German-Greek couples embrace love in the time of debt crisis

Greek-born German Anestis Aslanidis and his German wife Bettina Zauhar pose with the European flag at the castle in Nuremberg, southern Germany, on July 2, 2015.
Greek-born German Anestis Aslanidis and his German wife Bettina Zauhar pose with the European flag at the castle in Nuremberg, southern Germany, on July 2, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

NUREMBERG, Germany (AFP) - When love struck Bettina and Anestis six years ago, they had little idea that their home countries Germany and Greece would be pitted against each other in a crisis with Europe's future in the balance.

Nowadays, their pillow talk sidesteps politics, even if the subject is practically unavoidable with the stakes so high.

Bettina Zauhar spoke to AFP in the shadow of Nuremberg Castle, where she met her future husband Anestis Aslanidis in 2009 at a demonstration for European unity.

A few months later, the catastrophic state of Greece's public finances came to light, putting the euro zone on a trajectory that could now lead to its implosion.

"It feels like the crisis has always been with us," Zauhar, 44, says. "We talk about it all the time - non-stop in fact."

Aslanidis, a 46-year-old photographer, was born in Nuremberg and still lives here. But when asked where he's from, the answer's clear: "I'm Greek."

His parents, who arrived in Germany in the 1960s, always spoke Greek with him and have since moved back to the motherland. Aslanidis himself has two passports.

Some 350,000 Greeks and people of Greek origin lived in Germany in 2013, according to the most recent available figures.

Thousands arrived five decades ago when booming West Germany was seeking guest workers. Today it is Greece's best and brightest who are fleeing chronic unemployment and an economy on a downward spiral.

Bettina and Anestis say they are "very worried" about the turn of events in Europe, with Germany taking the lead in imposing painful austerity on Athens in exchange for aid.

Anestis's family in Greece is having trouble making ends meet and medical care for his ageing aunts and uncles is looking increasingly precarious.

But they are also preoccupied by the fate of Europe, a project they have taken quite literally to heart.

- 'That's democracy!' -

"We are on the same wavelength," Bettina insists. "But I do sometimes take the side of the institutions," Greece's EU-IMF creditors, while Anestis is more on the side of Greece.

In Darmstadt, 200 km to the west, Giorgos Terizakis is also anxious.

"So far I felt like we were in normal negotiations, now I'm afraid that many things between our two countries are irretrievably broken," he said, joined by his German wife Corinna Caspar-Terizakis.

Giorgos, 40, was also born in Germany and has dual citizenship. He and Corinna were high school sweethearts.

"For a long time we didn't talk much about the crisis but that's really changed," Corinna says. "It's crazy."

"We don't fight about it," says Giorgos, a political scientist. "We have the same views and sympathies and we've known each other for a long time."

But he says he's sick of "all the so-called jokes" by acquaintances about deadbeat Greeks.

"The people making those kinds of jokes have an axe to grind and they take it (their anger about Greece) out on me," he says.

Back in Nuremberg, Bettina gets worked up about Sunday's referendum in Greece which she says "has no point in taking place" and which she considers an underhanded move by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's far-left government in Athens.

Her husband is more circumspect.

"For a decision this momentous, I understand that he wouldn't want to take it all upon himself," he says.

"But that's what democracy is about!" Bettina shoots back.

The couple plans to head to Greece in August for a long vacation, this time with "knocking knees," Bettina says, thinking in particular about how her in-laws will be faring.

Corinna, Giorgos and their two children will be in Crete in August.

"I wonder if people will treat me differently," she says, referring to popular anger against German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government for its hardline stance.

"Until now I've just been seen as Giorgos's wife but maybe that will change?" Bettina recalled her experience during the soccer World Cup last year which she watched in a restaurant in Greece.

"Everybody was against Germany. I really got a sense of how much everyone likes us," she said with a wry smile.

But fortunately, there was "a Greek waiter who congratulated me" on Germany's victory over Argentina, she said.