All That Glitters Is Not Gold – UNCHAIN Convention Organizer Reveals the True State of Affairs in German Crypto Ecosystem
Germany as the largest economy of the European Union is often called one of the major hubs for the development of new technologies, including Bitcoin and its underlying technology, blockchain. In fact, a plethora of the already established companies, as well as new start-ups are based in Germany, and specifically in the country’s capital the city of Berlin, with various industry cryptocurrency events being held there on regular basis.
However, is everything really that sweet and shiny as the mainstream media try to make it? This is a rather complex question, and it is best to understand it with the help of people who are directly present in this environment and are ready to talk about various aspects of doing business in Germany.
Oskar Giese, a Hamburg-based entrepreneur and organizer of UNCHAIN Convention, one of the top European Bitcoin conferences, shares his views on this matter.
ForkLog: Hello Oskar, Germany is regularly making headlines when it comes to various aspects of blockchain industry. What is the overall crypto landscape like in Germany these days?
Oskar Giese: Germany presents a very mixed picture. One the one hand Germany and especially Berlin is a melting pot for creative people, high profile developers and visionaries. Thinking about the Chaos Computer Club, digital music connoisseurs like Kraftwerk and institutions like Frauenhofer Institut. On the other hand, Germany has already turned into a highly bureaucratic country, controlled by a powerful syndicate of politicians, police, industry leaders and institutions.
Furthermore, most Germans are depending on transfer payments by the state. As a result people are afraid of fundamental changes blockchain technology could possibly cause. In other words, they are interested in the blockchain, but not in the disruption. So for the non-opportunistic crypto industry it’s a very challenging environment.
At the same time, we Germans love challenges, and pressure causes counter-pressure. As a consequence we’re having a very vital and promising crypto ecosystem here in Germany – and especially in Berlin, the German crypto epicenter, where more than half of all German blockchain startups are based.
ForkLog: What about regulators, what is their approach to the nascent technology and cryptocurrencies?
Oskar Giese: Their strategy has three lines of attack in my eyes. Firstly. they are creating legal uncertainty until the very end. In Switzerland and Austria, two German speaking countries by the way, buying train tickets with Bitcoin and/or buying Bitcoin with cash at nearly every post office is a quite usual thing for example. In Germany the BaFin (the regulatory institution in control) still tries to hunt all these innovations down – or, to say it more cheesy from a entrepreneurial perspective, they are increasing the cost and risk for launching these kind of innovations and disrupting markets to a maximum. With that being said, I have to clarify that Germans in general are assessed highly obedient. That’s why this strategy works highly effective in our country.
Secondly, state-financed media is a very well developed controlling tool in Germany, and who pays the piper, calls the tune. Creating a fear of crypto and telling people the worst nightmares about this technology is a quite common and easy going thing for German regulators with the help of their media instruments.
Thirdly, they are going for the infiltration of the ecosystem and capture of the discourse with the help of their fiat money. In major German cities you can see how this works… Powerful politicians have co-developed or taken over own conference formats and are defining the program. Have a look at their line-up, you won’t see any relevant Bitcoin speaker there, and after several talks with politicians I’m sure that this isn’t a slip-up. Having a discussion always starts with: “Let’s talk about blockchain, but please don’t mention Bitcoin”. Funny because true.
ForkLog: We also know that several blockchain startups have already left Germany choosing Switzerland as their jurisdiction. What do you think are their motives behind such decision?
Oskar Giese: Their motives? German entrepreneur’s motives are to escape from regulatory uncertainty and a taxation legislation (plus social insurance obligations), that are totally out of scale. Germany’s regulators have totally turned away from creating an environment, where small and medium businesses can flourish. It’s that simple. For the same reason we haven’t had a Silicon Valley in Germany at the beginning of this century.
In contrast Swiss regulators have discovered early that several serious developments including the rise of blockchain technology and crypto currencies will inevitably lead to the disruption of today’s financial industry like we know it so far. At the same time Swiss economic wealth is based on the success of this industry and that’s why local regulators nearly left no stone unturned to shape a regulatory framework to attract crypto based businesses and let them flourish. For a good reason Zug is called the new Crypto Valley.
Furthermore there are several other European countries that are far ahead in creating an auspicious crypto industry environment, please take a look at Estonia, Cyprus or Malta for example, in contradiction to Germany. They are already skimming the cream. I’m wondering how long German regulators can exploit their society in the way they are doing it right now, until they will be forced to divert their course.
Riccardo “Fluffypony” Spagni, the Lead Maintainer of Monero, just described this phenomenon of entrepreneur shifting as a so called “Regulatory Arbitrage”, that will intensify the relocation of businesses and competition between law environments, especially inside Europe. By the way: Riccardo will be one of our keynote speakers this year in Berlin, and we are very looking forward to listen to his thrilling analyses and discuss with him his future presumptions among other things like privacy issues.
