The Hellenes, a fork and Germany, an open letter to the people of Deutschland

Guten Tag, Hallo Deutschland! What a wonderful country you are; football, beer, sausages, David Hasselhoff (ok he wasn’t born there, I know but his music was big in Germany). You also have great dance parties. Yet you are a country that refuses to pay Greece what is owed, a country that has been at the forefront of keeping the Greek nation down at a time when she needs the support of Europe. It’s a love/hate relationship and one that has brought more heartache to the Greek nation than most people in Germany will ever realise.

I recall a time in Year 9 when my teacher taught us that Europe was in the Dark Ages in the 6th-9th Centuries. Something I believed until I studied the Greek speaking Byzantium. Turns out my teacher kinda lied to me. Whilst Western Europe snored, Constantinople roared; being awake and protecting Europe. Wave after wave of ferocious enemies were turned back from Asia. The Persians and Arabs could not advance into Europe via the Greek world for the Byzantine military was too powerful to let that happen.Centuries later, Constantinople kept the Ottomans at bay until 1453. One can only imagine what would have become of Europe today if the Greek speakers of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire had not protected Europe. Germany may have been quite different, Europe certainly would have been.

In return for this protection, we have experienced plenty of heartache and misery directed towards the successors of Socrates and Constantine Palaeologus. But before I elaborate on the war, the financial disaster and the Bavarian Monarchy, let me give you a few bright spots in the ‘relationship.’ Allow me to at least paint a nice picture of one of the most powerful countries in the world and one that hosts over 400,000 Greek people.

I have visited Germany four times. On each occasion, the fact I was Greek added to the sense of kindness I encountered from you, the locals. I was 10 years old, visiting my cousin Dimitris in Frankfurt. It was there that I learnt that Frankfurt was a city, not merely sausages. I will always remember a gift and chocolate that his neighbour, an elderly lady gave me. Her smile and willingness to learn more about Greece and Australia was typical of most people who held conversations with me in Germany. A warmth. The same warmth I experience from the tens of thousands who visit Greece annually. My cousin adores your country, and I agree. Trains that run on time, decent wages and 6 weeks of annual leave! I wish we had that much annual leave.

Anyway, years later at the age of 27 I caught up my cousin and his son Johnny. My junior cousin speaks German, Spanish and limited English and Greek. Thank you for looking after them.

Fork Lesson

I used a fork to eat some delicious food in Germany. It reminded me that it was the Greek Queen Theophania Skleraina who introduced the fork to German people circa 972. As Darth Vader was quoted as saying, “Luke, use the fork,” the Queen ensured that the people of the Holy Roman Empire certainly took that up as an option to eat like the citizens of Constantinople. She had married Otto II, to help solidify a treaty between the Holy Roman Empire and Byzantium.

The Queen, your queen, ruled as a regent for 6 years when Otto II passed and was known as a benevolent, caring person.

In return for this wonderful person and the introduction of the fork, Greece would receive the Bavarian disaster/monarchy.

In 1832, the Great Powers with their incredible wisdom and ability to understand the Mediterranean, hoisted on Greece a monarchy. And no, it wasn’t a Greek, it was a Bavarian, and one who didn’t drink beer (apparently). Couldn’t you just send us some beer? Fix and Mythos are getting stale. Anyway, your man reigned until 1863 and whilst he had a deep passion and love of Greece, a monarchy, especially one that was foreign should never have been installed. Poverty, corruption, no territorial expansion and fraud were part of his time as monarch. Greece remained a backward country. A far cry from the work that Theophania had undertaken in Germany.

Greece of course would suffer dire consequences under a monarchical system of government, one that led to the disaster of the 1923 Asia Minor Catastrophe. The system of monarchy should have stayed on the other side of Europe.

