Writer’s Block: A look at Greece – past and present

Guten tag! This is intern Bethany Kemming reporting back for another summer of the events of Anoka County.

Bethany Kemming
Bethany Kemming

Last fall I had the opportunity to study in Germany and travel to many other European countries.

One trip that was an especially enlightening experience was to Greece.

I love watching the Olympics and have for a long time. I was excited to visit Athens, the place where they originally began and returned to in 2004. My friends and I booked our plane tickets and made plans to visit the 2004 Olympic grounds.

By the time we actually traveled there, two months later, our ideas about Greece had greatly changed. We were worried about even being able to get into the city of Athens, as our friends who had traveled there a few weeks prior had met up with transit or airline strikes.

Thankfully, by the time we arrived things had settled down. We stayed on the island of Aegina and got a truly local perspective on the economic problems from our hotel owner.

We watched the TV news while Prime Minister George Papandreou resigned and Greece was considering Lucas Papademos to replace him. Over delicious Greek yogurt and fruit, the owner told us about the economic problems hitting every sector of Greece.

We had seen this firsthand as well as it had made our flights fairly inexpensive and empty.

The next day we went back to Athens to sightsee. We walked around the Acropolis, viewing the Parthenon, the temple of Athena, the temple of Zeus, all the while hearing protesters chant just outside the area.

We were viewing buildings that were much older than anything we’d seen before, the remains from a time period when Greece was much more successful than it is now.

It’s commonly referred to as the birthplace of Western philosophy, the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Western civilization.

Many of the ideas we have today came from this area that had been so prosperous, but my friends and I were seeing it at a much different, though hopefully temporary, time.

Our visit to the 2004 Olympic Stadium was also eye-opening. We rode the Athens subway system there, only seven years old but already squeaking and covered in graffiti.

I can imagine the city looked much different in 2004 when the underground transportation system had just been built and the Olympic grounds were gleaming white.

The event had the unique theme of “Welcome Home” and for those 16 days the eyes of the world were on Athens as the Olympic Games came back to their original location.

When the Olympic Games were over, Athens apparently made no post-Olympic plans for the buildings that had been hastily constructed.

The Olympic grounds now are like a ghost town. The signs for synchronized swimming pools are covered in graffiti. Weeds have sprung up in the sidewalk and the once-shimmering pools at the entrance are littered with garbage.

The city that attracted the eyes of so many from all around the world to celebrate international athletic achievements now attracts attention for vastly different reasons.

What happened? Yes, overspending and overborrowing are culprits and some would like to link that to the 2004 Olympics.

However, the amount spent on the games in 2004 is only a quarter of Greece’s budget deficit in 2009, according to a USA Today article. Everyone knows these economic problems didn’t happen overnight. Our economic problems and those in the Eurozone affect each other, and the underlying causes began much earlier than when they first came to light.

As we look forward to the Olympic Games in London, we can hope that the future for our country and for the Eurozone is a stronger future that reminds of us how much we can achieve, not how much we owe.