German tabloids dish it out as Nikos southern cousin Nikos loses cool status


The prospect of having to bail out Greece has seen clouds form on the otherwise azure sky of German- Greek relations, writes Derek Scallyin Berlin

FOR GREEKS living in Germany, the last months have brought a rude awakening. They had been treated as Germany’s cool southern cousins since Bavaria’s Prince Otto became the first modern King of Greece in 1832.

For centuries, German academics and archaeologists have promoted ancient Greek culture around the world.

Most importantly, for more than 30 years countless German parties have reached their alcohol-soaked climax with the singalong summer hit Griechische Wein (Greek Wine) by Udo Jürgens, Germany’s answer to Joe Dolan.

But the prospect of having to bail out Greece to save the euro has seen clouds forming on the otherwise azure sky of German-Greek relations.

As Europe’s largest economy, Germany will be the biggest donor to Greece, prompting a vitriolic campaign against Greece in Germany’s popular press.

“Those Broke Greeks!” is a typical headline for Bild, which reaches 12 million readers daily under the ambiguous slogan: “Giving you your opinion.”

For weeks, Bild has been telling its readers almost daily how outraged they – the readers – are at having to help Greece, a “land of bankrupts and luxury pensions, tax-dodgers and rip-offs”.

At the prompting of Bild, two German MPs suggested the Greeks should sell some uninhabited islands to raise much- needed cash. In an open letter to prime minister George Papandreou, Bild wrote: “Germany has high debts, too, but we can settle them because we get up early and work all day.”

Even the most laid-back Greeks in Germany are having difficulty keeping their cool.

“I think Bild is playing a very dangerous game by oversimplifying the story,” said Giorgios Zhrissidis, owner of the popular Berlin restaurant Z (slogan: “More than just Zorba”).

Many of his guests have asked him about the situation in recent weeks, he says, “but not in a hostile tone of the German papers”.

That tone is not limited to Bild. Weekly news magazine Focus ran a cover story – “Cheaters in the Euro Family” – with a Photoshopped statue of Aphrodite giving readers the finger. Yesterday, the influential Spiegel Online website headlined an article: “Nikos used to bring us the Ouzo. Now he wants €135 billion.”

Restaurateur Anna Fragos divides her time between the family’s olive tree plantation in the town of Kalamata, southwest Greece, and her restaurant, Thalassa, in Berlin.

The Berlin native understands German the shock on learning about Greek salaries and pension arrangements that are far more generous than their own.

“Something had to give in Greece and, in some ways, I’m glad it’s happening,” she said, “but I don’t have the feeling the German people feel the same way towards us as the German press. We’ve had Germans, disgusted with the media coverage, come in here to show their solidarity.”

What she misses in German coverage is differentiation: that the greatest burden of Greece’s austerity package will have to be shouldered by ordinary Greeks rather than those who have huge undeclared incomes hidden in bank accounts.

Pianist Dimitrios Drainakis says he, too, is tired of reading German newspaper articles filled with sweeping generalisations

“Yes, Greek politics is corrupt, like Italy’s, and we have too many civil servants who go to work at 11am and retire at 50, but you can’t assume everyone is like that,” says Drainakis, who has lived in Berlin since 1996.

“I’ve only had good experiences here in Germany and haven’t heard any remarks lately about ‘you terrible Greeks’.”

An amused Fragos suggests the German media is “reacting like a disappointed lover”.

“But among our peoples,” she says, “I think the love is still there on both sides.”