“When Greece was Providing a Guarantee for Germany”

There is no need to sell the Acropolis to save Greece. Using a little bit of imagination, we can retrospectively lend on interest the cultural capital, which has been transferred for years from Greece to Germany! There isn’t only a transfer of capitals from the European North to the European South, and a dangerous scenario for many in the North, but a welcome one for many in the South. There is, or to be more accurate, there was, in the past, a transfer of charm, from the Greek South to the German North. German journalist March Reichwein reminds us of this, with an article in this week’s Die Welt under the title “When Greece was Providing a Guarantee for Germany”. For example, during the 18th century, it was common for many German cities to use the name of Athens next to the real name of the usually internationally unknown local river. So, Marburg was called Athens of Lahn, Göttingen Athens of Leine, Leipzig became Athens of Pleisse, Halle Athens of the Salt Pans, Wittenberg Athens of Elbe etc.

At that time, municipalities and communities and mainly the German campuses needed a historical glory, which they didn’t have and borrowed from ancient Greece. Reichwein writes: “The name of Athens in the 18th century was attractive for many German cities, because it offered the symbolic capital they didn’t have. This multiplication of cultural earnings reached zenith the period of philhellenism in the 19th century. King Ludwig I of Bavaria was the first who introduced the name “Athens of Isar” instead of Munich. Weimar was referred to in some school books as Athens of Ilm”. All those of course belong to the past. The glory of classical education steadily disappeared in the 20th century along with the ambition of the German municipalities to have Greek names. However, German journalists never forget the financial aspect of the issues they examine, even the cultural ones, so that’s how the article ends: “As a name of the German cities, Athens remains a significant case and with it the history of a charm transfer, for which Greece, fortunately, never asked money. If some day, these Greek tactics changed, because some imaginative lawyers would think to ask for fees concerning the symbolic earnings of Germany from the use of “Athens”, then Greece would recover in one night!”. Of course, the German journalist is joking. But taking a theoretical offset of earnings and losses, symbolic and real, into account, between Greece and Germany, Germans know that for years there was a spectacular transfer of cultural capitals from the South to the North.