They cringe each time a German flag is burned in the streets of Athens and fume in outright indignation when their chancellor, Angela Merkel, is depicted as a Nazi on the front pages of Greek newspapers. But the Greeks living and working in Germany also get angry each time the local press blames Greece’s economic woes on their lazy Greek relatives who reportedly retire too early and don’t pay any taxes.
The crisis has tossed Germany’s 380,000 Greeks into the center of a growing rift between the most cash-strapped nation, Greece, and the European Union’s paymaster, Germany.
According to Christos Marazidis, a Germany-born Greek employed by the municipality of Munich, Germans are resentful of the bailouts to the Greeks. Greece was the first European Union country to take a multi-billion dollar bailout in May 2010 and most of the money has come from Germany – the bloc’s strongest economy.
“Germans talk non-stop about the Greek economic crisis,” says Marazidis in a telephone interview from Munich, a city that is home to some 25,000 first and second-generation Greeks.
“When I go for lunch with my German colleagues they always tell me how worried they are that their standard of living and future pension are being threatened as long as Germany continues to bailout Greece,” he said. “They are usually very critical of Greece and the Greeks.”
As previously reported in The Pappas Post, a recent poll showed that 49% of Germans would prefer Greece to leave the Eurozone.
Marazidis, 46, blames the media.
“Many Germans, especially those who are educated and who have contact with the Greeks and who have visited the country are not so easily swayed by the German media,” he said. “But I can’t say the same about a large number of Germans who are not educated and whose opinion of Greece is blindly swayed by the headlines on the front page of Bild.”
Bild, Germany’s best-selling tabloid, repeatedly runs inflammatory headlines, calling on German lawmakers to stop bailing out Greece.
“The Greeks here are very angry with the German press because they are not telling the whole story,” said Marazidis. “But they are also outraged by the Greek media, which depict Merkel as a new Hitler. This is totally unacceptable.”
Reuters recently reported on Bild’s two-year-long coverage of the Greek crisis, claiming that it has stoked public anger in Germany and fueled taxpayer opposition to big bailout checks.
For Germans who have seen many of their social welfare benefits scrapped in a decade of belt-tightening, stories about Greek tax dodgers and pensions paid for years to dead people were incendiary, said Reuters.
Hera Dick, a 28-year-old Greek born in Munich, has become so infuriated by the current situation that she no longer enjoys going out for coffee.
“I don’t like it,” she said. “Every time I go out to have a coffee I hear Germans saying the same things over and over again about how the Greeks are to blame for the crisis. Yesterday, one woman at a café was saying how Greeks are finally getting what they deserve after so many years of not paying taxes. She said she was angry because she now has to work in order to pay for the Greeks.”
Dick, who works at a foreign language school, said she could not keep silent. “I couldn’t help it,” she said. “I had to tell the lady she shouldn’t talk like that because it’s not all Greeks who are to blame and that so many people in Greece are now suffering. I told her she should go to Greece and see for herself what it’s like for the people of Greece.”
Greece’s unemployment rate hit a record high of 22.5% in April – a massive jump from 16% in April of last year. It is also estimated that a third of Greeks now live below the poverty line. Local charities say some 13,000 people are homeless.
According to Savvas Palestis, an auto-mechanic in Munich, news of people suffering in Greece is underreported in Germany.
“I don’t like the way the media in both countries are covering the crisis,” he said. “I can’t say that all German media is negative. Some isn’t, but these types of stories don’t sell. What sells is the negativity
“At the end of the day, the people are not to blame,” Palestis added. “I really hope the current climate does not strain relations between Greeks and Germans. Many of my friends and most of my customers are German.”
Marazidis, a whiz with computers who runs one of Germany’s most popular Greek community websites, said he is also concerned the current climate might derail all that has been achieved by dozens of Greek community associations over the years.
“It would be a real shame if the strong bilateral cultural ties that we have spent years building here in Germany are destroyed in just a couple of months,” he said.
It is estimated that there are between 600,000 and a million Greeks living and working in Germany today. Thousands of students attend 35 organized community schools and there is an active and powerful Greek Orthodox Church presence.
The Greek population came mostly after World War II. West Germany needed employees for their expanding industry. In East Germany, Greek communists came as political refugees until 1973.
While most Greeks in Germany maintain close ties to Greece and return regularly, many have assimilated into German culture, marrying natives and taking on the German language and traditions.