Tens of thousands gathered at the barricades of a massive police operation to protect the German Chancellor as she met with Greek leaders who are searching for a new package of budget cuts to secure bail-out funds largely underwritten by the German taxpayer.
The centre-Right Mrs Merkel had arrived in Athens with the state plane flying the flags of both Greece and Germany.
The gesture set a tone of understanding and humility from the German camp but failed to make a dent in the wave of anger directed at the woman blamed for pushing Greece ever deeper into depression.
The message sent to Mrs Merkel from the streets was unremittingly bleak.
Banners screamed: “Angela, Save the world, Kill Yourself” and “Out with the Fourth Reich”.
A group of dustmen dressed in Nazi uniforms and waving Swastika flags paraded through Syntagma Square in a jeep. The convoy got as close to parliament as riot police would allow, stopping at the marble steps of the Grande Bretagne Hotel. In happier days Athens’ elite congregated in the hotel foyer for high tea but these days it hosts a revolving succession of official delegations attempting to negotiate rounds of austerity.
One commentator even noted that Mrs Merkel’s green jacket was the same one she had worn on the night that Germany beat Greece in the quarter-final of Euro 2012 in June.
Karolos Papoulias, Greece’s president and a renowned figure in the resistance to Nazi occupation, spoke for the silent majority when he demanded consideration of the country’s modern day calamities not historical grievances. “We have almost exhausted our endurance. We must think of measures that will bring hope, particularly growth measures,” he said.
Speaking after talks with Antonis Samaras, the Greek prime minister, Mrs Merkel said she wanted to develop a deeper understanding of Greek conditions.
“I am not a teacher to give lessons. I’m here to be informed, I know that changes are difficult to be implemented.”
The only encouragement she could offer was a vague claim that the economy had finally hit the bottom.
“I have come here today in full knowledge that the period Greece is living through right now is an extremely difficult one for the Greeks and many people are suffering,” she said. “Precisely for that reason I want to say that much of the path is already behind us.
“We are dealing with problems that have arisen in part over decades, and these problems can’t be solved with one bang, with one measure,” she said. “It will be a longer path but I believe that we will see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mr Samaras sought to find a turning point in the visit. “Merkel’s visit to Greece first of all proves that we are breaking an international isolation that existed to now,” he said.
Ordinary Greeks were dismayed that the German leader was insulated by the biggest security operation since President Bill Clinton visited in 1996.
“We know that she is not here to offer favours but she must help us, this is our last chance,” said 45-year-old Mari Hanioti, a saleswoman. “She must be able to see what we are going through, how much we are suffering. She should see the poor neighbourhoods not just the expensive hotels.”
However economists said the real discussions on Greece’s economic fate were taking place in Luxembourg where Eurozone finance ministers were seeking an October 18 deadline for Athens to satisfy the terms of a 35 billion euro cash infusion to stave off bankruptcy.
Photo: Protesters in central Athens burn a flag with a swastika
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