, the more we were convinced that Bitcoin might be the next revolution to take place.
BC: You guys have gotten a lot of participants/merchants involved in your mission. How did you accomplish this feat?
AdB: The first few where the hardest. Some cafe and restaurant owners looked at us as if we were some kind of drug dealers once we mentioned the word Bitcoin, but this has changed a lot now that more and more merchants are aware of our project and the fact that we get quite some media attention about it. More and more merchants learn about bitcoin now that they have occasional a customer who pays with it. In fact, a growing number of shop owners asked us to no longer convert the bitcoins into euros since they can pay some of their supplies with bitcoins themselves at other merchants who accept bitcoin. This is of course our goal! To create a independent Bitcoin economy within our own hometown (or even worldwide, eventually). But the extremely simple usage of BitKassa (our payment processor) and the fact that it’s 100% free of charge has definitely lowered the bar for a lot of merchants to start accepting bitcoins.
BC: Can you tell me about the area and why you think cryptocurrency has made such an impression there?
AdB: Arnhem is the capital of our province and has about 150.000 citizens. It has a quite compact and dense historical city center, but unfortunately a lot of it was destroyed during World War II. The famous movie “A Bridge Too Far” is about Arnhem during this period. The fact that Arnhem has become such a bitcoin hub is due to the fact that we happen to live here and decided to put a lot of effort into in being able to pay everything with bitcoins in our hometown, but something like we did in Arnhem can be done in about any city.
BC: Is there a local ATM there?
AdB: At the moment not. We did have two, but the owners removed them. One simply broke down, the other hung at a place where the internet connection was very unstable which caused a lot of problems. We hope to get a new ATM soon.
BC: How have the merchant’s been liking using Bitcoin? Have they shared any experiences with you?
AdB: We have very close contact with the merchants. They all like our project but they would love to see more customers actually pay with bitcoin. Some merchants only have a very basic level of knowledge about Bitcoin, others went though a complete research about Bitcoin for themselves and went from just being open minded to being very pro-bitcoin and educating their customers about it. In fact a few shop owners asked us to no longer convert the bitcoins into euros since they can pay some of their supplies with bitcoins themselves at other merchants who accept bitcoin. And this was our goal all along: to create a independent Bitcoin economy within our own hometown (or even worldwide, eventually).
BC: Do you think that after seeing such economic independence that maybe others from outside your region may follow this path?
AdB: Economic independence is not yet reached as every pricing is still done in euros and only a limited amount of merchants actually keep the bitcoins themselves to pay at other merchants. But the first step has been made and yes, cities like Ghent in Belgium are also beginning to accept bitcoin. We help them by supporting their merchants with BitKassa.
BC: There’s a dentist that accepts Bitcoin in your city. What other kinds of merchants accept the digital currency in Arnhem?
AdB: You can practically buy just about anything with bitcoin here in Arnhem. Whether you need a washing machine or a tailormade suit or scuba diving equipment, you name it. Some more examples:
– Massage specialists.
– National Wine Museum
– Multiple florists
– Cupcake store
– Bicycles shop and a unique bicycle producer (vanhulsteijn)
– Knife sharpening service
– Lots of gift shops
– Mountain climbing gear shop
BC: You’ve seen a lot of growth since your inception. What advice would you give other citizens from around the globe trying to accomplish similar missions?
AdB: Organize a small bitcoin meetup in a café and ask the café owner to accept bitcoin (choose a different venue if they’re not interested in serving a group of thirsty bitcoin users). If you are within the SEPA/EURO zone, BitKassa is happy to lower the bar for merchants to accept bitcoins by converting the bitcoins instantly to euros for them. Organize lectures about bitcoin and try to get a local newspaper to write about your initiative. I think it might be easier in a relatively small city were merchants know each other and hear the good experiences with bitcoin from other befriended merchants. Focus on small shops where the owner can decide to join your project instead of the chain stores where the local manager has no authority to accept other methods of payments.
BC: Has there been any difficulty with your mission?
AdB: The first few merchants were quite hard, now that about every merchant in our city already knows some other merchant who is accepting bitcoin it is much easier. Also the media coverage we have had helps a lot. Local media might be more important that national or international as we notice our local newspaper is being read by more shop owners than the national ones.
BC: Are you teaching and educating a lot to people about digital currency?
AdB: Yes, we are giving lectures about bitcoin about every 2 or 3 months. Mostly public lectures and sometimes a presentation about bitcoin at a company or university.
This is our call out for any bitcoin user who is looking for a nice city trip: Come and visit Arnhem. Even without the bitcoin stuff the city is well worth a visit and you will be surprised how happy merchants are to accept bitcoins. Leave a note at our website and we are glad to help you plan your trip or meet you once you are in the city!
The residents of Bitcoin City Arnhem mean that too as they very kind and outgoing people. With the success of 80 merchants accepting the virtual currency, the region has blossomed into a Bitcoin hub. Bitcoin.com thinks what they have done and what they keep doing is great, we need more locations to follow the path of emulation by watching the fantastic things these cities and Boulevards are doing.
What do you think of Arnhem and its merchant list? Let us know in the comments below!
Images courtesy of Shutterstock, Arnhem Bitcoinstad, and Redmemes
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