Economy

The Awkward State Of Being Greek In Germany Right Now

A visit with Munich's surprisingly robust Greek community finds families caught in the middle of Europe's unfolding existential drama. Or tragedy.

Munich's Greek influence.
Munich's Greek influence.
Thomas Anlauf, Jutta Czeguhn, Franz Kotteder and Jakob Wetzel

MUNICH â€" Three large cranes stand tall against the blue sky, but they’re standing still. At the construction site for the Greek school in Berg am Laim, a southern borough of Munich, all work has been temporarily halted. A red excavator lightly scrapes the brown soil with its shovel, rusty iron rods protruding from the shell of the building. It looks a bit like some Greek beaches, where half-built buildings remain unfinished, investor money having run out.

Fourteen years ago, the city sold the more than 15,000-square-meter plot of land at Hachinger Bach Road to Greece, so that a central Greek school might be built for those in and around Munich. Only recently was the Ministry of Education and Religion in Athens able to begin work on the building. But Greece is already embroiled in litigation with the city. The future of the school remains uncertain.

It’s a Greek tragedy writ small, but ever symptomatic of the European drama of our time.

On a Monday morning, a young Greek man in a black leather jacket crouches in the S-Bahn heading towards downtown Munich, cramped up in his window seat, a cell phone wedged between his ear and shoulder. Only a soft, indistinguishable soup of words can be heard. "No, no," he repeats softly. "Yes, yes," his interlocutor yells into the phone at the other end of the line. The two speak to each other in Greek.

Gradually, a few German words begin to tumble out: "the height of cynicism," "election promises," "Troika," "Europe." This is of course the vocabulary of the Greek crisis, and is a talking point in Munich. Throughout the city, small groups gather on street corners, discussing. "Listen," says a Greek at Ostbahnhof to two women with Aldi bags. He says he also doesn’t know what’s happening. The Greek banks have been closed since Monday, and his relatives can only withdraw 60 euros a day.

"What's the point in me transferring 400 euros to my mother in Greece tomorrow?" Constantinos Gianacacos is sitting in a cafe at the Odeonsplatz wearing a white-and-blue striped shirt. "In recent days I’ve been worried: How can I take care of my mother in Greece?" After decades of living in Germany, she returned to their village in Trikala, in northern Greece. She’s in her mid-80s now.

He also has an uncle in Athens, also retired. "Of course we worry," says Gianacacos. He heads the Evangelical Migration Center in Munich. He and his team members help Greeks who are no longer able to survive in their homeland and come to Munich. In the last four months, noticeably fewer people have arrived, he says. "But I reckon another exodus is coming."

Recently, many people from Greece have called to ask if they should come to Munich. "I have advised all of them not to come, because of the housing situation here," says Gianacacos. Only those who already have relatives here are likely to make it work. But many young graduates continue to make their way to Munich from Hellas.

"There is a huge capital transfer taking place," he says. Many people who left Germany to return to Greece are now coming back. Five years ago, there was a large wave of Greeks who returned to their former home. Now, there are 8,000 more Greeks in Munich than there were in 2010. They represent the largest population of EU citizens in Munich after Croatians. Currently, there are 26,400 Greek nationals officially registered in the city.

The gods of finance

Many of them meet with each other at Orthodox church services, like the one at the Church of All Saints on Ungerer Street, opposite the North Cemetery. "We pray in the community together and on our own that God protects us from a Greek exit," says Archpriest Apostolos Malamoussis. The 68-year-old struggles with the fact that he counted on a solution to the crisis, with the final standoff coming as "a big shock."

A Greek restaurant in Hannover. Photo: Simone Brunozzi

Malamoussis was already lighting candles on Greek-Bavarian Culture Day on June 21, praying for a good outcome for the negotiations. He received loud applause from both Greeks and Bavarians. There must be an agreement, he stressed, anything else would be a disaster. He didn’t assign blame, but called upon the Greek government to try harder.

Manolis Manussakis, 59, works with a lot of Greek restaurateurs in his role as manager of the Greek delicatessen wholesaler Atlas. He’s also a host at a local theater on Elisabeth Square. "Opinions among the Greeks in Munich are very divided," he says. "But all are very anxious about what the future holds."

