Want German lessons in Athens? Join the queue

Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:15am EST
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By Mark John

ATHENS (Reuters) - Ruediger Bolz has 350 students coming through the doors of his German language institute in central Athens each day - 20 percent up on a year go.

The rush among Greeks to learn German may seem odd after the war of words between the two countries, with Athens fuming at German accusations of financial mismanagement and some Greek media playing on Nazi caricatures of Berlin politicians.

Yet for Bolz, who has run the Goethe-Institut for the last six years, there is no mystery: his Greek pupils are happy to side-step politics and face up to harsh economic realities by acquiring new skills.

"Most of those coming to us are young students or academics and they are doing all they can to improve their professional qualifications," Bolz said in his office at the state-run agency, which like the British Council or French Institute has the job of promoting national culture and language.

"No doubt some of them have plans to leave Greece but most of them just think they will stand a better chance of getting a job if they have a foreign language - in Greece or elsewhere."

Greek unemployment has soared to over 20 percent largely due to the global slowdown and a first round of budget cuts demanded by lenders as the price for a first debt bailout in 2010 to save Greece from a chaotic default.

One youth in two is out of a job in Greece - and that rate will not improve as a result of the austerity cure imposed alongside the new 130-billion-euro ($172-billion) rescue package agreed by countries in the 17-nation euro zone on Tuesday.

That deal was won after Germany's finance minister had likened the Greek public purse to a "bottomless pit" and Greece's president, Karolos Papoulias - a veteran of resistance to Nazi World War Two occupation - bristled at German "insults."   Continued...