A portrait of Greece from a Berliner who knows his stuff

As Greece?s international image undergoes an unprecedented assault and the Germans no longer think of Zorba or Melina Mercouri when they think of Greeks, the 74-year-old Berlin-based writer Eberhard Rondholz has written a book, aimed exclusively at his compatriots, titled ?The Portrait of a Country: Greece.?

A keen observer of events in Greece since 1956, and educated in modern Greek literature and Byzantology, Rondholz immerses himself in Greek history and culture, not, he says, in order to respond to the scathing criticism of media such as Bildt and Focus, which influence some 5 million Germans, but to cast a true portrait of the Greeks as he has come to known them as a student, as a tourist and as a correspondent for West German Radio, over the course of more than half a century.

His book, which is part of series that includes portraits of other countries as well, has been published in Germany by Christoph Links. Though it has not been translated into Greek, it was the topic of discussion in a round-table meeting at the 9th Thessaloniki Book Festival last month and the author is currently touring various cities in Germany to promote it.

?Greek-German associations are doing all they can to reverse the image, but at the same time they know there are no friendships between nations, just interests,? Rondholz told Kathimerini in flawless Greek. ?The average German has a sympathetic image of Greeks after reading ?Zorba the Greek? — 1 million copies of the book have been sold in Germany — but this image can be reversed from one moment to the next by an anti-Greek publication calling them lazy or other bad things. Those who have a deeper knowledge of Greek culture are those who look behind the scenes, who love Greece and who will always be its friends. There will always be philhellenes, but they have always been just a few.?

?The Portrait of a Country: Greece? is not a travel guide, Rondholz stresses. It presents different aspects of the country, its passions and its beauties, its retsina and cafes, its corruption and hospitality. It explores the causes behind the economic crisis and the factors that led it to the present bonds of austerity. It also digs into the past and seeks out the influence of the Ottoman occupation on the Greek language and cuisine.

?Who in Germany hasn?t eaten dishes at a Greek restaurant that have a Turkish past, such as dolmades, moussaka, briam and the very Turkish imam baildi, whose delicious flavor made the imam swoon with pleasure, and which can be found at any Turkish restaurant as imam bayildi, the exact same thing with the tiny difference of a ?y??? writes Rondholz.

The German writer first came to Greece as a student in 1956, backpacking at a time when mass tourism was nonexistent and no one was yet speaking in his country of the horrors of the war that had passed.

?Until then I thought Scandinavia was beautiful. When I saw Greece, I said, ?This is more beautiful.? And I stayed. I write about it the way I experienced it and I allow the reader to form his or her own image of Greeks. I refer to German-Greek relations, political mistakes, the corruption in the political system and the public administration, kickbacks and palm-greasing, the participation of Germany in the Siemens scandal and [former Defense Minister Akis] Tsochatzopoulos, whose case I compare — despite the fact that I wrote the book in 2010 believing that the political establishment would not be able to touch him — to that of Al Capone, who was arrested for tax evasion rather than murder.?

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