Retrowurst was in holiday modus in August 2005, full of the many and varied joys of Greece. Food, football, holiday fun - but was this a short-term infatuation on the part of the Germans, following the Greeks’ Euro 2004 success?
The news is official- in Germany; at least, Greece is the new Italy. While that may sound historically incorrect (wasn’t it the other way around in the old days?) there does seem to be a gathering body of evidence here that Greece is taking over Italy’s pride of place in the Germans’ minds, hearts, stomachs and suntans!
It all started about a year ago with football. The surprise winner of Euro 2004 were the Greeks, who, from the opening game on surprised the crowds in the stadiums and in front of the TVs. While critics continued to point out that the football that the Greeks played was uninspired and ugly and others muttered about luck in a sort of sour-Retsina-grapes fashion, the Greeks progressed through the first round, the quarters and semis to the final itself. Now, criticism for playing ugly football and muttering about good luck are well-known to any supporter of the German football team and, if this wasn’t enough to get the Germans behind Greece once their own luck was (uncharacteristically early) up, a quick glance at who was on the sidelines was.
Otto Rehhagel, a not uncontroversial veteran of the Bundesliga as player and trainer, coached and trained the Greeks to victory. Rehhagel has often been criticized for his “old-fashioned” methods in his home country. He famously answered his critics with the reply “winning is what is modern.” Herr Rehhagel has not only gained a couple of name changes since the tournament (“King Otto”, Rehakles”) but also is now an honorary citizen of Athens and was voted “Greek of the Year” by a leading Greek newspaper.
The drama of Euro 2004 was followed closely by the excitement and pageant of the 2004 Olympics, the Opening Ceremony of which also featured Herr Rehhagel/Rehakles. Two weeks of surprise, scandal and achievement under the Greek sun certainly continued to whet German appetites for the country.
Some rather less culturally mighty events also saw Greeks triumphing. In the first German series of “I’m a Celebrity- get me out of here”, Costa Cordalis was crowned Jungle King. Costa Cordalis is a German-adopted Greek singer who had a couple of hit records in the 1970s which are still played at Karenval when people are too drunk to care how cheesy they are. For Costa Cordalis, you need to think Demis Roussos minus the kaftan and a few kilos. And, on the subject of tacky Europop, the Eurovision song contest was won this year by none other than Greece.
On the holiday destination front, many people in Germany, scared-off by terrorist activity in Turkey and Egypt or by natural disaster in the Far East are booking up holidays in Greece. Even the recent Helios plane crash has not much dented the impression that Greece is a “safer” holiday destination than many. Greece has never been associated with the sort of Club 18-30 excess (as in Kardemena for example) in Germany that certain Greek islands and resorts are known (and avoided) for in the UK. While Germany spawns just as many undesirable holiday-makers as the UK does, most of them tend to congregate in certain unsavoury bars and resorts in the Balearics. For historical reasons, the Greeks are probably more prepared to tolerate drunken Brits than drunken Krauts.
Greece has always been a little overshadowed by its two Mediterranean neighbours, Italy and Turkey, from a German point of view. Italy has long been a popular travel and holiday destination for the Germans from Goethe’s time onwards. After all, it’s just over the Alps and these days you can drive there in a day from all but the northernmost areas of Germany. Italy is to the Germans as France is to the Brits - the epitome of the desired lifestyle, food, drink and culture. Turkey is a more recent influence but a very noticeable one with the presence of a large Turkish community within Germany. Turkish shops and restaurants are widespread and popular with many Germans and Turkey itself is a well-loved holiday destination.
This year, however, tourism to Greece has really taken-off. It is almost impossible to get a flight at this stage of the season to any of the islands and many tour operators seem to be booked-out. At least every second person amongst friends, neighbours and colleagues seems to be holidaying in Greece this year.
The discount retailers have really picked up on this trend with Greek-themed offers throughout this summer. For example, Plus (www.plus.de) have a wide range of Greek products on offer this week. There is Imiglykos wine for €1.49 (you’d probably be prepared to sing-along to Costa Cordalis songs after this!), Eos Ouzo for €4.99 (ditto), Olive Oil from Krete, Zeus Zaziki and all manner of stuffed and marinated olives and peppers. It’s not just consumables on offer either: Plus also have a mosaic garden chair and table set, olive and pistachio trees, special dishes for the stuffed and marinated olives and all manner of table linen with an olive design on offer.
The other discounters such as Aldi and Lidl have also had their Greek ranges with everything from cookbooks to garden statues. So it certainly seems as if those that are unlucky enough not to have booked their flights to Greece early will never-the-less have ample opportunity to create their own Taverna in the back garden, sit back in their mosaic stools, slug back a bit of Ouzo and sing along to Costa Cordalis. For my part, I’m off to Paros at the end of September although it may well be that we’ll have had enough of Greece by then!
Sometimes, looking back at Retrowurst, I wonder where to start, as the changes are so fundamental. But, I can safely say that the German passion for Greece is still very much alive and kicking like a mythical winged horse. The discounters are still celebrating Greek weeks with regularity, offering Mythos and other goodies.
Fifty friends of ours celebrated a 25th wedding anniversary in Matala recently, and the Greece newbies were every bit as enchanted as those who’d been visiting for decades. And last Sunday, our local band managed a rendition of Griechischer Wein just before the heavens opened and rain stopped play - and Fest.