Preparing the Documenta for the first time at two sites with the same credentials was the core of Adam Szmczyk’s concept. He wanted to show art against the background of other commercial urgencies. Athens, in parallel to Kassel, offered the perfect canvas: differences between rich and poor, between Germany and Greece, but also between different cultures in Europe, facing crisis, boundaries and displacement. Some critics remarked that the many good intentions of Szmczyk were found only sparingly in some of the works. All the designers we met though talked very positively about the event, bringing back art and life to Athens, suffering from draconian cuts in culture budgets.
Athens was the birthplace of democracy, classical architecture, sculpture and theater. Todays dramas play on the streets and hit the desperate with violence. We once walked from our hotel to the centre and passed, by accident, one of the worst places. Drug addicts stumbled across the streets, living death smoking and shooting shisha (Σίσα), a drug mixed with battery acid, engine oil and even shampoo. The “cocaine of the poor,“ available for two Euros or less, burns your insides, makes you aggressive and ensures that you go totally mad.
It seems to be a recent tradition when talking about Greece—its all about grabbing the headlines for all the wrong reasons—often a blend of schadenfreude and pity. We discovered Athens from many angles, being a vibrant and very contrasting city. There is the inner circle under Acropolis where visitors flock to see the Parthenon, take cappuccinos at insane prices and buy trash souvenirs. And there is the outer centre, mostly unnoticed by the crowds. Beautiful walks to pine-covered hills with its winding marble footpaths, connecting a cluster of neighbourhoods that epitomise modern Athenian life as Petralona, Koukaki and Filopappou. Here Athenians relax in coffees, having frappé, beers or ouzo along with local dishes, celebrating the things the country still does rather well.
Of course we met taxi drivers that once had a better job—and it is a bad idea to mention you come from Schäuble’s country. But we also met a lot of very enthusiastic people, full of power, an ambitious generation of designers and entrepreneurs on the rise, demonstrating an unique approach to business, often mixed to a instinctive survival gen. Forced by the nation’s economic malaise to raise their game, they are masters of improvisation, they take risks, love madly what they are doing, spreading their skills around the world and working for international clients. We met people who are proud of what they have achieved. They want to make the best of it, built up something, forge Greek identity—and of course, after all, have a good life in one of the most exiting places in Europe. Athens can be a really great place to be!