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, organized 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’ programs 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 travelers from abroad that get invited to join. Wintercamp is basically a Couchsurfing Camp that happens every year around 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 pressure 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 their way back.. Right now, after an afternoon of climbing, around 15-20 people are gathering 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 organized through Hospitalityclub, Couchsurfing became the main platform for camp organizers in 2008. At the beginning, the number of Wintercamp participants increased year by 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 organization of Wintercamps to Facebook. As a result, it has become harder and harder for organizers 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 program usually features sub-events like cultural activities, workshops and excursions in the daytime and parties in the evenings. Over the years the programs have been very different from each other, as the events were organized 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 organization 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.
© Eerik Kiskonen
4. International Night at Budapest Wintercamp 2009: Welcome to Austria!
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

5. International Night at Girona Wintercamp 2013: Dutch hospitality tastes very sweet.
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

6. International Night at Krakow Wintercamp 2015: From Russia with Love!
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

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.
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

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.
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

10. Prague Wintercamp 2011: New Year’s Eve Party.
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

11. Girona Wintercamp 2013: New Year’s Eve Party.
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

12. Krakow Wintercamp 2014: New Year’s Eve Party.
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

13. Brno Wintercamp 2017: New Year’s Eve Party.

 

14. Sofia Wintercamp 2015: Spa Day @ Sapareva Banya.
© Vangelis Kaman 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.
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

16. You can offer a dancing workshop like Carlos did at Thessaloniki Wintercamp 2012.
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

17. You can tell your travel story like we did at Sofia Wintercamp 2015.
© Otto Dostál
Or you just can have fun like everybody had at…

 

18. Vilnius Wintercamp 2004
Vilnius Wintercamp 2004
© Chris Kierspel

 

19. Rīga Wintercamp 2005
© Chris Kierspel

 

20. Warszawa Wintercamp 2006
© Jørgen Reitan Sivertsen

 

21. İstanbul Wintercamp 2007
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

22. Berlin Wintercamp 2008
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

23. Budapest Wintercamp 2009
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

24. Târgu Mureș Wintercamp 2010
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

25. Praha Wintercamp 2011
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

26. Thessaloníki Wintercamp 2012

 

27. Girona Wintercamp 2013
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

28. Kraków Wintercamp 2014
© Eerik Kiskonen

 

29. Sofia Wintercamp 2015
© Massimo Bennardo

 

30. Leipzig Wintercamp 2016

 

31. Brno Wintercamp 2017

 

How to Organize 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.

 

This blog article was originally published on
http://travellingmonkeys.org/ and has been lightly edited.This post was written by a member of the Couchsurfing community. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or opinion of Couchsurfing.

To share your own story, visit our Community Stories page. We can’t wait to hear from you!

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