Hellenic history and tradition are at the core of the Hellenic community in Germany, which is proud to have created the only monument to the Greek Genocide outside Greece.
ATHENS – The 99th Anniversary AHEPA Supreme Convention brought together Ahepans from all over the world for fellowship, to celebrate the Greek Bicentennial in a truly special way, and to learn from one another. Among the participants were AHEPA members from Germany.
Anastasios Vassiliadis and Athanasia Vassiliadou were born brother and sister, but their love and concerns extend beyond their biological family, to the Ahepans who enrich their lives and form a community that they strive to contribute to, as they too are their siblings. That is the AHEPA way.
The National Herald, rooted in the Hellenic Diaspora of the United States, took advantage of the Convention to learn about the life of Hellenes in other countries. The beginning of the German story was, of course, very familiar.
Anastasios was born near Xanthi and his family moved to Germany before he was two years-old. “My father fled the poverty of Thrace and went to work in Stuttgart, Germany – construction, factory work, and then his own restaurant. He went there at 26 and died at 80 in Germany,” as did Anastasios’ mother, whose roots are in Asia Minor.
As children, they attended the Greek language schools that were parallel to state schools – they are compulsory until the 9th grade, after which children could choose to attend Greek community full-time high schools, which the highly motivated siblings did.
Anastasios is an architect who had his own company and later built facilities for the U.S. Army. He now works mainly on family-owned properties managed by his wife. Their son is also an architect, and their two daughters work in media.
The schools in Germany were established independent of the Orthodox Church by the immigrants who lived with the hope they would all soon return to Greece. In the Baden-Wurttemberg region alone there were 600 schools, including 16 high schools one upon a time – the plan being to finish high school in Greece, take exams, and return to Germany for university studies. Many of today’s doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc. took that path.
Anastasios said that describes the Community in Germany until the 1980s, when there were 250,000 Greeks in the country. Many returned to Greece after the Junta, but the recent brain drain has boosted the number of Greeks again. Alas, today there is only one high school.
Stuttgart being a major industrial center, the area attracted the most Greeks, then and recently – in both traditional and high tech industries.
“We are an organized community, with have many churches that we have both bought and built.” There are also the regional organizations, the ‘topika somatia’ – which, unlike the United States, continue to attract young people to their dances and festivals.
Sports also played a major role in the past – there was once a 80-team soccer league. That no longer exists, but AHEPA seeks to be part of the revitalization and modernization of the Community as it has the potential to become the ‘supreme’ networking organization of the Hellenic Diaspora.
AHEPA began in Germany with a chapter in Berlin. “In 2013 I had a conservation with Nicholas Papadopoulos,” Past Supreme Governor for Europe, Region 10, Anastasios said, “which led to a visit and the same year we established the Stuttgart chapter.”
There are now five chapters in Germany and they are very active, there and in Greece, especially in philanthropic work. During the recent Supreme Convention the Stuttgart Chapter was invited to Mati for the grand opening of a fire station to which they donated more than 20,000 euro. On July 25 it was turned over to the Mayor of Marathon for operation, just in time to help with the current Greek wildfire crisis. The chapter also sent 1000 COVID tests to the Greek army.
In 2017 AHEPA District 28, comprising Europe outside Greece and Cyprus was established and Anastasios was the first Governor.
Past Supreme President John Galanis visited during his tenure and was impressed –Anastasios is very optimistic about AHEPA in Europe. “It is something new for us. It’s exciting. After the chapters receive their organizational foundation from the United States, where there is a 100-year history, the members work hard and build upon it.”
He believes that down the line, just as there is a president of AHEPA Canada, Europe should also have a president.
DYNAMIC DAUGHTERS TOO
Serving as European Liaison, Athanasia beams with pride in the activities and achievements of Europe’s Daughters of Penelope chapters.
In a rarity for AHEPA, the Daughters of Penelope chapter in Stuttgart was established the same day as the male chapter. Athanasia told The National Herald, “some women and I went along to see what it was all about and we decided to become Daughters.”
The chapter is named ‘Metera’, evoking both ‘mother love’ and ‘motherland – terra. When they return to Germany after the Supreme Convention they will address the catastrophic floods that happened in their area – more than 100 people died in the country. The Daughters will support Greeks in Germany who were affected, but also work with other German organizations. That is just one example of way the AHEPA everywhere both strengthens local Greek communities and reinforces civil society in the country as a whole, something that is very important for Greece’s development.
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