When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

When Bitcoin Arrives At A Quiet Swiss Hotel

In Switzerland, famous and infamous for its secretive banks, the digital currency Bitcoin is already arriving in the real economy.

Martin Ammann and Roger Widmer
Martin Ammann and Roger Widmer
Mehdi Atmani and Mathilde Farine

BRUGG — After 125 years of quiet existence, the Gotthard hotel, in this small Swiss town, has suddenly landed in the spotlight. Its owner Roger Widmer and his poker partner, Martin Ammann, decided to jump on the worldwide Bitcoin payment bandwagon as a way to "look cool" and attract students from surrounding universities.

The idea worked. Along with the students, journalists and television cameras, as well as a wave of Bitcoin enthusiasts from Switzerland and Germany, have arrived in the hotel in Brugg for a chance to see what it's like to use the new digital currency in the real economy of the Swiss Alps.

The sticker indicating that clients can pay with Bitcoins is the only modern touch in this otherwise very traditional hotel. "People come here to play jass (a card game) or eat local specialties. Ours is one of the last places in Brugg where they can do that," explains Widmer, who is also the hotel's cook.

But behind its conservative looks, the establishment harbors a room completely devoted to the "mining" of Bitcoins. That is where Ammann, the geekier of the two partners, has installed his ever growing material needed to extract Bitcoins.

Their idea surely has drawn curiosity, but Widmer admits it doesn't make him rich. Neither does "mining," the process that enables users to "earn" Bitcoins by using computers and machines to solve algorithms, according to the concept established by the anonymous creator of the crypto-currency.

"The first Bitcoins we earned were worth $30, and we reinvested a lot of money to buy new hardware," the hotelier explains.

Nicolas Genko, a French expat in Zurich who founded BTC Consulting to help companies get started with Bitcoin, has not made a lot of money with mining either, but he hopes this will change soon. "It's not possible to live off it yet, but opportunities keep opening up every now and then," he explains.

For now, many businesses ask for advice, which he gives for free, and the first ones to have offered their clients the possibility to pay with Bitcoins have set up the entire thing by themselves. Genko chooses to bet on the future. He believes that when all shopkeepers — particularly those who struggle with computers in general — accept the digital currency, the business will really take off.

Another Bitcoin enthusiast, Daniel Keller, has launched a website to tell his fellow countrymen about the virtual currency. But he is cautious and only does it on top of his full-time job in finance. "It's pocket money. I mostly do it to help people discover Bitcoin," he says. The man looks very much like a typical banker, except for the missing tie. Although he studied business in college, he always had a passion for technology and, in 2011, started mining with his computer. Very soon though, he had to change it for a more powerful one. He says he made "a nice profit" but is about to give it all up given the cost of the material.

Unlike Daniel, the costly investment does not frighten Guillaume Saouli, for whom "mining has become an activity for the ultra-rich, in which you must invest to stay in the game." The entrepreneur is about to open a mining farm with a company called THBH Solutions. Its goal is to monetize and diversify the production of several crypto-currencies (not only Bitcoin) at a low cost, both in terms of money and energy.

Security risks

Saouli has already raised 100,000 Swiss francs ($110,000) "in one week" to get himself started. With it, he bought "two big mining machines" each for $17,000. Each of these has a consumption of 3 kilowatt-hour, the equivalent of several irons. He has already ordered 10 more machines. In the next six months, Saouli is aiming to create a farm of a hundred machines. "The more there are, the faster and more stable the system is," he explains.

But while Bitcoin has its die-hard fans, it also has critics. Recently, Switzerland's Reporting and Analysis Centre for Information Assurance warned in its semi-annual report of the increasing dangers of the crypto-currency. According to the organization, users have become targets for online criminals who hack into their online wallets (like the $1.2 million hack of the website inputs.io in 2013). This is why it recommends that users store their cryptographic key on an offline computer, or better, on a piece of paper.

Yet Alexis Roussel, a legal expert and president of the Swiss Pirate Party, is convinced that virtual currencies are here to stay. "But in the future, it's possible that Bitcoin — one among many other currencies — won't exist in the way it does now," he predicts. "We forget that Bitcoin is above all a technology that can achieve various goals, from monetary transactions to being a guarantor for digital contracts."

Roussel is also working to popularize crypto-currencies. His company SBEX SA, which specializes in financial services, is receiving more and more requests from shops to install machines allowing clients to pay with Bitcoins. In Switzerland alone, 69 businesses have already installed such machines, according to data published by the website coinmap.org.

Three months ago, Franck Chabanol "didn't know the first thing about Bitcoin." But since February, the owner of a Geneva crepe restaurant has become an expert after getting a brand new Bitcoin ATM installed in front of the restroom. Clients can use the ATM, which looks like a cigarette vending machine, to convert their money into Bitcoins (up to 500 euros) on their account, or pay their meal with the virtual currency.

In the middle of his restaurant, two tablets tower over the cash register, showing the exchange rate of the day: 521.70 Swiss francs ($595) for 1 Bitcoin. "That makes it 0.044 BTC for a 23-franc menu," Chabanol explains.

He only rents the machine, and earns between 3% and 5% of each transaction. But it is still too soon to say whether the investment is worth it. Since it was installed, 52 payments have been made in the digital currency. Instead of converting them, he automatically transfers the Bitcoins into his virtual account. "The exchange rate fluctuates too much for me to exchange them into euros," he said.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Climate Change Is Real, But It's Wrong To Blame It For Every Flood Or Fire

A closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related emergencies. It is important to raise climate change awareness, but there's a risk in overstating its role in every natural disaster.

photo of a small red car buried in sand

A car is buried last week in the sand during severe flooding in Volos, Greece

© Imago via ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski

Updated on Oct. 4, 2023 at 4:05 p.m


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest