Greece: Untying the Gordian knot again

Greece. The cradle of European civilisation. Of democracy. Of mathematics and philosophy. Of poetry (think Homer, not Simpson!). The backdrop to the epic poem “Hyperion” by German national poet Friedrich Hoelderlin (and that’s only the first that springs to my mind, right now, oh how the classics, how Ancient Greece echoes throughout German literature and thinking). Oh Greece! I’ve never been there so far, but the fact that Greece is bankrupt really affects me, as it does all Europeans. Certainly, if you’ve got an academic background in the humanities as I do, it works and reverberates on this second level. How can a people that gave the world so much, that put their stamp on the BLUEPRINT of modern civilization, go down the drain like this? What’s going wrong there? I am confused. Europe is confused (hell, our continent is NAMED after that girl Zeus abducted on his back in the guise of a steer, and certainly SHE was confused when it happened).

Riots in Athens - scenes from a Mad Max-movie come true.

Greece. Not Grease. The thing that set us apart from the Americans. History. It really makes me bitter. Because well, the Greek went down and it was only indirectly related to the global crisis that the banksters (and the greed of millions of “Mr. Man in the Streets” who always wanted more more more for their shares) caused.

Our family physician hails from Greece and some time ago, at a garden party, she told us a few things. How in Greece, it was normal that everyone got a thirteenth and fourteenth salary. How there were bonus payments not just around Christmas, but also due before Easter. How everyone had more holidays, how no-one really paid any taxes because corruption had crippled bureaucracy into in-effectiveness. You always made an insider deal, and when you should’ve payed, say, 500 Euros for tax (turnover, income, VAT in greater invest-questions, whatever), you arranged something with the official in charge of your case. You payed like, say, 200 under the table, and all was settled. And Greek financial authorities are said to be deliberately sluggish and ineffective. I’ve heard this kind of story from more then one person with a Greek background, and it was even covered on conservative German media like ARD (basically our CBC) and in Deutschlandfunk (Radio Germany) who are not known for sensationalism. So, to a degree, bribery killed the Greek cat.

No wonder their infrastructure is disintegrating, and students are rioting. In Greece, when you retired, your state

Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian knot in 333 BC: Maybe something to remember these days?

retirement plan GUARANTEED you that you would have more money than you earned during your last job. And as far as I know, retirement age was what, 60? Well, no wonder they could hardly invest into the younger generations. It simply couldn’t go on like that forever. Like this, the Greek just couldn’t compete on a global level. The sad thing is, though, that a lot of Germans now chide the Greek for trying to live the idea of a, well, let’s call it “laissez-faire welfare-utopia” that we forced ourselves to abandon around twenty years ago here in Germania (yes, I know Real Pete, it’s Germany, not Germania, I live here – let’s just do this for John, right?). A lot of people dream of the seventies, when socialist and welfare-positions were strong in Germany, and when it could be financed because there were enough jobs for everyone, even people with little or no real qualifications. Maybe we’re a little jealous that at least still for a while, some of the Greek populace had it easier than we did?

German couple and the news. She: "Crisis - the word is of Greek origin." He: "Just why am I not surprised...?"

I can understand that a lot of people are angry because we had to bail out Greece (well, we, read: the German government or the people who currently pose for being “a government” waited long enough for sure, which certainly made the Greek go mad, and rightly so). But what would the alternative have been? Of course, given the fact how prices have exploded and wages have dwindled in the last decade that doesn’t make the Euro the favourite child Germany had with its former currency, the Deutschmark. Most people hate the Euro now, only the filthily rich aren’t affected by the way you have to cut your costs. And even my Euro-enthusiasm has gone down the drain quite a bit.

But still, not bailing out Greece? As a consequence, the Euro would’ve failed. I’m not a financial expert, but I talked to some people working in banks, and most told me that nobody could have rebooted the system afterwards. Of course, we’ll get a bad inflation, but still, instant hyper-inflation? With riots as we could watch them in Greece all over Europe? It could have meant civil war-like conditions in a lot of European states, at least in the capitals and major cities. No, thanks. Bail ‘em out. It’s only money. And “Money is not our God”, as British alternative rock legends Killing Joke once sang (or at least it shouldn’t be). At least now I know where most of my taxes go. And Greece is just the scapegoat, the synonym. After all, the acronym PIGS tells you that in this context, we’re also talking Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Don’t blame the people, blame the system. Both in those states and on the global level. Our governments could have pushed the reset-button in 2008, changing the rules of financial transactions once and for all. They didn’t.