The crisis currently looming over Greece can be seen as "a big cold spell, at least symbolically," he says. The euro provides a major import benefit for Manussakis’ company. But then again, he says, there may be no escaping the big bang. "For Greece to take on new debts that it won’t ever be able to pay makes no sense," he says. The system is broken and needs to be started from scratch. Without a clear break, he says, nothing will ever happen. In this respect, he understands the Greek government’s decisions very well.

Many other Greeks in Munich feel the same way these days. Niki Chatziparasidou is at the café of the Greek House in Munich’s West End neighborhood, standing at a metal bar table. In front of her is a leaflet advertising dance classes: "This is how Greece dances," it reads.

"We shouldn’t lose hope," she says. "I can’t imagine a Europe without Greece in it. I don’t think Greece is going to break."

Chatziparasidou says she can feel unrest among her compatriots, but little anger toward the tough German stance. On July 4, a street festival will be held at the Greek House, as it has been held for four decades. From the best of both worlds, Munich’s Greeks know how to party. Even during the final act of a great drama.

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


💡  SPOTLIGHT

Bulgaria is COVID fail of the week: Our roving reporter is tired of asking "why"

With much attention now focused on rising COVID-19 cases in the UK and Moscow's new lockdown, a hidden story is in Bulgaria, which claims both Europe's highest death rate and lowest vaccination rate. By now, this reporter knows the drill

I suspected, while Google translating the Bulgarian news Wednesday morning, that I might be the last person in Sofia with an internet connection to have found out about the new COVID rules.

Following reports of 4,979 new COVID-19 cases and 214 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, the Bulgarian government had announced that proof of vaccine or negative PCR tests will be required for access to restaurants, theaters, cinemas, gyms, clubs and shopping malls. Starting tomorrow.

I'd heard some chatter at the co-working place the night before, but after 18 months of coronavirus reporting, and pandemic living, both in my native Sweden and my former home in Paris, I wasn't up for another round on the topic.

Perhaps, that same plague fatigue was what caused me — when deciding to set up shop in Bulgaria a month ago — to miss the detail that this is both Europe's least vaccinated country and the one with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate.

I had chosen Sofia (Europe's oldest city!) on the latest stop of my now 12-year hunt for a place to sort of settle down for its cheap rent, cobblestoned city center … and its excellent nationwide WiFi. What more could you ask?

Well, vaccinations, it turned out. So here I was facing the COVID story again, after months exploring France's extra strict lockdown measures, Sweden's famous flirt with herd immunity, the mask morality police and anti-vaxx ideologues everywhere.

The world's pandemic press this week is focused on the UK, where again cases are skyrocketing, and Moscow's new lockdown. But here in a country of barely 7 million, where I didn't speak the language or know the history, what might I find? After just six weeks, I considered the social dispositions I had discerned, what political leanings I'd nosed out that might explain why 80% of the population still isn't vaccinated.

I had, for example, observed with great interest that Sofians never jaywalk. Maybe that was the angle? The striking incongruence between social conformity and vaccine refusal? Or maybe the upcoming parliamentary elections held a clue to the bad COVID management.

To answer these questions, I went where any hungry reporter would go: the burger joint on the corner.

- "So new restrictions huh? You think they might lockdown?"

- "Dunno. The usual? No chili?"

- "Right, no chili … So you think more people will get vaccinated now?"

- "We'll see. That'll be four leva."

Having spent the past 18 months among the army of finger-wagging, number-crunching armchair social scientists (both in and out of print) I had suddenly lost my hunger to "explain" why Bulgarians were the world's bad boy of the moment on the COVID front. Consider this just one roving reporter's version of pandemic fatigue.


Carl-Johan Karlsson

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.

💬  LEXICON

魷魚的勝利

Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

A child stands in front of burning tires during a protest in Beirut against a new rise in fuel prices as Lebanon faces a crippling energy and economic crisis. — Photo: Marwan Naamani/dpa/ZUMA


✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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