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The German who 'bought a Greek island'

Published: 23 Mar 2012 10:14 GMT+01:00

“I didn’t get the idea of buying the land from that article,” said Steffen Piermaier, a 35-year-old Bavarian business manager who lives out of hotels as he is always on the road for work.

“But, it was pretty easy to realize that this was the time to get a good deal in Greece, both on land and on labour to build my dream home.”

It didn’t take Piermaier long to make a decision. After seeing pictures of a colleague’s home on the island of Skopelos, dubbed the greenest in Greece, he found a plot of land for sale, called a local lawyer and received the deed before he even set foot in the country.

He is now selling his Porsche to finance building a holiday home – despite the misgivings of his family and an unpleasant reception when he first landed in Athens.

“My family thinks I’m crazy,” he said. “They want to know why I didn’t buy a house in Germany. But, I think it would be crazier to spend more money on a small home outside of Stuttgart than I could on a place overlooking the sea, which I can also use as a rental while I’m working abroad.”

Ditching the suit he usually wears to manage German and Scandinavian operations for a major electronics store chain, the new landowner came to Greece for the first time last week unsure of what to expect.

Germans dubbed neo-Nazis

His fears that anti-German sentiment sparked by tight austerity measures to get bail-out money could mean Greeks would not welcome him, seemed justified on day one when he bumped into a demonstration in Athens.

Although he does not speak Greek, he could make out the words “neo-Nazis” on some of the placards they were carrying.

“I got a little uncomfortable, not knowing what the signs were referring to. So, when a protester asked where I was from, I told him Norway,” he said.

“It turned out he actually knew Norwegian because his brother lives there. I decided to get out of there.”

And although the protest organiser said the signs were referring to Greek politicians, not Germans, Piermaier’s concern is not completely unfounded; many Greeks resent Germany’s attitude toward their financial crisis.

Anger at German demands

In Psiri, an up-and-coming corner of Athens filled with shops and restaurants, Pentelis Melissinos greets a constant stream of tourists, who want the sandals his family has been making for three generations.

He is cross – agreeing with a recent statement made by German economic historian Albrecht Ritschl, who criticised Germany for its stance on Greece and called his own country the worst debtor nation of the past century.

“Germans have quite the nerve to judge us when they are the ones that never repaid their debts to Greece after WWII,” said Melissinos. “They forced our country to pay millions in loans to them and destroyed our infrastructure. They have only paid back a fraction of that amount.”

“Germans look down on every country that isn’t Germany,” he continued. “But, you know what? I don’t trust Greek politicians either. Both governments have betrayed their people.”

A warm island welcome

Luckily for Piermaier, the reception from his new neighbors on Skopelos was much warmer. The island, in the central-northwest Aegean Sea, has a population of only 5,700 and is the kind of place where a newcomer is immediately noticed.

Arriving by ferry, Piermaier was greeted at the dock by his lawyer who had set up meetings with the locals. His first stop was to meet Dmitri, an 87-year-old deliveryman who uses his donkey to cart building materials up and down the island’s tiny roads.

Click here for pictures of Piermaier and his new home.

“I told him my name was Steffenos,” said Piermaier, laughing. “And I let him know I would use his services when building my house. He didn’t understand so I explained with gestures that his donkey would be able to eat. He smiled and hugged me, saying ‘Steffenos. My best friend.’”

By his second day, ‘Steffenos’ Piermaier had invitations to his neighbours’ homes for lunch and dinner. “The people here are incredible, really,” he said. “They seem removed from the political problems in Athens. They just want to improve tourism to their island and continue on with their simple way of living.”

Young Athenians heading for Germany

But theirs is an idyllic scene that many Greeks can only dream of. Back in Athens where the poor, graffiti-covered parts of town seem to be getting larger, a sense of hopelessness has invaded the psyche of many young people.

Georgia Johnson, a 30-year-old art seller, doubts whether she will ever marry or have children. Having recently seen her wage cut literally in half, she said her main concern was finding a better job.

