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The Story of Wintercamps

What is Wintercamp?
Wintercamp is the annual week-long New Year's Eve Party of the Couchsurfing Camps Community in Europe.
The name Couchsurfing Camps sums up different events like outdoor camps and city gatherings, organised by dedicated members of hospitality networks, e.g. Couchsurfing and BeWelcome. Couchsurfing Camps are usually multiple day events with a festival-like character. Sometimes all participants stay in a shared place, at other times they are hosted by local members of the different hospitality networks. The events' programmes usually feature cultural activities in the daytime and parties in the evenings. The target group of such events is not the local community, but rather travellers from abroad that get invited to join. Wintercamp is basically a Couchsurfing Camp that is happening every year around the New Year's Eve.
The Beginning
It was late November 2004, when members of Hospitalityclub, an online platform for cultural exchange and free homestay, first published an invitation to a WINTER CAMP & NEW YEAR'S PARTY in the city of Vilnius on the Hospitalityclub Forum. Despite the short notice, one month later more than 250 people came together in the Lithuanian capital, arriving from all over Europe. It was a week of parties, cultural events, intercultural exchange and happiness.
"now.. monday.. trying to look back on what is actually still going on.. the last few days have just been amazing.. we had more than 250 people registered at new years night. everybody had a place to stay and liked it, all the presure on the organizing people got less and just changed into happiness.. celebrating into the new year.. at midnight many of us went to the cathedral square, celebrating the first minutes of 2005 with thousands lithuanians.. the following night everybody enjoyed (? ;-)) the relaxed atmosphere at intro.. on sunday, with all our energy and strength back, many managed to go together on a day trip to trakai, visiting the lakes, castle and bars there.. and still over 100 have been around yesterday evening.. but sadly, more and more people had to leave and go on thier way back.. right now, after an afternoon of climbing, around 15-20 people are geathering at germantes place: talking, cooking.. going back to intro later on.."
(user adia.info on January 3rd, 2005 on the Hospitalityclub Forum)
The event was a success story and the beginning of a tradition that is still alive in the year 2018.
The Development
Wintercamp has been happening on an annual basis since its first edition in Vilnius in 2004. So far, every camp has happened in a different city:
  • 2004• Vilnius • Lithuania 🇱🇹  
  • 2005 • Rīga • Latvia 🇱🇻  
  • 2006 • Warszawa • Poland 🇵🇱  
  • 2007 • İstanbul • Turkey 🇹🇷  
  • 2008 • Berlin • Germany 🇩🇪  
  • 2009 • Budapest • Hungary 🇭🇺  
  • 2010 • Târgu Mureș • Romania 🇷🇴  
  • 2011 • Praha • Czechia 🇨🇿  
  • 2012 • Thessaloníki, Greece 🇬🇷  
  • 2013 • Girona • Spain 🇪🇸  
  • 2014 • Kraków • Poland 🇵🇱  
  • 2015 • Sofia • Bulgaria 🇧🇬  
  • 2016 • Leipzig • Germany 🇩🇪  
  • 2017 • Brno • Czechia 🇨🇿  
While the first camps had been organised through Hospitalityclub, Couchsurfing became the main platform for camp organisers in 2008. At the beginning, the number of Wintercamp participants increased year for year, whenever the size of the event location allowed it. The biggest Wintercamp so far took place in Praha (Prague). More than 600 attendees visited the event in the Czech capital back in 2011. In recent years, the number of participants has settled at about 200. The reasons for this are probably the changes, Couchsurfing has undergone in recent years. After the website got sold to investors, it lost many of its old features and functions. Also Couchsurfing has lost its role as a central communication platform for the organisation of Wintercamps to Facebook. As a result, it has become harder and harder for organisers to reach out to new members and people who have never heard about Couchsurfing Camps.
What Happens at Wintercamp?
What happens at Wintercamp stays at Wintercacmp!
A Wintercamp's programme usually features sub-events like cultural activities, workshops and excursions in the daytime and parties in the evenings. Over the years the programmes have been very different from each other, as the events were organised by different people in different cities and countries. One feature characteristic to all Wintercamps, however, has been the involvement of local volunteers and international participants in the organisation of sub-events. Like this, Wintercamp was not only able to re-invent itself every year, but also it didn't loose some repeating elements that have developed into traditions:
  • Scavenger Hunt: exploring the host city in form of a competitive game
  • International Night: participants bring & share food and beverages from their home countries
  • CS Awards: participants choose the winners in different categories for the past Couchsurfing Camps season
