“You see poverty everywhere”: German vendor on selling a street paper in Athens

Achim Eybe, 47, usually sells Hempels in Kiel, Germany. But for a street paper cross-cultural experiment he recently swapped place with one of his Greek counterparts to spend five days selling Shedia in Athens. On Thursday, Hempels editor Peter Brandhorst told us about the exchange.

Yesterday we heard from Shedia vendor Lampros Moustakis about how selling Hempels in Kiel changed his mind about German people. Today, Achim shares his impressions of Athens.

Shedia vendor Lampros Moustakis and Hempels vendor Joachim Eybe speak to street paper customers about their vendor swap in Athens, Greece and Kiel, Germany. Credit: Heidi Krautwald and Harald Ohrt

By Achim Eybe, Hempels vendor

Wherever I was in Athens and whoever I talked to, the subject of poverty always came up. It certainly weighed me down to see so many people really in need.

Maybe it was coincidence but when I was there for five days there were demonstrations almost every day. Of course I couldn’t read the banners, but when I spoke to people in English about why they were protesting, I realised the extent of the crisis. Nearly everyone was affected by it either directly or in their immediate circle of friends.

You see poverty everywhere on the street, for example lots of beggars and others trying to earn a couple of cents from selling a few flowers or some paper tissues. And when you walk around the city you can see empty shops everywhere, which just shows how bad things are.

“You can hardly call anyone who spends the whole day on the street trying to make a bit of money from selling a handful of paper tissues lazy.”

Before going there I wouldn’t have thought that people had it so noticeably hard in Athens. Around the place you can see people have painted murals about it, with poverty being the main theme.

I also didn’t get the impression that people in Athens were lazy. You can hardly call anyone who spends the whole day on the street trying to make a bit of money from selling a handful of paper tissues lazy. And when I spoke to unemployed people they always said that they would practically do any job if they could find one.

Hempels vendor Achim Eybe poses with his copy of the Greek street paper Shedia.

My experiences at the pitch itself were also pretty telling. A lot of passers-by looked stressed and even sometimes resigned. My colleagues in Athens told me that you need to give it quite a bit of time and patience when selling the paper. A lot of customers actually can’t afford to pay for it.

On some days I stood on my spot for eight hours and only sold perhaps one paper an hour. Still, those who are fortunate enough to be able to work as street paper vendors can at least earn a little something.

When I got into conversation with customers they wanted to know why I, as a German, was selling a street paper in Athens, given that that in Germany we’re very well off compared to Greece. They all thought it was a great idea to have a vendor exchange for the purpose of shared experience. One customer said to me that you could only believe what you saw with your own eyes.

In this case, it’s a fact that the situation in Greece is one of very great hardship.

Achim was talking to Peter Brandhorst. Translated from German into English by Catherine Demaison-Doherty.

Read the full story of the vendor exchange here.