[Travel] Athens

Marcus and I decided to visit Athens on a long weekend trip during the European financial crisis in 2012. It’s springtime for the rest of the continent, but sizzling hot in Greece when we arrive.

We both had no expectations of Athens at all prior to our travel. After exploring the city for a few days, we were both shocked and delighted by how much the environment reminded us of Berlin and what we’d heard about its history. Athens displays all the hallmarks of urban poverty: graffiti, abandoned housing, shutdown commercial space in the city center. Like some sort of anachronistic joke, the symbol of democracy – the Akropolis – towers over this modern, yet lost city.

Athens in 2012 is in the middle of a catastrophic financial crisis, almost tearing apart the European Union over the handling of state debt, and on the news cycle pretty much all the time. I’m too young to understand what all of it means, but it’s right there, in the back of our minds. It’s not often that we think of the historical and cultural context of a city when we go on vacation, but it’s hard to escape the bleakness of Athens while we’re there. We witness protests, we listen to people arguing on the streets. That’s not to say that Athens isn’t beautiful as well: it’s just hard to ignore the political restlessness.

Will the next generation make possible in Athens what once happened in Berlin?

Athens reminds me a lot more of Damascus than of any European city. The Mediterranean climate, the outdoorsy vibe of the people, the coast and yes, the staring gaze of the macho-men, they’re all rather typical for where I’m from. On the other hand, the incredible food and the warmth of the Greek cancels out any negative sentiments I could have.

Inevitably, we come back to comparing Athens to Berlin. It’s hard not to: turn back time to ’89 and you can see the similarities. Berlin, back then, was just as much lost and between places (quite literally between East and West) as Athens is today – between Greece and the EU, somehow between moving forward and going back, and between left and right. But there is a glimmer of hope: as the money backs out of the city, youths gain space to spread out. Will the next generation make possible in Athens what once happened in Berlin? Will the artists, the outcasts and the poor who remain in this urban canvas rise as powerful people? Is Athens – like Detroit, for example – a new city, re-invented from the scratch?

We won’t know until it happens. But I’m rooting for it.

NEW Design Hotel in Athens

13 comments

  1. HaHa. Yeah You´re right. And especially in Athens. There are more 1UP bombs than in Berlin. Cheers to the Crew!

  2. Oh gott. Wie gut ist dieses Palmenfoto da oben. Seeeehr schön. Diesen Sommer gehts nach Athen! Beschlossene Sache.

  3. Excellent article, Marcus!

    i think Athens is one of the coolest (not climatologically, though!) European cities at the moment. Something between 70’s NYC and 80’s Berlin (including the dark — and sometimes dangerous — side of both these).

    The absolute not-to-be-missed is of course the Athens Festival, taking place every summer in Athens and the ancient theater of Epidaurus. It’s definitely one of the best festivals in Europe, with top theater, dance, music and art performances at unbelievably low prices (in comparison with other european festivals).

    check it here: http://www.greekfestival.gr/en/

  4. Lol guys we appreciate your great post about our city, although as i told my wife:
    These guys live in “order” and they miss “chaos”.
    We live in “chaos” and we grave for some “order”.

  5. Nice article and beautiful pictures, just got back from Athens and have a lot of pleasant memories. A city with so much character and many different faces. Particularly love the picture of the mural at Psyrri Square.

    I know you’ve tried to capture the urban soul and grit of Athens, but no mention of the natural monument that majestically oversees the whole city aka Mount Lycabettus? The view from the top is just incredible.

  6. Great post guys, was very cool seeing a travelers perspective to the city I love, live and breathe for years. Although I was born in München, aber war dort nur 7 Jahre!

    We are running http://www.mysecretathens.gr an insider guide of Athens where we post little secrets and hidden beauties of Athens, unfortunately in Greek.

    I wish I knew somehow that you were coming to Athens, we also have a side-project called http://www.greeceinsiders.com which connects travelers with locals that provide certain “experiences” such as tours/activities/workshops. One of them is a Secret-Gardens tour, or an Athens street-art photo safari tour, where you explore the city’s street art. We would love to show you around :)

    Next time you are in Athens, drop us an email!

  7. I’d love to credit some of your images across the http://thegoddessofthehunt.com/, a Greek creative collective designed to deliver food-for-thought for the contemporary and antsy Greek spirit. Great and well written article. It always makes me smile when people find the small beauties of Athens :). Best, Merope

Comments are closed.