Greece eventually had a true King to make us all proud; a German who bled Hellenic blue. He would eventually appear in 2001 and would help us win the Euro 2004 tournament. Rehhagel. No other words are needed to describe the greatest contribution to Greece by Germany. The entire Greek world united behind him. Can anyone forget the scenes in Brighton (Sydney), Astoria in New York, Cypriot London or those at the Greek Community Club in Alexandria who partied and cried when he helped us pull off a miracle? Did you cry too?If only the government of Germany could work with us in this capacity. I still yearn for the thousands of people who danced with me when the cup was ours. Germany, we were in LOVE with you! Germany, we would have done anything for you, anything!

We forgot the treatment we had received by the brutal NAZI regime. I know that modern Germany is not responsible, but your predecessors were.

Again, Greece came to the rescue of Europe. Did you know that we virtually knocked Mussolini and Albania out of the war? By smashing the Fascists of Italy, Hitler had to pause his invasion of Russia to deal with Greece. Imagine if Greece hadn’t stood up to these morons. What would Germany look like today? What would Europe be like? Can you imagine the son of Hitler ruling continental Europe…. Don’t laugh because the NAZI vermin were incredibly powerful in 1941. Many an evil empire has reigned unchecked for centuries.

A few years ago, the EU reduced the Mediterranean border patrol budget. Italy and Greece have had to deal with the influx of refugees; what a sterling job they have done. Achieved via the broken economy of Greece.

My dear good people of Germany, the Greek nation has little spare cash to throw around. Yet they have shown a sense of compassion and caring that is beyond belief. Most have been Muslims. Many of the Greek islands suffered because of their Christian beliefs last century, suffering caused by the out of control Ottoman Empire. Yet here we are in 2016 caring for people of a different religion. You know why they care? It is because Hellenes understand a global vision, one where people are treated as people. Life is more important than religion or nationality, we care, we help. We once stood together with Turks in the Ottoman Empire.

When Greece suffers, we find that those at the top lack compassion.

Where are the war reparations? Dear friends of Germany, I hope you remember that we have much in common. We love Rehhagel, of course. We also believe in humanity.

When the brutal NAZI regime committed atrocities we suffered, again.

Last April, Greece calculated that Germany owes it no less than €278.7 billion in World War II reparations. The figure, ruled by the parliamentary committee and Greek Supreme Court, eclipses Greece’s total international debt of €240 billion.

In 2015 then Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas made the point that reparations were around “€278.7 billion euros, including €10.3 billion…. All the other amounts are related to allowances for individuals or infrastructure.”

Germany believes that it has paid its debt to Greece with payments made in 1950 and then around 1960.

Your kind President Joachim Gauck, unlike the Chancellor (sounds like a character out of a Star Wars film) made a comment that a contribution should be made to heal the wounds of the past. He is a man of high integrity.

I would like to point out that 250,000 people died under the brutal occupation. These people should never have perished.

Greek names from Germany

Whilst there had been migration from the Byzantine Empire, it was not until 1700 that large numbers poured into the cold of Germany. Brrrrr, they shivered but they came as they let go of the warmth of Greece to work hard building modern Germany, along with the people of Germany and other new arrivals.

The first sizeable community was located in Leipzig and Greek students became common under the Otto reign.

After the Greek Civil War, many political refugees made their way to the communist section of Germany and these days the economic crisis has meant you become host to many more Hellenes.

Some of the big names that Germany has nurtured include singers Despina Vandi and Antonis Remos. Themistoklis Nikolaidis who is married to Vandi was a star under Rehhagel and one of the fairest and most respected football players in Greek history; was born in your country. As was mathematician Constantin Carathéodory and painter Aris Kalaizis. The list goes on.

You see, Germany and the Hellenes have had a colourful history. We love it when you visit, you love it when you visit. Our migrants have been treated like royalty at times. You gave us Rehhagel, true king. Yet we have had many bad moments that we all wish would go away. We protected you when you were ‘asleep’ and we gave you a fork. Now we ask not for a fork lift, but for support and protection from the economic vultures, mostly from your country. Let’s make Greece great again.

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