Sarah Gardner: Big election in Greece Sunday. It’s pitting the pro-austerity crowd the anti-austerity crowd. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is taking a tough line against Greece. Keep your promises to cut spending and deficits, is her warning. And most Germans agree with her, if the polls are correct. We’ve been sounding out Europeans all week in a special series, “A man walks into a bar.”
Our correspondent Stephen Beard’s been bar-hopping through Europe all week for this series. Today’s he reporting from Berlin.
Stephen Beard: If rock music and shabby Gothic decor are your thing, Berlin’S 8mm Bar is the place for you. It’s a world away from the conservative beer kellers of Munich and the buttoned-down wine bars of Frankfurt. 8mm’s hip young owner is American-educated Louis Drosch. He feels for the Greeks and other hard-pressed Europeans — after all, he says, Berliners know what it’s like be down at heel.
Louis Drosch: Berlin not too long ago declared bankruptcy. And Berlin seems to be doing better financially, so I think on a local level we all feel pretty good here.
Berliners may be in the mood to help, he says. But they’re not happy about the antics of Greek anti-austerity protesters in Athens. They’ve been daubing the swastika over pictures of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and doing Nazi salutes.
Drosch: These symbols are outlawed within Germany. And so to see other people using them, it’s unbeliavable. It’s just so taboo. I just see it as really shocking. It really is.
One of his customers isn’t shocked or even surprised. Twenty-three-year-old musician Max Buskohl blames the German government for throwing its weight around in Athens and bullying the Greeks into a strict program of austerity and economic reform.
Max Buskohl: It’s 1938 all over again, you know. It’s like, we’re going to take over this country, just for a short while. We’re gonna swap it all around and make it German and then leave. It doesn’t work. It’s just an invasion. It is an invasion.
Mind you, as a German taxpayer, Max does worry about sending too great a share of his taxes to Athens.
Buskohl: I wouldn’t like to see a huge percentage going to Greece or something. I would like to see the schools getting the money for that and stuff. Stuff that my children would benefit from.
Scratch the liberal surface of these young Berliners and you often do find a layer of German fiscal conservatism. Julia Harz works in publishing.
Julia Harz: Of course it feels kind of strange paying money to a country, which doesn’t want to pay the money back and they don’t make efforts to pay it back.
But she still wants to cut the Greeks some slack. How about another customer here, David Orth, who works in a clothing store.
Beard: How do you feel as a German taxpayer bailing out Greece?
David Orth: I’m probably fine with it because who is Germany not to help? Because we’ve been pretty much down on the ground some 60 or 70 years ago and we got a lot of money from a lot of countries — especially the U.S. — and it helped.
Ralph Hauenschild, a commercial photographer, says he believes that in spite of the stern words from Angela Merkel, Germany will do what it takes to save the euro and he says so it should.
Ralph Hauenschild: I think it’s worth saving because it makes living in Europe pretty much easier.
Beard: You think Germany will ride to the rescue, Germany will bail out the Greeks?
Hauenschild: Yeah, Germany! Germany to the rescue!
But even the generous good humor of these young Berliners may be tested this weekend, if the Greeks vote again to reject budget cuts and economic reform.
At the 8mm Bar in Berlin, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.
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