“I don’t even think of having a family anymore,” she said. “When would I have time? I need to help support my grandmother, whose pension is now less than her monthly rent. I barely have enough to pay my rent either.”

Despairing of finding work at home, and although she speaks fluent English, Johnson is now also learning German with the hopes of finding a job abroad.

“I have no problems with Germany. In fact, I would like to live and work there,” she said. “But, I don’t know if they would welcome a Greek person in the workplace.”

While she may soon be heading north-west, Piermaier is intent on travelling in the other direction to Skopelos more often.

Dotted with lemon and orange trees and surrounded by clear seas splashing against the rugged coastline, it is easy to see why Skopelos’ main industry is tourism.

But Piermaier thinks marketing efforts could be improved, particularly to Germans. He plans to work with the locals to establish a business to provide holiday rentals, island activities and advice to travellers.

Before he heads back to work in Germany, he wants to put down roots in Greece, and perhaps play a small part in helping improve relations between the two countries.

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The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

12:37 March 23, 2012 by AlexR
This must be the article with one of the most misleading titles ever in the Local. A "German who bought a Greek island"? The island of Skopelos? Really?

I'm visiting the island of Skopelos (and the nearby islands Skiathos and Alonnisos) for more than a decade now. Here are some facts:

- No German or even Bill Gates has enough money to ever buy the whole island of Skopelos. It has a population of 5000 and an area of 100 square kilometers.

- What he really bought was land and a house. Not the island.

- He didn't do something extraordinary or even uncommon. Hundreds of Germans have bought houses (for knockdown prices) in Skopelos and the other two nearby islands, since the 70's.

There are actually so many German house owners, that in some parts of the old towns of those islands, you hear more German that in the centre of Munich. Think Majorca in mini scale.
13:15 March 23, 2012 by AchillesV
The label with Neonazis, depicts Greeks who are against illegal immigrants, living in Greece, not Germans. It is a leftist call for a demostration in an area at the center of Athens where many illegal immigrants live, in order to support them.

The center of Athens has been left to illegal immigrants. Greeks tend to live away from the center. For that, anyone who has been in the center of Athens the last years, he will see 70% of illegal immigrants around and a third world mess, as from Greece is passing the 90% of immigrants who are entering from Turkey to EU and Greece alone cannot protect all Europe.
08:21 April 5, 2012 by jackheron
As an Irishman living in Greece, in fact at the other end of the island where Steffen has bought his plot of land, I can confirm AchillesV's comment that the poster Steffen photographed in Athens actually reads "Neo-Nazis Out", and refers to demonstrations against the small but violent Greek far right group Chrysi Avgi and their cohorts, who are terrorising immigrants in Greece. And as AlexR points out, Germans have long enjoyed a very warm welcome in Greece, where they almost outnumber the 2.6million Brits who visit each year. Even on Crete, scene of some of the worst Nazi atrocities in WWII, there are some villages that are almost entirely German. So I'm not surprised that Steffen found such a warm welcome here. We all did.
09:58 March 28, 2013 by Thassos Insel
i really dont get it what s the point of the author to involve in an article all those who wish to buy a house in Greece and enjoy a life close to the nature and where the sky is blue, with all those who face the hard face of reality of not having enough money, or a job and decide to find their luck in another country, that for some Greeks happens to be Germany .

the other thing that i really dont get it is how the author is confused about reffering to Neonazis in a non political thesis article.my advice would be to travel in Greece and see foryourself what is true, or not! People from Greece leave to look for a kind of job that Greece cannot provide them, for example a well paid sales manager, but it is also a fact that any Greek can realy have a job to make a leaving in Greece as well. Greece is a country that provides you the benefit to anjoy all kinds of mother nature's good, such as fresh fish, vegetables and a quality way of life, which is also a fact that a lot of Germans fell in love with that way of lιving and relocated either in an island, either in any other city, enjoying all the benefits of leaving in Greece. it s all about priorities... for any one of us to choose where to live... and not a matter of political thessis or origin!!!!!!!
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