How Greece’s grittiest district swapped anarchy for culture

  • Posted on: 16 April 2018
  • By: thecollective

via The Evening Standard

Exarcheia was once the scene of riots and political gangs, but now it’s a buzzing cultural hub, says Anastasia Miari

Bathed in spring sunlight, sipping on iced coffee and surrounded by young people playing backgammon, this hardly feels like anarchist central. Yet many Greeks still steer clear of Exarcheia, widely known for its politicised riots and Molotov cocktail-throwing far-Left gangs. 

Neoclassical buildings with wrought- iron balconies are covered in a plague of graffiti. Tags from the inane to the profane mark each and every wall — a reminder of the area’s anti-Establishment ties.

Today, however, this central neighbourhood is a cultural must-visit in Athens. With a distinctly different vibe to any other part of town, Exarcheia has retained its old-world Greek charm while welcoming in a new artistic crowd. Galleries Hot Wheels and CHEAPART  host a regular rotation of shows featuring local and international artists. With new openings every month and a handful of pop-up artists’ studios such as 3137, this is the place to see the city’s burgeoning underground art scene. 

Attracted by cheap rents and plenty of studio space, a new generation of creatives is giving Exarcheia its new buzz. “There are empty shops and abandoned buildings,” says artist David Robert Fenwick, who left London to open a studio here. “Exarcheia is in an important European city but it has the feel of a more far-flung guerrilla republic.”

Exarcheia has long been a symbol of opposition to the Establishment. It was here that, in 1973, the Athens Polytechnic uprising took place, when students demonstrating against the dictatorship were confronted with a tank that killed 24. More recently, in 2008, violent riots exploded here, with residents setting police cars alight in anger at the police shooting of a 15-year-old boy. 

Today, graffiti tours of the area (try Magda’s through guruwalk.com) offer an alternative insight into Athens’ political and economic situation, while the lively kafeneion (café) and meze scene is a draw for those wanting to rub shoulders with city creatives in an authentic Greek setting. 

Coffee culture is strong in Exarcheia, with a kafeneion on every street corner. Stroll down Koletti Street in central Exarcheia on a Tuesday afternoon and you’ll find twentysomethings pouring out of trendy café-bars such as Cusco and Karagiozis, whiling away hours in the dappled shade of orange trees, nursing sludgy Greek coffees. Coffee shops here aren’t sterile spots to plug in your MacBook; neither are they the preserve of old men smoking Camels as is the case in many a kafeneion.

At Chartés (facebook.com/hartes.exarhia), old-school jazz floats out of the open doors and into the street where young people smoke, sip coffee and play backgammon as their grandparents might have 70 years ago. Meanwhile, Mauros Gatos (facebook.com/MavrosGatosBluesBar) on Koletti serves as the sweet spot between an afternoon coffee slot (that’s 7pm-9pm on Athenian time) and cocktails in speakeasy surroundings. 

If you can handle the cigarette smoke, the tiny Intriga Bar (intrigabar.gr) is a local favourite. Inconspicuously tucked off Exarcheia’s main square and open till late, it serves cheap drinks, plays classic rock and gives a glimpse of the anarchic side of the neighbourhood.

In the city centre but much more affordable than moneyed Kolonaki next door, Exarcheia is a bewitching mix of neighbourhood institutions drawing a young crowd. “People like the restaurant’s character because it used to be old-school,” says our waitress at Ama Laxei (facebook.com/amalaxeiresto), the long-standing taverna on Kallidromiou Street which draws well-seasoned locals to its fairy-lit garden.

The colour-saturated weekly farmer’s market (or laiki) on Kallidromiou Street every Saturday is another institution. Next to Lofos Strefi — a verdant hill where people gather to meet, drink Mythos and watch the sunset over Athens and the Acropolis — Kallidromiou is a microcosm of Exarcheia’s diverse residents.

Every Saturday, from 8am to 4pm, families, young artists, refugees, pensioners, and even the anarchists hit up the laiki for cheap, bountiful fruit and veg. After they’ve done their shopping they spill downhill, the hipsters heading to Yesterday’s Bread (facebook.com/yesterdays breadathens), a vintage shop packed with Seventies, Eighties and Nineties finds — think Nineties Tommy Hilfiger for under €10.

