I know that “Fix Hellas” sounds like a cry of despair, but anyone who’s travelled to Greece before the early 1980s surely remembers ordering and drinking Fix Hellas, the only beer produced in Greece with a national distribution network. The country’s Soviet-style industry control system, import controls and a small domestic market ensured the virtual monopoly of Fix.
Fix doesn’t sound Greek and it isn’t; it should have been Fuchs. When the crown of the newly formed rump state of Greece was offered to the Bavarian prince Otto in 1832, a large contingent of beer-swilling German soldiers arrived with him. They were used to drinking beer and the country’s climate demanded it. Johann Fuchs, a Bavarian, started a makeshift brewery and by 1850 a full-scale plant was in progress at the suburb of Neo Irakleio. The company ‘Fix Hellas’ was established in 1864, after Otto was deposed and the Fuchses decided to stay in the mild southern climes. In 1893 a big, steam-powered factory was founded on Syngrou Avenue in Athens (today’s metro station Fix). Johann’s work was continued by his son Karl who also brought to Greece its first refrigeration plants in 1923.
Post-war mismanagement and competition with new local and foreign labels after Greece’s entry in the EU all ensured that Fix closed in 1983; it reopened for a short period without success in 1995. In 2010, though, the brand was bought by Yannis Chytos, owner of a water cooler company who had a secret passion for brewing. He marketed the company as a local David against the international Goliaths of Heineken, Budweiser and such. After all, wasn’t Fix a historic beer with a past going on for 150 years? Not only did he catch the local anti-European mood, but he also rode a wave of Greek microbrewery revolution. In February 2012, it even launched a dark beer, a novelty to lager-loving Greeks.
The result: a 12 percent market penetration in two years, a €45 million turnover and the start of an export business to 14 countries with a large Greek immigrant population such as Australia, Germany, Sweden, France, Eastern Europe and the UK.
The Attica Water Company
A wonderful picture of the state of the Greek Water Company EYDAP – which supplies Athens with water – was posted recently in an interview with Mr Stelios Stavridis, its new chairman, by the Greek paper Kathimerini. The inefficiency and bureaucracy of the nationalised company makes great reading.
There are 20 doctors and 20 nurses employed by the company for the benefit of the workforce (and its pensioners). However, they have a contract (confirmed by the courts) that restricts their working day to only 4.5 hours, from 9am to 1.30pm.
There are about 6,000 different rubber stamps that need to be used on documents, each depending on the employee, the office of the employee, the document and the level of access to the document.
Before employees send a letter, they have to digest and follow a 70-page guide.
Although letters can be sent and received by fax, the company guide has not progressed to communicating via email.
Before every meeting, every member of the 13-strong board is being sent an agenda. If the agenda touches upon a law or a previous court decision, the full text of the law, its amendments and the relevant court decisions are attached. Printed, of course. The result is a packet that weighs between 5kg and 8kg and is 70cm thick.
And finally, in the basement of the company there is a paper mountain of an archive, which the employees refer to as the ‘ossuary’ . Except, they add, in an ossuary you know what’s in every box.
But hey, there is some positive news: Mr Stavridis, a new broom, wants to introduce email and abolish those 6,000 rubber stamps.
Doctors with Borders
I’ve been looking out to find supporters and offices of the infamous Golden Dawn right-wing party, and believe me, I’ve tried. But after 10 days and 1,117 kms in Athens and the Peloponnese, I’ve found none. I’m sure they’re around though, ‘cos someone voted them into Parliament and the media here are as obsessed by them as they are abroad.
What I find ugly is the news of their latest attempt to found DWB, or “Doctors With Borders”, in response to (or rather mocking the) international organisation Médecins Sans Frontières. Medical staff belonging to the organisation DWB would only treat ethnic Greeks. It is a delicious irony that Golden Dawn, which trumpets its support for Greek history and culture, should forget one of the major points of the Hippocratic Oath when it suits them: “Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption.”
But then again, those that continuously evoke history are the ones who pick and choose.