ForkLog: How expensive is it to start a business in Germany in general? Do crypto startups have any preferences?
Oskar Giese: You can start a business easily. But when it comes to hiring people officially and to correspond with bureaucratic requirements (fulfill protection of data privacy regulations, accounting of crypto revenues etc.), the highly expensive fun starts. Of course German entrepreneurs have to finance a whole regulatory and juristic industry, since nearly any huge company or concern is already smiling from overseas – mentioning Google, Facebook, Apple and German DAX companies.
Preferences or advices for crypto startups to keep their businesses working in a healthy way? German entrepreneurs are well advised to set-up collaborations with regulators directly from the very first scratch (to receive subsidies and regulatory dispensions) or to collaborate with major industry players, who can spend fundings or offer their global infrastructure that helps a lot.
Furthermore, my general advice is that you better don’t deal to critical about politics in public. We do so, since we just love controversial discussions (in terms of “diversity of ideas”) and the wind of change has already begun to blow. Even more these times I believe that time is on our side.
ForkLog: Berlin is often called Europe’s startup capital, does this also apply to crypto scene? What about other major cities?
Oskar Giese: I don’t know if Berlin is Europe’s startup capital. In fact, Berlin is a melting pot of young professionals and creatives from all over Germany, as well as from very different regions of the eastern and western hemisphere. More than half of Berlin’s citizens are below the age of 35 years I’ve just heard, and also regarding the city’s cultural background Berlin is incredibly dynamic. Furthermore living there is still affordable, compared to major other cities in Europe. For all these reasons I think right now Berlin is still a startup capital – in several industry sectors but also in crypto.
ForkLog: It is, however, a well-known fact that, compared to other countries, there are very few Bitcoin ATM’s in Germany. How can this be explained?
Oskar Giese: Again, this is due to regulatory uncertainty. But we are working on this issue. In collaboration with the Austrian company Freefall, the Bitcoin Association of Germany and leading Bitcoin enthusiasts we have formed an alliance to bring several Bitcoin ATMs to major German cities very soon (we as UNCHAIN Convention are a part of this group). This ATM activation will be flanked by a guerrilla marketing campaign. Of course this is a real world experiment and we are expecting the resistance of the regulators.
In the interest of the German society (that is still cropped from innovation right now) we have to go through this door and unlock these markets for the public and start-ups that are in a position for entering the market for a long time already.
ForkLog: What makes the local crypto community different from other countries?
Oscar Giese: Germans are quite more focused on technological aspects of this technology than other nations I know. Sometimes I think this is due to the fact that we are (or have been) a society of scientist and persons with autism.
Furthermore, most of the people in Germany are banked (owning proper bank accounts) and the institutions in control can still deliver valuable services to most of the people – independent from the fact, that this situation will come to an end most likely soon. So there is no substantial pain at the moment for Germans to utilize crypto in the way other societies are already doing.
Our partners from Latin America for example, I visited them for a duration of three months last year to study this thrilling environment, have to deal with a high inflation rate (60-70% each year in Argentina, for example) and already lost the trust in the almightiness of federal institutions in control. For this reasons they are far more focused on the practical utilization of blockchain technology for improvements of the daily life and the live of people.
Maybe that’s a reason why this environment incubates much more social aid blockchain projects than we do in Germany, just take a look at Blockchain4Humanity (B4H) for example. I really appreciate this spirit, and we Germans can learn a lot from our Latin American crypto friends in making serious real world crypto projects happen. That’s why you will find several high profile Latin American speakers with a talk at each UNCHAIN Convention!
ForkLog: Are there any particular German crypto/blockchain startups you can point to and say that they are most likely to have a meaningful impact on the industry on the whole?
Oskar Giese: Of course there are! Just to mention three of them: Fulmo.org is a leading pioneer in developing the Lightning Network by bringing own products to market like RaspiBlitz, a Bitcoin and Lightning Network full node on a Raspberry Pi, and organising the LightningHackDay (last time in NYC) amongst others.
Fulmo is also based in Berlin and its Founder Jeff Gallas is our this year’s conference co-host, I’m really pleased to mention this. Their work is elementary for developing new scaling and privacy growth paths for Bitcoin.
Other impactful companies (mostly in the German ecosystem, but also border-crossing) are Bitwala, Berlin-based as well, and Bitcoin.de – these projects are successfully developing an crypto banking and transaction infrastructure including several exciting tools, aiming at the core communities as well as at the broader public.
ForkLog: Last year you organized the first UNCHAIN Convention in Hamburg. Why did you decide to move the event to Berlin?
Oskar Giese: It’s that easy: Berlin is Germany’s melting pot for crypto start-ups and the creatives. Furthermore, our conference addresses a highly international audience, and Berlin is by far the most interesting German city for our attendees from abroad. We had to choose Berlin this time, also for political reasons, since it is the seat of our government and also because it is a police state.