But to get back (to) my taxes: The next time I eat at a Greek restaurant or Snack Bar (Germany’s littered with them), I’ll

Next time. at one of those Greek places, I'll ask them to give me my "Gyros-Pommes" (Gyros with French fries) for free... Afterall, I paid my tax and saved Greece!

just tell the waiter, on leaving: “Thanks for my meal. As you know, I’ve already paid for it with my last income-tax declaration…” I hope they’ll be able to take that Joke. I like the Greek. They’re quite laid back and rock’n’roll (at least the ones I met so far). They’ll have to have a lot of guts to be able to face what’s coming their way. Maybe this is what we should consider more all over Europe. We’re not just in it for the money. We’re in this together now. Trying to beat the odds. Maybe we should look to Alexander the Great for a solution to this Gordian knot? His take in 333 BC was a subtle blend of violence and lateral thinking. Maybe we can do it without the violence part today. Untying the knot, yet keeping Europe together. I don’t know about you, but I’ll drink some Ouzo to that…

Laugh at your own peril – “Money is not our God” by Killing Joke:

German Athletes complain about Olympic Village

The German eagle in a cardboard version - befitting the architecture of the Olympic village?It may not exactly be “The House that Pain built“, but then the Olympic Village in Whistler is also not likely to appear as the last track on a Killing Joke-album. (And “The House that Pain built” of course is still MacKinnon Residence in Bishop’s University, Lennoxville, QC, but that’s a different story altogether). Still, Whistler has German athletes complaining, as German newspaper „Die Zeit“ reported yesterday.

The Olympic Village is compared to a boy scout-summercamp. German athletes told reporters that the living standard was rather poor, compared to European standards: bad housing, food served on paper plates and with plastic cutlery.

The German team criticizes the conditions in Whistler, getting more and more worked up. Hermann Weinbuch, one of the official coaches, said it’d be bad that athletes and coaches were living so far apart. Regarding food and the way it’s served he said that it really left “a lot to desire”. Yet the biggest problem according to Weinbuch’s book are still the drafty tents. “You can really catch a cold here, easily.”

His colleague Werner Schuster from the German ski jumpers likened the Olympic village to a boy scout-summer camp. “The standard of living is quite low. Five or even six people need to share a bathroom, and the walls are paper-thin “, explained Schuster. He admits to have had issues with all that at the start. “But now I kinda like it. And I think it’s an experience for the athletes. It’s a different ambience than a hotel with four stars, because you really have to sort everything out for yourself “, Schuster continued.

Thinks Whistler is "an experience for the athletes": Werner Schuster.

Thinks Whistler is "an experience for the athletes": Werner Schuster.

During the Winter Games in Salt Lake City and Turin, some of the athletes were not accommodated in the Olympic Village. Because travelling to the games would’ve been long and cumbersome, the Deutsche Skiverband (German Skier’s Union) had booked private quarters near the event locations for athletes, coaches and other personnel. That’s a privilege that only our Alpine-ace Maria Riesch enjoys right now, along with the other ski racers as well as their advisors, trainers and their entire technical crew.

One user comments in the „Die Zeit“-forum: ”I was in Whistler two years ago. It’s a totally artificial village with everything that people under 25 need in order to have fun – if they’ve got rich parents, that is. Everything was so expensive there – so it really baffles me why the Olympic teams are housed in tents and cardboard-architecture.”

On the other hand, this anonymous user admits that we Germans have this knack of projecting our architectural and construction needs on other nations. And I guess he’s right: In Germany, everything is built to last for eternity, most architecture is really heavy masonry or even concrete, wooden houses are totally exotic (you have something like that in your garden, but you don’t live there). Maybe that’s one of the typical German quirks, to build any house like a u-boat pen. But it’s a nice one. F*** off, Katrina. Our masonry is as heavy as our music.

Suffers from "Whistler-shock": German coach Weinbuch.I still remember when my wife was first exposed to Canadian architecture in 2005 (talking about individual houses, now). It was up in Belvedere in Lennoxville, where a couple of friends of mine back from the old Bishop’s days were living in one of those little houses (the white one with the green windowframes to be exact). Involuntarily, as we pulled up the driveway, my lovely wife Silke alluded to Star Wars: “They live in that thing? They’re braver than I thought…”