Berlin Officials To Visit Greece to Get Tips on Austerity

In an irony-laden bid to learn how to better fight its own ballooning debt, officials from the German capital are traveling to Athens to learn how Greeks implement budget cuts.

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Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters

Tourists walk in front of the ancient Herodes Atticus theatre.

For budget travelers looking for a great location that offers history, culture and striking scenery, Athens is certainly up there on the list of destinations. So much so in fact, that the cash-strapped capital of Greece, reeling from the nation’s ongoing monetary catastrophe, is attracting a new kind of tourist: foreign government officials looking for tips on how to trim public budgets.

In a stroke of irony that won’t be lost on the Greeks, these visitors happen to be from the German capital of Berlin, reports German magazine Der Spiegel.

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Thirty-five Berlin parliamentarians and other officials plan on visiting Athens for four days in April in a trip they have christened “Learning from Greece Means Learning Victory.”

Germany is one of the main drivers of Europe’s current austerity-driven recovery plan, and officials there long scoffed at what they see as the spendthrift ways that helped make Greece the epicenter of the Euro zone’s economic instability. But Berliners have something in common with their Greek counterparts: a public debt crisis that has become increasingly debilitating and difficult to manage. Since 1990, Berlin’s debt has risen fivefold, to $84 billion. Germany’s fifteen other states contributed some $4.4 billion to the city in 2012 in an attempt to help it balance its budget.

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Austerity efforts have seemingly begun to pay off in Greece, in financial terms at least: the country managed to shrink its deficit to 8.2 per cent of its gross domestic product last year, from 10.9 per cent in 2011. Berlin officials, according to Der Spiegel, are hoping to learn from this turnaround.

But the austerity drive has come at a great cost to the Greeks. Signs of budget cuts are easily apparent on the streets of Athens. The number of homeless has soared, as squatters take over parks and boarded-up building entrances (which are proliferating as well). The strikes and riots that have plagued the city have made headlines around the world, prompting tourism to plummet: traffic through Athens International Airport was down 10% last year. For the visitors from Berlin, Athens may also offer a lesson in how not to implement austerity measures.

MORE: Reclaiming Xenophobia: The Rise of Ultra-Nationalism in Greece