The bicycle was a gift from his hosts with an implicit message: Greek workers and businesses manufacture products that Germans want. Mr. Fuchtel — a jovial, brass-band-loving Black Forester who bears a resemblance to the actor John Goodman, but with the added touch of curly brown hair — knew when the time for talk had ended and the moment to pedal had arrived. He went for a short spin to the delight of the crowd.
By boat, by plane, by bus and ever so briefly by bike, Mr. Fuchtel, the man the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung called Ms. Merkel's “secret weapon,” has zigzagged around Greece building strategic partnerships between municipalities that, if successful, would make the ailing country a bit more efficient and perhaps a little more German.
Mentoring and the exchange of know-how are hardly enough to pull Greece's economy out of a deep and protracted recession, of course. But the hope is that they can serve as models for the future, despite all the uncertainty surrounding the prospects for the country and the euro zone.
The European Central Bank took a significant step on Thursday to hold the Continent's debt crisis in check by announcing a plan to purchase vast quantities of Spanish and Italian bonds to prevent their borrowing costs from soaring to unsustainable levels. Yet the next challenge to the crisis-fighting strategy already looms, with the German Constitutional Court ruling on the constitutionality of the euro zone's permanent rescue fund on Wednesday.
Meanwhile the dreaded “troika” of major foreign lenders to Greece — the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — is back in Athens, scouring the country's balance sheet to see if demands for spending cuts have been met.
“The big problem of the economic situation the last two years is you only hear about sacrifices and penalties, what we did wrong,” said Andonis V. Cambourakis, president of the hotel association here on the island of Rhodes. “You need to look forward, to hope.”
Advice from German city managers about waste management or solar panels won't add to Greek economic growth in the near term. Many projects are still out of reach for cash-strapped communities, or difficult to achieve with Greece's multifarious bureaucratic restrictions.
But that shouldn't stand as an excuse for doing nothing, Mr. Fuchtel said. “We have to get the stone rolling,” he said. At every stop on his most recent trip he cited the wisdom of Albert Schweitzer, the philosopher, doctor and missionary, telling his Greek partners, in his thick Swabian accent, “The little you can do is a lot.”
Mr. Fuchtel exhibited empathy for the difficult situation Greeks find themselves in. He grew up in humble circumstances and worked from a young age. He said that his first job was catching snails for escargot when he was just 6, money he reinvested to buy a trap for moles.
Unlike some of his countrymen, Mr. Fuchtel has demonstrated that he understands the importance of symbolic gestures, particularly after the battering Greek pride has taken in recent years. Through a translator, he regularly talked about how he served delicious Greek wine to guests at his 60th birthday this year or how he had driven around Greece as a student in a Volkswagen.
“I believe we needed such a baroque figure,” said Dietmar Metzger, a member of the delegation Mr. Fuchtel brought to meet with Greek counterparts last week. “A cold technocrat wouldn't work. That would just strengthen the stereotypes. He breaks them.”
Mr. Metzger is the head of international development for the Dekra Akademie, a major provider of job training. He says Dekra is working on setting up pilot training programs in several Greek cities. The company is also designing a module for kindergartens and grade schools to begin teaching children the importance of recycling, something of a German obsession. Both will come at no cost to the Greek government.
On Mr. Fuchtel's latest hectic romp through the country, he toured a port and three wineries, shook hands with an orthodox priest in front of the Pietris bakery in Tripoli and met the Greek sculptor of a monumental statue depicting the mythical Europa and Zeus.
Not everyone has welcomed Mr. Fuchtel with open arms. Before his visit to Crete this summer a picture circulated showing him as a paratrooper, part of the German invasion of the island in 1941. “Fuchtel you are not wanted,” it read. “No subjugation.”
“I don't see how this is different from the Nazi occupation and the lackey Greek government,” said Antonis Prokopis, 57, out for a walk in downtown Athens while Mr. Fuchtel was meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Though many Greeks still don't know Mr. Fuchtel by name, his fourth visit in just a few months has raised his profile.
“I've been cursed for developing the relationship, with people asking how I can work with the Germans while they suck our blood,” said Yiannis Boutaris, the mayor of Thessaloniki , known himself for being a bit unconventional. “The Germans aren't trying to force anything on us. They're opening the door and letting us go through, which a lot of Greeks have yet to understand.”
Before the debt crisis, relations between Germany and Greece were relatively good. Germans enjoyed traveling to Greece for vacation and extolled the same relaxed lifestyle they now so often deride. In the 1950s and '60s, Greeks were among the earliest guest workers to take advantage of Germany's booming export economy. Now they blame the hypercompetitive regional giant for muscling out their own manufactured goods.
The atmosphere has been further poisoned by anti-Greek sentiment in the German news media, including an infamous suggestion that Greece sell the Acropolis and its islands to pay its debts. Greek taunts about Germany's Nazi past and demands for war reparations completed the picture of mutual dysfunction.
Mr. Fuchtel tries to work on the relationship one city at a time, all while playing the good-will ambassador. On his trip last week, his days often began shortly after dawn and ended well past midnight, as he traveled all the way from Rhodes, near the Turkish coast, to Corfu, almost at the heel of the Italian boot.
During his final dinner in Corfu, Mr. Fuchtel, who once masterminded a camel race in Berlin, rattled off his latest off-the-wall ideas, including a televised cooking program with a German chef and a Greek chef, and exhibiting Greek contemporary art in 40 shows across Germany.
It was not a Marshall Plan, but it was a vision for nurturing the relationship. “It's like a plant,” Mr. Fuchtel said, hands crossed over his belly as he leaned back in his chair, “and the plant is growing tremendously.”
Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting from Athens.
Source: New York Times