  • New Year's Eve Party: Partying together into the New Year
  • Spa Day: recovering in a spa or swimming pool on New Year's Day.
1. Scavenger Hunt at Thessaloniki Wintercamp 2012. At different check points teams had to answer some questions about the city or do some activities. As soon as they accomplished the task, they received an envelope with directions to the next check point. The first team who went through all the check points won the game.
2. Scavenger Hunt at Leipzig Wintercamp 2016. Teams received a map with numbered positions around the city and a list of bonus tasks which gave points. For each photo with a lion a team could get bonus points. The more points - the higher a chance to win.
3. First International Night at Budapest Wintercamp 2009.
4. International Night at Budapest Wintercamp 2009: Welcome to Austria!
5. International Night at Girona Wintercamp 2013: Dutch hospitality tastes very sweet.
6. International Night at Krakow Wintercamp 2015: From Russia with Love!
7. Krakow Wintercamp 2015: First edition of CS Awards. We won the first place in "Love, love, love" nomination. Isn't it lovely? Thanks to Leandro and Daniel for initiating this Wintercamp tradition.
8. Leipzig Wintercamp 2016: Invincible. This person is so "hard" that he/she even rejected a call from Sylvester Stallone to act in The Expendables. When everyone is drunk, this person is still UP! When everyone went to sleep, this person is still walking around doing something. This person was Massimo.
9. Budapest Wintercamp 2009: New Year's Eve Party.
10. Prague Wintercamp 2011: New Year's Eve Party.
11. Girona Wintercamp 2013: New Year's Eve Party.
12. Krakow Wintercamp 2014: New Year's Eve Party.
13. Brno Wintercamp 2017: New Year's Eve Party.
14. Sofia Wintercamp 2015: Spa Day @ Sapareva Banya.
A program of a Wintercamp usually depends not only on the organisers, but also on the initiative of the participants themselves. People are encouraged to offer workshops, presentations, games, etc.
15. You can announce a cross-dressing party at your place like Trevor did at Krakow Wintercamp 2014.
16. You can offer a dancing workshop like Carlos did at Thessaloniki Wintercamp 2012.
17. You can tell you travel story like we did at Sofia Wintercamp 2015.
Or you just can have fun like everybody had at...
18. Vilnius Wintercamp 2004
19. Rīga Wintercamp 2005
20. Warszawa Wintercamp 2006
21. İstanbul Wintercamp 2007
22. Berlin Wintercamp 2008
23. Budapest Wintercamp 2009
24. Târgu Mureș Wintercamp 2010
25. Praha Wintercamp 2011
26. Thessaloníki Wintercamp 2012
27. Girona Wintercamp 2013
28. Kraków Wintercamp 2014
29. Sofia Wintercamp 2015
30. Leipzig Wintercamp 2016
31. Brno Wintercamp 2017
The Future
It hasn't become easier to organise a Wintercamp in recent years. The main reasons are the above described developments of websites like Couchsurfing. Especially in the last year, many organisers of international non-profit events have made the experience, that their events got deleted on Couchsurfing or Facebook, as the companies behind the websites were assuming, that events which charge a participation fee must be commercial. Confident that this development will come to an end in the future, right now it is still of paramount importance to work together with the Couchsurfing Camps Community, to not risk a financial disaster. Only in helping each other out, giving each other feedback and spreading the word of these fabulous events, we will be able to keep the tradition of Wintercamps and other big Couchsurfing Camps alive.
How to Organise a Wintercamp?
Every year the Couchsurfing Camps community is looking for a group of organisers, who is willing to host the next Wintercamp. Basically, anybody could organise a Wintercamp in any city. However, there are certain factors that possible organisers have to consider before taking such responsibility. We've been to many Wintercamps. Floh was one of the organisers of Berlin Wintercamp 2008. He also has been organising Mont Royal Summer Camp since more than ten years. Based on our experience and on advice of our dear friend Massimo, the main head behind Prague Wintercamp 2011, we've put together some information on How to Organise a Wintercamp.
Disclaimer:
Most of the photos used in this post were made by Eerik Kiskonen. His photo gallery with all the beautiful photos from many Wintercamps you can find here. It was amazing to take a look again at all the photos that have woken up so many dear memories.

Comments (3)

  1. Bert:
    Feb 06, 2018 at 06:45 PM

    Nice article Floh! Loved the old pics

    1. flohfish:
      Feb 06, 2018 at 08:56 PM

      Thanks Bert. By the way, Inga and I wrote it together.

  2. AgaK:
    Feb 07, 2018 at 01:02 AM

    Yep, great that someone gathered info in one place. I would a piece about finance and tickets to make new possible participants how much effort it takes and how little you need to pay for it. But great for sharing with those who ask.me what the camp is.

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