Armed with a PhD in artificial intelligence, Dimitris returned home to Greece hoping to land a job as a software engineer. Instead, he found himself at the center of a cultural shift among Athens’s unemployed.
A Berliner visiting Athens three years ago might have thought it the Miami of the European Union. Posh clubs with expensive cocktails dotted the Greek capital. The story today is different. With the eurozone’s highest youth unemployment rate (50.8 percent), Greeks suffer under new austerity measures imposed by the EU in exchange for rescue packages and loans. And the young and unemployed are no longer drinking in fancy bars. They’re bringing their own booze to Dimitris’s house.
Last year, he and his friends, Panos and Domenico, rented a large, deserted house in Keramikos, a decaying neighborhood at the center of Athens. Its houses are early 20th-century gems, though now abandoned and poorly maintained. Almost every street has its own bordello. Though residents are mostly immigrants, with downtown rents out of reach, young Greeks are moving into Keramikos in droves.
A century ago, the trio’s house belonged to an upper-middle-class Athenian family who eventually deserted the city center for a modern flat in the suburbs. Today, the newcomers restored it to a livable home.
But livable is just a start. Nearly every friend who paid a visit to the trio’s new home had the same reaction: “Wow, that’s a nice place for a party!” So, on Wednesday nights, their house becomes the “Unemployment Bar”. After all, nobody has to go to work on Thursday.
On the first Wednesday almost 30 people showed up. A month later, they couldn’t fit everyone in the house. The trio collects no money at the door. And with nothing to be spent at the Unemployment Bar, guests bring their own booze and talent.
The living room became a live music stage, attracting the city’s up-and-coming acts. Upstairs, guests queue to perform their own DJ sets on the dance floor. And tastes are eclectic: one might dance to 80s disco for half an hour, then to 70s psychedelic rock, followed by 90s Britpop. The house had become the center of Athens’s new underground music scene.Occasionally, the house attracts a broader crowd. The bar has become the headquarters of the new Keramikos Carnival, the only carnival in Athens organized by the neighborhood with no government support. Over 3,000 residents parade in the streets each year through deserted houses and bordellos, dancing and drinking wine. Blocks of percussionists mimic Brazilian bateiras, leading the parade while playing batucada music and uniting immigrants and locals in a Dionysian celebration.
Having returned to Athens as the current crisis broke loose, Dimitris’s move was the reverse of typical Greek youth. Greece is suffering from brain drain, with young Greeks leaving for a better future abroad. But the opportunity at home compels Dimitris.
“We chose to stay here in order to change everything. Now it’s time to deconstruct what Greece looked like.”