“When an economy has been destroyed, it takes many years to rebuild,” said Vasilis Kapoglou, who founded the Greek Engineers of North Rhine-Westphalia club after leaving Greece in 2013, as construction projects dried up. “The bailout may be ending, but the problems that drove people away aren’t.”
Many who have come here followed a path cut by an older cadre of Greeks in the 1950s, when Germany sought guest workers for mining and construction to rebuild cities after World War II. Today, in North Rhine-Westphalia, a booming industrial region that includes Düsseldorf and Cologne, an estimated 130,000 Greeks ply in-demand modern skills at German technology, telecommunications and construction companies, as well as banks, hospitals and pharmacies.
So many Greeks have descended on Düsseldorf in recent years that a mini-Athens is thriving. Near the central train station, Greek tavernas and cafes are filled with cosmopolitan young Greeks sipping frappé coffee and puffing on rolled cigarettes, a scene reminiscent of any Athenian square.
A boutique, run by Greeks from the wave of guest workers in the ’50s, offers white taffeta baby dresses and sugarcoated almonds, traditional symbols of Greek Orthodox baptisms. At the Cafe Byzantio, Greeks savor baklava desserts while playing backgammon. Tickets for trains, planes and buses headed home are sold at a busy Greek travel agency festooned with nostalgia-inducing posters of the Parthenon and the sunny Aegean Islands.