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Görlicon: Ethereum’s Love Affair with Berlin Goes both Ways

Reading Time: 4 minutes by on February 12, 2019 Blockchain, Development, Ethereum, Platform

The low prices, diverse culture, and growing startup scene have made Berlin a hotspot for technological innovation. Within the niche world of cryptocurrencies, however, the German capital is carving out a special place in its heart for the Ethereum project. At the inaugural Görlicon, in which developers launched a desperately-needed testnet, BTCManager also got an idea of the strong feelings between the city and the Ethereum community.

ETHBerlin Reunion: “A Conference on a Testnet”

The original launch of ETHBerlin, which was then re-branded as Görlicon, happened back in September 2018. The hackathon brought together diverse Ethereum projects and community members to a three-day event at The Factory’s two Berlin locations. More importantly, this was one of the first crypto events whose entire infrastructure was built out on dApps and crypto technologies.  

What transpired during the event included experiments from MyENS Wallet, CDP Liquidator, Pinata Overlay, Game of Snarks, and the Görli Testnet.

A group of judges including Mohamed Elseidy of ZK Capital, Feridun Mert Celebi of Veil, Ewasm developer Lane Rettig, and the Director of Product at ETHPrize Mitch Kosowski, then reviewed each experiment before dolling out bounties.

In the first, MyENS Wallet allowed users to bid on human-readable ENS domains within an iPhone application. Pinata Overlay offered a service that observes smart contracts in need of IPFS storage. Companies looking to develop decentralized storage solutions are likely not as willing to build out the entire infrastructure needed to do so, and so this Solidity-based system automates that process so firms can focus on customer solutions.

The Next Generation Ethereum Testnet

The Game of Snarks is an ingenious game to learn a bit more about the power of zk-SNARKS. Taking inspiration from Battleships, developer Alex Vlasov applied the privacy-centric technology so that when players land a hit on an opponent’s ship, the hit is revealed, but no other identifying information. All ten winners received €7,500 (~$8,400) for their contributions to be put towards building out their projects further. A full list of last year’s projects can be found here.

The inspiration behind the Görli Testnet comes from the community’s need for a secure network in which teams can deploy their dApps in the wild. Current Proof-of-Work (PoW) attempts by the likes of Ropsten were difficult to secure because mining for valueless tokens isn’t the best incentive for security. Having an effective, secure environment in which to test newly developed code is critical for the experimentation of future innovations.

Afri Schoedon, the lead developer behind Görli as well as the Release Manager at Parity Technologies, told BTCManager:

“the lack incentivization makes these chains very susceptible to attack. Ropsten, for instance, was attacked on multiple occasions because of this.”

Nearly two years ago, a malicious miner was proposing block sizes upwards of 4,000 internal transactions and pushed the mining reward to 12 ETH on Ropsten. Eventually, the testnet was forked, until later being declared “dead” on March 6, 2017.

This then birthed Kovan and Rinkeby which both use the Proof of Authority (PoA) consensus mechanism; this uses the identity of potential validators as the staking mechanism. The strength of the system hinges on the value someone places on their reputation and assumes that anyone’s identity is authentic. Instead of using hashing power, networks that use PoA are secured by the goodwill of public participants. It is for this reason that Görli also adopted an iteration of the consensus mechanism.

The initiative also wanted to develop a platform that was client agnostic. Both Kovan and Rinkeby, for instance, are Geth- and Parity-facing clients, meaning users interested in running a cross-client testnet would still have to rely on the unreliable Ropsten. With that as motivation, both Schoedon and the ChainSafe team finally completed development of “the next-generation public Ethereum test network” before Lili Feyerabend launched it with the push of a button at Görlicon.

Berlin and Blockchain

While the gathering focused on many technical developments within the Ethereum ecosystem, Görlicon also paid homage to the thriving blockchain community in Berlin. Lane Rettig told BTCManager that “the most interesting stuff is happening in Berlin,” adding that the city was the “defacto hub” for all things blockchain technology. When scanning the globe for hot spots of crypto activity, places like Malta, Switzerland, and Singapore all top the list.

But the low cost of living, the history of diversity, and creative culture have placed Berlin on the radar. “Coming from New York, where everything is crazy expensive, Berlin is easily the cheapest tech hub in the world. Everyone is opening offices here,” said Rettig. “The community here is top notch, it’s easy to get a visa, and its easy to align incentives among all the people who want to get involved.” Terence Tsao, a member of Prysmatic Labs, also said that “the highest quality events are in Berlin” referring to the two-day AraCon event shortly before Görlicon.

If not economically, Berlin also provides a near-perfect culture fit for breaking down technology stereotypes. An organizer of ETHBerlin last year and communications lead at Golem, María Paula Fernandez said that Berlin’s vibrant art and LGBT community helped inspire content at both ETHBerlin and Görlicon.

“We wanted to add culture to the hackathon and bring that to our community,” said Fernandez. “We’re not afraid to include something potentially shocking either. The drag queens who danced at ETHBerlin last year caused a stir. But that’s totally fine with us.”

Berlin’s rich political history also makes it a prime location for a technology looking to upheave entire governments. Schoedon commented that Berliners are politically active and willing to engage with the difficult conversations that current politics engender. Rettig put it more simply, saying “Germans just get privacy.”  

With these points in mind, collaboration with anyone who is willing to contribute to a diverse vision of decentralization is as open as ever. To find out more about who has already begun adding to the newly-launched testnet, BlockScout provides all the details on the network’s activity. The Goerli Authenticated Faucet is also up and running with information on how to connect MetaMask found here.

For the city that spawned the first DevCon event, along with its history for breaking down walls, it only seems natural that the next wave of revolutionary technologies should also find a home in Berlin.

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