Greek and German enmity makes bailout deal tough

A carnival float depicting German Chancelor Angela Merkel as a mythical Cyclops and Greek premier Alexis Tsipras attacking her during the traditional Rose Monday carnival parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, 16 February 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption Relations between Angela Merkel's and Alexis Tsipras' governments are at an all time low

"I'm very, very sad," says Aris Meliadis. "The situation is unbearable."

We are in a dimly lit community centre in East Berlin where Aris conducts weekly rehearsals with his choir of Greek and German singers. All around us people are shuffling sheet music and preparing to practise.

Aris says that he's trying to do what he can do improve the relations between Germany and Greece.

"It saddens me extremely. Greece was my first home and Germany is my second. Both belong to the house of Europe. It's completely without reason that we're in this situation."

Image caption Aris hopes that his Greek German choir can help bring the countries together

It's tempting to wonder whether Angela Merkel agrees. At her invitation, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will meet with her today in Berlin.

She's already playing down expectations, saying there's still "a very tough path ahead".

"I'm looking forward to his visit," she told parliament last week. To laughter from the chamber she added: "We will have time to talk to each other, perhaps also debate."

While the meeting is interpreted here as an attempt to set a new conciliatory tone, relations between Greece and it's largest creditor could hardly be worse.

The German finance minister announced last week that Greece "has destroyed all trust". Wolfgang Schauble has also acknowledged that Greece could "accidentally leave the Eurozone".

And it seems Germans are getting fed up, too. A recent poll revealed more than half of those surveyed want Greece out of the Eurozone - compared with around 40% a few weeks ago.

Image caption Greek and Germans sing side by side, but their governments could not be further apart

"We are - and I am - concerned because it is a very difficult situation," one of Angela Merkel's conservatives told me recently.

"We have to avoid a Greek default and we're ready to do so," said Norbert Roetgen, "but we're hearing a tone from Greece which is not creating trust."

And many argue that it's not just the tone. An extraordinary war of words has broken out between Greece and Germany. The Greek defence minister, for example, threatened to "dump" refugees from his country in Berlin if the German government didn't support Athens.

But the character really dominating German headlines is the outspoken Greek finance minister.

Finger up

An attempt at a charm offensive on a TV talk show last weekend ended badly when Yanis Varoufakis was confronted by video footage of a 2013 speech in which he said Greece should default on its debt and "stick the finger up to Germany".

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Media captionGreek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis apparently uses middle-finger gesture talking about 2010 debt talks

The footage includes an accompanying obscene hand gesture presumably aimed at Europe's largest economy. Claims that the footage was faked have only increased its notoriety; Germans have talked about it for days.

It hasn't helped that, more recently, Mr Varoufakis has fallen out with his German counterpart. Wolfgang Schauble recently denied Greek claims that he had made condescending remarks about the "naïve" Mr Varoufakis. Mr Varoufakis accused Germany of waging a psychological war.

What one newspaper described as the "Schauble Varoufakis ping pong" has reportedly become so severe that the news magazine Spiegel even interviewed a relationship counsellor on their behalf.

The advice was: "In every marriage there's a point when one must ask; what's better? A horror without end or an end with horror?"

Bittersweet symphony

But what makes this relationship so sensitive is, of course, the history which underpins it. The atrocities of World War Two during the German occupation of Greece are not forgotten in either country.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption "What's better? A horror without end or an end with horror?"

There are many Germans who sympathise with Greek demands for reparation and in particular the repayment of a forced wartime loan.

According to Alexander Kritikos from the German Economic Institute, "to solve this you have to go to the international courts and find out".

"Probably there are some aspects particularly with respect to the loan that this might have to be paid back," he says.

But the timing of the demands has irritated Berlin.

"What the new government is still not aware of," Dr Kritikos adds, "is that there are many German-Greek co-operations. More money is coming from the German side than the Greek side and, if you continue with this kind of exercise, then you really destroy those co-operations."

Back at the rehearsal, the singing has begun. First a Greek folk song. And then it's time to practise the choir's latest project.

They're preparing Beethoven's Ode to Joy. For so many, it represents peace and unity.

And as Aris coaches the altos through the trickier notes, it's obvious that, here at least, it's hoped those values prevail.