Twinned towns seek German-Greek harmony amid Nazi jibes
By Harry Papachristou, Alexandra Hudson and Noah Barkin
OREOKASTRO, Greece/DETMOLD, Germany (Reuters) - Hans-Joachim Fuchtel doesn't fit the image of the cold Prussian bureaucrat intent on imposing tough German discipline on struggling Greeks.
Appointed by Chancellor Angela Merkel late last year to explore ways to boost grass-roots cooperation between Germany and Greece, Fuchtel is a jovial 60-year old from the Black Forest who manages a brass band in his spare time and serves as honorary president of a camel-riding club.
His first job as a boy near Germany's western border was collecting snails to sell as food to the French forces that occupied the area after World War Two. He says he wants to bring the same initiative to his new post, mobilizing Germans to work with Greeks to overcome the animosity built up during the euro zone crisis. He has his work cut out.
Fuchtel's office in the German Labour Ministry is adorned with pictures of him in Mauritania, driving a tractor in southern Germany and with his brass band in China. On his cluttered desk is a book "The misery of being Greek", a gift he says from a previous visitor.
"Germany and Greece have a long friendship, but when you look at the headlines at the moment, particularly in the Greek media, then you see that friendship being stretched to the limit," Fuchtel said.
Merkel's insistence that Greece push through ever deeper budget cuts in exchange for EU aid has fuelled rising anger in Greece where protesters have taken to burning German flags and carrying around effigies of Merkel in a Nazi uniform.
The German press hasn't pulled its punches either. Top-selling tabloid Bild regularly portrays Greeks as lazy, corrupt and ungrateful. Berlin's push to wrest away Greek control over its own budget in negotiations over a second European bailout has only intensified resentment between the countries.
Fuchtel, who has been caricatured as an overbearing German in the Greek media, has been tasked with promoting projects that can benefit both countries. Behind the scenes, he is working to boost the number of partnerships between German and Greek towns, get German foundations involved in Greece, and encourage Germans with expertise to advise Greek municipalities on matters ranging from tourism to renewable energy to waste management. Continued...