Germans and Greeks have had an uneasy relationship since the foundation of modern Greece in the 19th century when the Bavarian king Otto was put on the throne of the newly created state.
Often bitter and tumultuous, the hostility between the two nations reached a zenith during the brutal occupation of Nazi Germany between 1941-1944. It is estimated that 300,000 Greeks died of hunger in one of Europe’s worst famines and 130,000 were killed in reprisals.
In 2015, tensions between Greece and Germany, provider of the bulk of Athens’s international bailout, peaked following the election of the anti-austerity Syriza party. The then prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, accused Berlin of employing “tricks” to evade war reparations with his government, openly raising the prospect of the seizure of German assets, including diplomatic buildings and the Goethe Institute.
Germany was quite popular in Greece before the Greek government-debt crisis with 78.5% of Greeks having a positive opinion of Germany in 2005. By 2010, only 29% shared that opinion. Today, Germany’s image in Greece has rebounded and significantly improved.
According to a survey by Pew Research in 2012, 49% of Greeks had a very unfavorable opinion of Germany, but by 2021, this number decreased to 29%. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was viewed in a very negative light by 76% of Greeks in 2012. By 2021, it was only 45%.
But what do Germans think of Greeks?
A survey of public opinion in Berlin, on behalf of the “Easy German” TV show released recently, finds that most Germans have a positive view of Greeks.
Berliners responding to questions about Greece and Greeks give really interesting answers highlighting the fact that despite past animosity, the bonds that unite the two nations are strong.
“Sun, beach, and good food” are the first things that come to mind says a respondent. Others mention tzatziki, gyros, ouzo, and Greek yogurt.
Several people point to the cultural heritage of Greece from ancient times. Democracy, philosophy, art, literature, and science of ancient Greeks are the “foundation of everything.”
An elderly Berliner says that the name Mikis Theodorakis is the first thing that comes to her mind when she thinks about Greece. “He was one of the most important musicians, he is a legend,” says another.
Many respondents in Berlin have visited Greece. After all, Germans are the top visitors to Greece. 2.9 million Germans visited Greece in 2021 alone and spent 2.4 billion euros ($2.65 billion), according to the Bank of Greece.
What do they like about Greece? The food, the sea, and the blue sky are some responses. “Greece has the bluest sky I have ever seen,” one says.
Greeks have a zest for life
Many also mention the hospitality of Greeks. Greeks are very “friendly people,” and “open warm,…fun,” as well as “welcoming,” according to the opinion poll.
“I find the language strange,” says another. “With other languages, you understand a bit, but you cannot understand Greek.”
Talking about the differences in culture between Germans and Greeks, respondents say that Greeks are “more emotional” and that “Germans are more reserved.”
“Germans are more precise, they pay more attention to little, unimportant things, whereas Greeks have an eye for important things and therefore have more zest for life,” says an elderly Berliner.
“Greeks are not so fussy and not as strict as the Germans. Their culture is more relaxed,” says another.
A respondent describes how he attended a student party in a pub in Thessaloniki where everybody sang together. “You can hardly imagine this happening in Germany,” he says.