Meanwhile, Café Paraskinio and Café Erodios are in prime position for people-watching. Or, to really live the Exarcheia lifestyle, grab a beer and take it to the steps leading up to Lofos Strefi. That’s where most locals perch for a full view of Exarcheia’s colour: fruit, people, graffiti and all.

Aegean (aegeanair.com) flies from Heathrow from £164 return. Andronis Athens (andronisathens.com) has doubles from €120.

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Comments

Aaah... The much-anticipated artsy gentrification of Exarkhia. Beautiful.

Warned a few apparently radicals when I was there, two years back, and I told them that, the way things are taking motion, most squats will be closed and most anarchists gone in roughly 5 years. There might be a few setbacks, but looks like it's on its way!

to keep the yuppies out, which also makes the area far less lucrative for real-estate speculators.

The only way Exarkhia anarchists done this recently was through extensively fighting the street mafia, potentially cutting the drug trade lines of supplies to yuppies.

I came to anarchy from a art background and all I have to say Is fuck yuppie artist types. They are the first wave of gentrification and should always be attacked for their capitalist intentions. I think it will be hard for exarchia to be fully tamed.it will probably take 15 years if u ask me but I haven't been there since 2011 when shit was really poping off. I am excited to see some molotovs this Dec 6. Burn it down Greeks!

But never forget the soft power element, that is much harder to fight due to... being soft... 0-).

As, if anybody noticed, that Polytechniou that's been the bastion of the milieu for ages, it's an ART SCHOOL.

I almost did stuff in Exarkhia with a bunch of anarchos against a yuppie artsy event, two years back. At first they were all down for it... then they went like "let's not antagonize collectives in the neighborhood who are on our side". This collective they refered to was the people running a famous Leftist café/community center, who were in charge of the park where the event took place. I guess you know which place I'm referring to. I kinda liked those people, but it seems some of their vision was problematic. There coulda been a way to stir up some good shit without a stick fight, and to build a constructive critique with this collective.

So they welcomed the hipsters to take over everyone's favorite hang out in the hood (not "platia" of course), for selling their "art", for a entire day. Migrants who love to hang out there (along with anarchos and friends) were kept out, puzzled by these White privileged kids (some Greek, some Erasmus) behaving like they now the place. Imagine the shock. And my fury.

Some people just don't get it. The enemy is also internal, and you're doomed, on the long run, if you only rely on externalities.

I give it much less than 15 years. That, if they still don't get it.

Did you see the stuff against Documenta? That was all pretty amusing I thought.

I live here and yes we are getting a lot of fucking hipsters these days but the nightly clashes and other unwelcoming elements have been pushing them away towards another area of town they would like to gentrify (we all know what area that is.) I think the pressure needs to be kept up and once the economy collapses again there won't be much of a problem.

WITH THAT SAID. And I say it here over and over and over. The most dangerous thing for Exarchia isn't the ice cream shop or the one squad of MAT or anything like that. The most dangerous thing is the political ideas hipsters bring with them. Non confrontation, safety, liberalism. That is what needs to be destroyed and smashed.

Also, it's impossible to not notice the square and most of the businesses leaving these days, I think Exarchia has some life left in it and some troubles.

Doing the math.... If drug supply lines were severed by the recent undergound war with the mafia, this means that the many yuppie tourist customers have stopped coming in the neighborhood so that they wouldn't be spending extra bucks in expensive cafés and diners. Makes sense, and that's good news for anarchy in the area if indeed true. Plus the drugs sold there was so shitty quality, yet the only thing that tourists could get their hands on in Athens, I guess.

Most of the relatively expensive places have been there for decades, and it's worth noting that the most overpriced restaurants in the neighborhood (on valtetsiou) closed last year. Which on a side note is a beautiful building and should be occupied.

However, I think the most dangerous element in terms of gentrification of the area is international artist types. They bring their politics, ideas and money from abroad. So, i do think it is important to oppose them and the ideas they bring. Make them talk about and deal with anarchy, don't let them inject liberalism into ANY discourse.

And yeah, I don't think anyone wants plateia to be like Omonia square other than drug dealers.

Tourist restaurants -those that are open on the streets, are shit. Traditional Greek restaurants and kafeneio, usually hard to notice, often run by women and always by proles, are the only places where I would spend money in all of Europe (besides old-school Italian pizzerias and East Berlin kebab diners).

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