The complex relationship between Greece and Germany

Richard Edgar

Former Economics Editor

The complex relationship between Greece and Germany

"Schaffe, schaffe Haeusle baue!" Four words that encapsulate the tensions at the heart of Germany’s relationship with countries bailed out after the financial crisis. Literally it means 'graft, graft and build a little house’ and is a folk phrase, a diner in a restaurant in Berlin told me, celebrating hard work that pays off. What Germans don’t like, he said, is people who want something for nothing – by implication work-shy Greeks.

Except the owner of this very successful restaurant – one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s favourites – is Greek. He hosts the diner I spoke to and a group of friends every week to discuss politics. They made me welcome at their table for a while and I learned some of the complex and contradictory ideas swirling through Germany as it digests the election in Greece.

Angela Merkel dines at this Greek restaurant.

Greece has already had a lot of money from Germany and the rest of Europe. Now it needs to pay that back but the country’s new government says the sums involved would cripple the country and wants to renegotiate the terms.

Germans instinctively recoil from that idea (schaffe, schaffe!), but increasingly recognise the austerity insisted upon by their government is having a terrible effect on many ordinary Greeks. One doctor in the group of friends who meets at the restaurant has raised money for fellow medics in Greece who lack basic equipment and medicines.

But the final word should go to the restaurateur, Konstantin Cassambalis. After 40 years in Berlin he is perhaps best placed to assess what’s gone wrong. “We Greeks have a different mentality," he tells me. “Give us a bailout and we’ll probably spend that, too. But the Germans, who lent us the money in the first place knew what was going on. They should have asked ‘what are you doing with the money?’ but while the going was good, they never asked.” It’s a complex story.