VOX POPS: Greeks ‘living beyond means’

What do ordinary Germans think about who is to blame for the Greek crisis and what can be done to solve it? The Local hit the streets of Berlin to find out.

VOX POPS: Greeks 'living beyond means'
Photo: Jörg Luyken

Much has been written over Germany's tough stance towards Greece during its ongoing liquidity problems.

But little is actually heard from Germans themselves about how they perceive the crisis.

The Local went down to Kurfürstendamm, Berlin's longest and most luxurious shopping street to understand a little bit about how Germans view the Greek government and their own government's stance towards Athens.

'Living beyond their means'

“The Greeks have been living beyond their means for years,” said one man, visiting Berlin from Osnabrück, Lower Saxony.

“I used to play in a volleyball team in the 1970s and 80s and we traveled all over the world. I've been to Istanbul and I've been to Brasil and I've never seen a country like Greece.

“The people there simply don't work enough. I'd see them crowding cafes at four o'clock in the morning.”

“I'm completely on the side of the CDU [Christian Democratic Union]. Where has all the money gone? We pay our taxes, they don't.”

“I think Germany has shown a lot of patience up util now.“

An elderly lady on the sidewalk at Dahlmannstrasse said she blaimed the Greeks for the crisis.

“The mismanagment they are responsible for. No consideration for financial loss, always spending money.”

“I think Germany has shown a lot of patience up util now,” she said. “I would've already lost my patience.”

“The Greek government is against the EU. It isn't often said, but I saw it in their [electoral] programme. They're not prepared to compromise,“ one 63-year-old Berliner said.

But he wasn't prepared to see Greece thrown out.

“Debt relief is the only possible choice,“ he said. “It doesn't make sense for them to have their own currency. They are an import nation, they need a currency they can exchange – that means euros or dollars.”

“To keep giving money doesn't solve anything”

'We've a closer relationship to the rules'

“The Greeks certainly caused [the crisis]“ one well-dressed man told us. “But the EU and the creditors also played their part.”

“It would make sense, even for Greece, for the bailouts to stop. To keep giving money doesn't solve anything,” he said.

Another shopper on the boulevard blamed cultural differences for the crisis.

“The attitude the Greeks have is different to ours. We have a closer relationship to the rules… .. I can't say who is responsible but in a certain way, if they had our attitude it would be easier for them. But they can't change, or they don't want to.”

“Merkel should definitely be prepared to negotiate further.”

But not everyone we spoke to lay the blame at the Greek door. One said that apportioning fault was like “putting stones in a mosaic.”

“Merkel should definitely be prepared to negotiate further,” she said. But she added that even in the event of a Grexit “the EU will survive and so will Greece.“

None of those we spoke to seemed concerned about the effect of a Grexit on Europe.

“[A Grexit] wouldn't be very bad,“ one man said. “Greece is only a few percent of the European economy. The other states could cope relatively easily.”

“If there were a problem it would be political, not economic,” another said.

“It wouldn't be bad for Europe,” said another. “But for the Greeks it'll be difficult. They don't know what they're getting into. They should never have been in the euro in the first place and that isn't mentioned enough.”

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German war crime payments debated in Greece

Greece's parliament on Wednesday began a debate on a resolution to demand the payment of German war crime reparations, an issue long disputed by Berlin.

German war crime payments debated in Greece
Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsipras in Greece in January. Photo: DPA

“These demands are always active. They were never set aside by Greece,” parliament chairman Nikos Voutsis told reporters this week.

The chamber is expected to approve later Wednesday, with cross-party support, a resolution calling on the government of Premier Alexis Tsipras “to take all the necessary diplomatic and legal steps to claim and fully satisfy all the demands of the Greek state stemming from World War I and World War II”.

A parliamentary committee last year determined that Germany owes Greece at least €270 billion for World War I damages and looting, atrocities and a forced loan during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

Reclaiming war reparations has been a campaign pledge by Tsipras since 2015. He faces multiple electoral challenges this year, with his party trailing in polls.

'Historical responsibility'

During a visit to Greece in January, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country “recognised its historical responsibility.”

SEE ALSO: Merkel says Germany recognizes responsibility for Nazi war crimes in Greece

“We recognize our historical responsibility. We know how much suffering we, as Germany in the time of Nazism, have brought to Greece,” she said.

In 2014, ex-president Joachim Gauck had also sought public forgiveness in the name of Germany from relatives of those murdered by the Nazis in the mountains of northern Greece.

But when it comes to actual payments, the German government has always insisted that the issue was settled in 1960 in a deal with several European governments.

Germany's government spokesman Steffen Seibert reiterated Wednesday that “the reparation issue is judicially and politically settled”. 

He said Berlin is doing “everything it can so Greece and Germany maintain good relations as friends and partners”. 

During the Greek economic crisis, there was further tension in Athens over draconian EU austerity and bailout terms seen to be imposed by Berlin hardliners.

Relations have improved over the last three years after Tsipras' government endorsed conditions linked to satisfying its creditors.

Tsipras and Merkel also worked closely on finding common ground on migration and Balkans security.