Crazy weather brings literal 'Sturm und Drang' to Greece's euro drama

The weather this week in Athens has mirrored the turbulent EU-Greece economic negotiations, mixing July's typical weather with hail and sheets of driving rain.

A group of colleagues at a start-up incubator in central Athens gathered together in a corner office Wednesday, peering out the windows, bewildered.

Hours after Greece missed paying off a loan to the International Monetary Fund, as capital controls remained in place and the future of Greece in flux, it was not default or drachma that was dominating water-cooler chatter. It was the weather.

“I’ve never seen this one time in my life in July,” said one of the women, as hail pelted her office window amid sheets of unrelenting rain.

In fact, as Greeks have strapped in for what has been a surreal week of twists and turns as their prime minister butts heads with Europe over his bankrupt nation's fate, an unseasonal series of storms has provided a suitable, if unsettling, backdrop.

“I think it’s representative of the psychological state of the Greek people today,” said her partner, only half joking.

For all of the drama that Greeks have been forced to endure in the past five years, including two bailouts, salary cuts, and company closures, this week has been the most stomach-churning. And the weather has added literal Sturm und Drang – storm and stress – to Athens residents' ride.

It started this weekend, when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras abruptly ended negotiations toward a bailout extension with creditors, instead promising to put the terms to the people in a referendum. As bank lines grew on Sunday in fear that capital controls would be implemented the next day (they were), a sudden mass of black clouds formed, unleashing a violent storm.

In a tavern in the wealthy northern suburbs of Athens, stunned waitresses rushed to cover outside tables. “What is happening in our country?” remarked one patron, who said she felt as if everyone were in a daze. She’d heard from friends, in fact, that there was an uptick in car accidents. On the way back from dinner, she nearly got into one herself, as a man careened into her lane. Thankfully she was alert and immediately pressed her horn.

On Monday, as banks were shuttered, Greeks attempted to follow every minute of the news. But doing so became an exercise in whiplash. Mr. Tsipras, after pushing for a referendum and effectively pulling out of negotiations, sought another bailout plan. Then reporters published a letter he wrote to European partners accepting most terms of the first agreement. Less than 24 hours later, in an address to the nation, he urged Greeks to reject “blackmail” from Europe and vote "no" to Europe's bailout plan in a referendum Sunday.

“I think everyone is asking, ‘what is happening?’” says Dimitris Charalambis, a professor of political science at the University of Athens.

A sense of despair is apparent in individual action. As Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis left a meeting at his ministry Tuesday, an elderly woman tried to grip and shake him by the shoulders. A university lecturer who has been living off 550 euros a month, after she lost her primary job, was frantic to find a bank machine to see if she had been paid for the month.

But overall, life, as it does in all times of conflict, is simply going on. Graduating students hold bouquets of flowers in front on their universities. Offices are functioning. Commutes are humdrum, except for the fact that all public transportation is free until banks open again. Restaurants, frozen yogurt shops, malls, and outside movie theaters are full, as are nearly all outdoor cafes.

That is, until the rain strikes. On Wednesday, hordes of Greeks scurried inside, caught off guard in a massive storm. One paused for a second and looked up, as if to ask: “What are you doing?”

The clouds quickly cleared, and masses gathered again in the outside tables across Athens to enjoy what turned into a beautiful summer evening.

But the dark clouds gathering over Tsipras might hover for a long time to come.

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