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Riot policemen defend their position beside a burning van during violent protests against austerity measures in Athens' Syntagma (Constitution) square, June 28, 2011. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters/Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
Riot policemen defend their position beside a burning van during violent protests against austerity measures in Athens' Syntagma (Constitution) square, June 28, 2011. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters/Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

A tale of two Europes Add to ...

"Just four people are left to check thousands of companies in the area and they haven't even a car to go out for checks," labour council boss Mr. Dimitriou said. "Workers are forced to work one day in five. That's illegal, but cheaper for them than to fire workers and pay the compensation."

At the city's main hospital, which was built in the post-euro boom years and sits proudly atop a hill, there are worries about a plan to merge it with a hospital in a neighbouring city.

Locals remember Prime Minister Costas Simitis inaugurating the hospital in 2003 and getting stuck in a lift. The problems have continued ever since - unopened units, delays to new equipment. "The hospital has never worked properly anyway, and now it's supposed to shut down for good," said Lazaros Koligiannis, a pensioner who is afraid all services in the town might disappear.

"This isn't Germany," said Thanassis Kokontinis, a local councillor. "We have no ambulances. If the hospital is moved to another town, people will have to drive themselves to the emergency ward."

But local hospital manager Meletis Bethanis said that unless patients pay more out of their own pocket, the entire health system will collapse: "€75 in treatment fees is simply not enough."


Does that mean Greeks think Germany and other euro zone members have no right to demand change?

At the beginning of the debt crisis in late 2009, many Greeks pointed out that Berlin owed Greece a debt for having invaded the country during the Second World War. German papers painted Greeks as lazy spendthrifts. But retired factory worker Panagiotis Kalabokas said that clichéd image is simply not true. "When the shift is over in Germany, workers drop everything and go back home," he said. "In Greece we work overtime when we have to."

Some people also believe German companies have played unfair over the years. Dimitrios Papagikas, who runs a city laundry, is still angry that a factory run by Greek white goods manufacturer Izola, once a showcase of Greek industry, closed after what he thinks was unfair competition from a German rival.

But even Mr. Papagikas believes Germany is well within its rights to demand reforms in Greece. "It's only natural," he said. "Whoever lends wants to make sure he'll get his money back."

That kind of pragmatic attitude is a lot more prevalent than you might think along Thebes' main shopping street, where most people blame Athens for their country's woes.

"It's not the Germans who are to blame," said Evangelia Papadaki, who runs a store selling religious items and pictures. "It's just our rotten politicians. If a German steals, he ends up in jail."

Yes, foreign competitors have thrived. But "Greek businessmen gobbled up the easy bank loans they got and let their firms perish," she added.

George Dimopoulos, who owns a clothes store, said that while Berlin's demands may not suit Greece, at least the Germans are "frank." "We have to learn to live on €400 a month to become competitive," he said. "Getting out of the euro wouldn't solve anything. We'd just shut the borders and then become like Albania used to be."

None of that makes relations between Germans and Greeks any easier when they do meet. High-school teacher Costas Haremis visited Leipzig with his class last year as part of a student exchange program. "A couple of Germans attacked us verbally on a public bus," he said. "'What did you come here for? You want us to feed you?' We tried to make fun of it, not take it seriously."

Despite that, Mr. Haremis plans to take another class to Leipzig. "I hope the mood is better this time," he said.


On the streets of Stuttgart, it's not pragmatism you find but indifference, despite polls that show Germans are angry about the Greek bailouts, as well as those of Ireland and Portugal.

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