Athens’s facelift in focus for Germans

STUTTGART – In an exhibition being held at Stuttgart airport, Athens is striving to increase awareness of efforts being made to improve the city’s infrastructure ahead of next year’s Olympic Games. The exhibition, which covers a few square meters and features a detailed model of the capital’s ambitious Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens SA (EAXA) project – the Greek capital’s initiative to establish a paved network linking archaeological sites from the Panathenaic Stadium to the Kerameikos Cemetary – has just opened at the German city’s airport and will run through June 29. The exhibition is one of 60 events on the agenda of this summer’s Hellenic Festival, which opened two weeks ago with a production of Sophocles’ «Antigone.» It is being held within the framework of a focus on Greece organized by one of Stuttgart’s biggest cultural societies, Treffpunkt. The agency, which organizes national tributes on an annual basis, selected Greece as this year’s featured country. The idea was heavily promoted by the Berlin-based Hellenic Cultural Foundation. The event’s aim is to raise the German public’s awareness of modern Greece’s cultural output. As a result, emphasis is being given to work by younger Greek artists. From a Greek perspective, it may seem strange viewing a model of Koumoundourou Square’s future look against the backdrop of a state-of-the-art airport such as that of this elegant German city. However, it is vital that an adjustment to the present reality be made. Public opinion A year ahead of the Athens Olympics, the German public’s interest in Greece’s preparations is considerable. «We are facing great pressure from the people here for information connected to preparations in Athens,» said the Hellenic Cultural Foundation’s president, Eleftherios Economou. He added that anxiety had resulted from negative publicity caused by delays to infrastructure projects in Athens. Economou noted, however, that the anxiety felt by the German public was a sign of goodwill. The German people want to see Athens manage and succeed, and there were certainly no hard feelings behind the current concern being shown, Economou stressed. The Hellenic Cultural Foundation’s chief said the Greek agency based in Berlin was currently being flooded by enquiries from Germans interested in traveling to Athens for the Olympic Games. «This exhibition is the result of pressure they’ve brought to bear. We need to show them things to maintain their current interest,» Economou remarked. Cliches of Greek tourism, such as the syrtaki dance, the moussaka dish and the country’s beaches, remain popular in Germany, but overall interest in classical Greek studies is falling. The number of German students registering for ancient Greek is decreasing. «Cliche isn’t a bad thing,» remarked Economou, «as long as we add to it and present something different. That’s the only way the image can change, or a new profile be shaped.»

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