ForkLog: What is the overall vision of UNCHAIN?
Oscar Giese: Bringing crypto to the people, creating relationships, initiating business on a very familiar way… being a lifetime experience for a very wide range of people, who are interested in this ecosystem and don’t find together normally. Making magic happen. Providing the stage – or better: A dance floor for flourishing ideas and businesses.
ForkLog: From the perspective of the conference organizer, what specific challenges has the last bear market brought to you?
Oskar Giese: The “last” bear market? From my perception we are still up to our neck in this bear market! Especially expensive, passionated projects like our conference production have to face existential challenges. Nearly nobody, even major crypto industry players like exchanges or well funded ICOs, even from our own neighbourhood, are willing to spend some few bucks to incubate the ecosystem anymore.
So as an entrepreneur of course you have to ask yourself why you are doing all this, apart from any commercial motivation. Right now it is a time of stocktaking of oneself and natural selection – and in times of hunger it is quite exciting to see how people and startups react.
One conclusion for me is: We should hold together. We need each other, should stand together especially in hard times, and hold on on our believes. Our time will come, John F. Kennedy said:
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
Also Frank Zappa said: “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.”
ForkLog: So come June, what exactly UNCHAIN is going to deliver?
Oskar Giese: What we deliver? If we are lucky again, it will be a lifetime experience dive into real crypto spirit, choosing the red pill instead of the blue one. Discovering and discussing what is the current state of this ecosystem and its concerns. Getting out of the perfect crypto bubble with the help of live music performances on stage, eclectic side events… and by dealing with political issues, arts and maybe as well the meaning of life.
Beyond that is creating real world friendships. It shall be a flush of positive energy, and in the best case a guideline to activate your hidden superpowers with the help of great inspirations, shoulder to shoulder with brothers and sisters in mind…
For this reason we’ve chosen one of the most sophisticated locations as our conference venue in Berlin this year. It is an urban village on a 12.000m2 patch of land, where nightclub owners (Bar25 among others) who put on the best parties in town developed a whole new neighborhood. You can find there recycled windows, second hand bricks and scrap wood, containing things like a studio for circus acrobats, a children’s theatre, a cake shop and a nursery where parents can drop off their children while they go clubbing next door.
We are very excited and looking forward to welcoming you crypto pioneers from all over the world there soon!
Oskar Giese was interviewed by Andrew Asmakov
Second edition of UNCHAIN Convention’s impressive line-up features prominent crypto voices, early crypto investors, leading technologists, founders of blockchain enterprises, developers and regulators. All in all, UNCHAIN Convention 2019 will gather over 30 speakers from more than 20 countries. Some of the names include:
Crypto entrepreneur and chairman of Bitcoin Foundation Brock Pierce; Wall Street veteran, Bitcoin trader and analyst Tone Vays; pioneer blockchain investor and CEO at Coinsilium Eddy Travia; co-founder of SatoshiLabs and Trezor, currently Head of Strategy and Business Development at Casa Alena Vranova; lead maintainer at Monero and co-founder of Tari Riccardo ‘Fluffypony’ Spagni; Blockstream software engineer Christian Decker; creator of Wasabi Wallet Adam ‘nopara73’ Ficsor; security guru Hartej Sawhney of Hosho; renown German economist Hans-Werner Sinn; founder of Bitnation Susanne T. Tempelhof; CEO and co-founder of Fulmo Jeff Gallas; co-founder and managing director at KI Decentralized Andrei Martchouk; founder of KUNA Exchange and president of Blockchain Association of Ukraine Michael Chobanyan; co-founder and Executive VP at Pandora Boxchain Olga Ukolova; CEO and co-founder of SatoshiPay Meinhard Benn; co-founder of Rarepepe Foundation Theo Goodman; DAppNode’s Alex Casas; open source entrepreneur and the voice of the World Crypto Network Max Hillebrand.
As it was last year in Hamburg, UNCHAIN Convention 2019 is also establishing co-operation with international partner conferences. In addition to the South American LaBitConf, this year’s event also features the Baltic Honeybadger Bitcoin Conference. Both are reflected in the program, with Gabriel Kurmann from the Argentine RSK and Rosine Kadamani from the Blockchain Academy Brazil on the one hand, and the Honeybadger Conference organizer Max Keidun on the other.
In addition to those already mentioned, there are many more speakers that represent the full breadth and depth of the cryptocurrency and blockchain ecosystem in 2019: different currencies, different layers of cryptocurrencies, different applications of smart contracts and blockchains, and much more.
ForkLog is the official media partner of UNCHAIN Convention and as such we are happy to offer our readers the opportunity to take part in the even as well. Go to the official website of the conference and use the promo code LEV8MPUC to get a 20% discount on Standard and Experience tickets.
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