Willkommen auf den Seiten des Auswärtigen Amts
Interview: Sofia Papadopoulou
Your term in Thessaloniki is coming to an end. How was it living here in the Northern part of Greece?
I am enjoying very much living in Northern Greece. Thessaloniki is a fascinating city. It has so much history, sometimes more than it can bear. For me it was a learning experience, because I was not so much aware of its rich and crucial history - from 1430 to today the influence of the Ottoman Empire, the influence of the Jewish community, the crossroads that Thessaloniki has always been and should be in the future.
Thessaloniki's identity is embedded in its unique history as a multi-cultural city with long enduring prolific co-existence of Christians, Muslims and Jews. Could the city regain such a role?
You have it in tourism, first of all. I was impressed that Thessaloniki has been doubling the number of arrivals over the last years and that the range of countries the tourists come from has expanded tremendously. There are obviously a lot of Germans, but there are even more Israelis, there are Russians, Cypriots, people from all corners of the world are coming here. And I think that this has also had an influence on academia. With the two important universities, Thessaloniki is already an intellectual hub for the region and it's going to have its economic effect, that investors, business people are already discovering Thessaloniki as a location for business in the wider region.
In which areas do you see prospects for German companies to invest in the region?
There is a lot of interest in the area of IT services, there is a lot of qualified personnel here in Northern Greece, and German companies are exploring these possibilities for software development but also IT services in the wider sense (like call centers) because there is a large number of people speaking German here and German companies are making use of this potential.
Has the image of Greeks as the 'lazy' nation of Europe that was depicted by part of the German press during the crisis changed nowadays in the German society?
There was a lot of overreaction during the crisis in both directions. Cliches were mobilised and cliches are always wrong. My experience - and I think that Germans that come to this country experience this as well - is that the Greeks are very hard working and that they are entrepreneurial. This cliche of the 'lazy' Greeks is just a cliche and since the number of tourists coming from Germany to Greece is increasing I am sure that this image is going to spread wider. It was wrong in the first place, but personal impression is the best way to deal with these cliches.
Germany's role in the Holocaust Memorial Museum that will be built in Thessaloniki has been of great importance. What are your expectations of it?
I think it is on one hand a Holocaust Memorial Museum, which means that it commemorates, recognises the tragic end of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki of the 50,000 people that lived here before the war, to keep their memory alive. But it should also be a museum, a location that looks at the history before 1941 or 1943; the rich history of Jewish culture, Jewish business life, Jewish social life in Thessaloniki, the contribution of this life in Thessaloniki. It would be unfair for the Jews of Thessaloniki if only their end was commemorated in the museum. You have pointed out that we have committed 10 million euros to building this museum but the Stavros Niarchos Foundation also committed 10 million and the Greek government is also making up the balance so that the financing of the museum is ensured and I am very confident that the construction is going to proceed smoothly and that we are going to have a wonderful museum.
Are you going to be back for the inauguration?
I will come back for the inauguration, and I am sure that I will come back repeatedly. I will also come back because one of the other big projects is Germany as a partner country in Thessaloniki International Fair in 2020. We are going to be the honoured country, and that is another reason to come back.
What is the goal of your participation as an honoured country in TIF 2020?
When we look back at the honoured countries of the past, it was Russia, it was the US, it was China, it was India. So, none of the EU countries - and I think it was timely to have Germany now, as the biggest economy of the European Union, to be the honoured country of TIF. It will give us the chance not only to present Germany as an industrial country but also as a country whose products are helping improve services, providing good use to the citizens. TIF is not a big industrial fair, it is a consumer fair, you have a large number of citizens coming and looking and trying out... So I think that this would be the purpose to demonstrate that products of Germany are part of the everyday life of citizens in Thessaloniki and Greece.
Shortly before the interview we were talking about the prospects of Greece being a „start-up nation“. Do you believe that this can be done?
It can be done. Greece has excellent graduates from its universities, particularly from universities in Northern Greece, but unfortunately lots of them are moving to other countries and are implementing their projects, their dreams, their start-ups in other places of the world. But I think there is the potential to harness this potential and the diaspora of Greece for the development of this country. And if and when the framework conditions are right I think that there is potential that Greece can develop as a 'start-up nation'.