The first German word I ever learned was Siemens. It was emblazoned on our sturdy 1950s fridge, our washing machine, the vacuum cleaner – on almost every appliance in my family’s home in Athens. The reason for my parents’ peculiar loyalty to the German brand was my uncle Panayiotis, who was Siemens’ general manager in Greece from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s.
A Germanophile electrical engineer and a fluent speaker of Goethe’s language, Panayiotis had convinced his younger sister – my mother – to take up the study of German; she even planned to spend a year in Hamburg to take up a Goethe Institute scholarship in the summer of 1967.
Alas, on 21 April 1967, my mother’s plans were laid in ruins, along with our imperfect Greek democracy. For in the early hours of that morning, at the command of four army colonels, tanks rolled on to the streets of Athens and other major cities, and our country was soon enveloped in a thick cloud of neo-fascist gloom. It was also the day when Uncle Panayiotis’s world fell apart.
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