Backpackers' guide to the eurozone crisis: Frankfurt

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Skyscrapers and traffic in Frankfurt
Image caption,
There is pride, and concern, in Germany at being the 'powerhouse' of the European economy.

Arriving in Frankfurt, it is immediately obvious why this city has been dubbed 'Mainhattan,' with a nod both to New York and the name of the river that flows through the eurozone's financial capital.

The skyscrapers disappear into the autumn mist. The multi-coloured neon lights puncture through it.

Having reported from what felt like the frontline of the eurozone crisis earlier this week, firstly in Greece and then in Italy, arriving here is the equivalent of dropping into the general's office.

Frankfurt is home to the European Central Bank, which sets interest rates across the 17 countries that use the euro, and has a battalion of bankers and their billions to attempt to ensure the eurozone survives this crisis intact.

Germany is also home to further financial cavalry. It is the biggest contributor to the eurozone's bailout funds, because of the size of its economy in proportion to the eurozone as a whole.

But as eight leading economic institutes forecast a steep slowdown for Germany's economy, this is where it gets politically spiky for Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.


The German parliament, the Bundestag, overwhelmingly approved an increase in the powers and muscle of the European Financial Stability Facility recently, the pot of potential bailout money.

But opinion polls here suggest not all Germans are so inclined to be generous. Our (entirely unscientific) snapshot suggested a more nuanced picture.

Armed with a big yellow envelope with Greece written on the front and some coins inside, we jokingly asked commuters heading for Frankfurt's main railway station whether they would personally contribute towards the Greek bailout.

Around three-quarters told us that, for now at least, bailing out countries such as Greece was worthwhile.

At the nearby Cream Music instrument shop, Bernie Hahn, 44, agrees.

Mr Hahn is the fourth generation in his family to run the shop. He has seen plenty of ebbs and plenty of flows in the German economy. He tunes a ukulele in front of a black and white picture of Elvis Presley, who once bought a guitar from here.

"There is lots of crisis talk at the moment. But from here it feels like a crisis in the banks. Maybe it hasn't hit us yet."


On the issue of the bailout funds, he says there is no alternative but to chip in.

"Germany lives off its exports. If people don't have any money who is going to buy our stuff?" he asks.

"Germany needs the euro. If the euro goes down, Germany's economy goes down. It is easy to slag off the Greeks and say hands off our money, but come on."

It's not pure altruism or idealism: exports need customers, and so Germans don't want poor neighbours.

Image caption,
Bernie Hahn is the fourth generation to run his family's instrument shop

It is a perspective that resonates with Stefan Schneider, chief economist for Deutsche Bank Research.

"Germany has, together with France, still has the deepest pockets and they have to be used," Mr Schneider told us.

"If Greece was the get rid of the euro, it would multiply the problems involved."

So the mood here, for now at least, appears sanguine. There is pride in being labelled the 'powerhouse' of the European economy, but there is more to it than that.

It has, again for now at least, brought wealth. But no-one we have spoken to assumes that shield will necessarily be up to it in the coming months and years.

There is a keen awareness there is a lot at stake.

Chris Mason and Chris Brindley are travelling across the eurozone all week, reporting for Radio 5 Live, the 5 Live blog and the BBC News website. They will be reporting from Greece, Italy, Germany and Belgium.

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