Germany in charge of Greece...the history
To vary the diet of misery stories about Greece and Germany, newspapers have turned an occasional backward glance to World War II. It's hardly surprising, so the argument goes, that the Greeks -- particularly the elderly ones -- don't have much time for the Germans. Look at what the Germans did in the war. One intrepid Telegraph reporter made it all the way up the motorway from Athens, to the village of Distomo (near the monastery of Hosios Loukas), where one of the most notorious German massacres took place. More than 200 civilians were killed in terrible reprisals for the murder of three German soldiers. . . and reparation claims are still on-going (the bleak memorial is above).
There the reporter dug out an octogenarian survivor of the massacre, fourteen years old at the time, who dutifully -- and poignantly, to be honest -- talked about "a German knife held to our throats" (he was actually talking about now not then... but the point was made).
What's odd is that there hasn't been such interest in the first time, more than a hundred years before World War II, that Greece was quite literally under German rule.
After the ghastly series of massacres (even worse than Distomo) that are now glorified with the title "Greek War of Independence", the "Great Powers" were faced with what to do with this wrecked and bankrupt country. They got together and looked around the Western world for a suitable monarch. Unsurprisingly perhaps, some of the most plausible candidates didn't much fancy being parachuted into the new nation. But eventually, in 1832, they found Prince Otto, the teenaged son of Ludwig of Bavaria (OK not technically "Germany", but you know what I mean), who didn't or couldn't say no.
He turned up in Greece, with a retinue of German advisers and architects. Many of them had been brought up on a diet of ancient Greek literature and art, and that formed their vision for the new country country too. Its unifying symbols were to be the heroes of art, culture and politics (minus the democracy) of fifth-century BC Athens. The first plan was that Otto would have his palace on the Acropolis itself (with the Parthenon as a rather posh garden ornament), but Ludwig had security concerns for his boy and insisted on the palace being built down below (it's now the Greek parliament building). Instead archaeologist moved onto the Acropolis, they started to excavate the monuments (and in the process remove anything -- Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman -- that didn't date to the favoured fifth century BC).
One of those extraordinary nineteenth-century spectacles took place to inaugurate the digging in 1834. To the accompaniment of bands playing and girls in mock-up ancient dress, waving laurel wreaths and banners depicting the goddess Athena, Otto rode up to the top of the Acropolis and was installed on a throne in the Parthenon (the bones left over from recent conflicts had presumably been cleared up). Grand speeches were given in German, before Otto took up his digging trowel and tapped it against a column to inaugurate the excavations.It was also the start of a long reign.
But what happened to young Otto in the end? Well German rule finally didn't work out. There were attempted assassinations and coups, and eventually in 1862 he was lifted out, back to Bavaria, by a British gunboat.
The next man on the Greek throne was another teenaged European prince -- this time a Dane, George 1. A moral?