US Marines enjoy the night on the town in Alexandroupoli
To paraphrase respected Greek songwriter and songwriter Eleni Karaindrou, “Everyone is waiting again for the ship to appear.”
In the port city of Alexandroupoli, in northern Greece, May 21, 202 will be remembered as the day the ship appeared. It was a Saturday and the massive USS Arlington sailed into port, bringing about a thousand marines who headed straight for downtown. The residents were surprised. They were expecting Turkish, Bulgarian and Romanian tourists and instead had Americans in uniform.
The city’s hospitality sector has overstretched at the sight of young men and women heading to seaside cafes, local tavernas and popular nightlife spots.
“We were surprised; we didn’t expect a rush of this magnitude on our businesses. The city center was packed, demand exploded,” the former hotel association president told Kathimerini. Alexandroupoli and grill owner, Georgios Davis “I serve 16 different types of meat in my restaurant, and they tried them all. They were very polite, they ate everything, with a particular preference for the Thracian breakfast. They had fun and crossed no lines.
Some locals had heard of the impending landing and had prepared for it. Tattoo shop owner Nikos Katsoulis, for example, hired additional staff and opened his shop the following Sunday.
“They had found me online and made appointments while still on board. More than 50 people came to get tattoos,” he said.
The American sailors weren’t alone either, as parents, other family members and friends had flown in and booked hotels to spend the four days off with them – understandably given that sailors can spend several months at sea, sailing around the world.
As the Marines had fun in the city, the old slogan “Americans, Killers of the People” appeared on some city walls. Except for the fact that a more applicable slogan in this case would have been “Americans, egg eaters”, because according to some market estimates, more than 25,000 things were eaten in those four days.
“Even the chickens have noticed the Americans coming,” joked Giorgos Alavantas, owner of a seaside cafe that serves a local breakfast menu.
“I received a panicked call from my employees from day one telling me that they had no more eggs, when I had just delivered 300 more,” he said, adding that his American customers had a preference for local. cured kavurma meat with their eggs. “If we can take advantage of it, it will be good for the survival of the city’s economy,” he said.
When the 208-meter-long USS Arlington set sail on the morning of May 25, it left behind an important sense of hope among residents that the benefits promised to them from the port’s modernization will materialize.
The transformation of the port into a key hub for the movement of troops, military equipment and supplies, as well as a rail hub for goods to and from the Black Sea and the Baltic is already underway. Just like the construction project of a floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) which will soon position Alexandroupoli on the European energy map.
“Alexandroupoli has the opportunity right now to show its comparative advantages and we are part of these developments,” the city’s mayor, Yiannis Zampoukis, told Kathimerini.
“Where the main concern is that there are multiple benefits for the local community and the economy, which will result in potential for economic growth, attraction of foreign private investment programs, as well as, mainly, a strong sense of security,” he added.
“People think they will be able to rent their house for 600 euros. They keep writing and talking about a US base of over 5,000 people that was supposed to be set up in a camp outside of town in March, which we haven’t seen yet,” Katsoulis said. , the owner of the tattoo shop.
Another listening local, Georgios Alavantas insists on the need to take advantage of the situation, and also accuses local politicians of cultivating overambitious expectations.
“Four years ago, they told us that at any given time, over 18,000 American troops would be stationed in the city, which raised people’s hopes too high,” he said.
The president of the Alexandroupoli Merchants Association, Vassilis Kasapidis, noted that “there is already a constant number of American soldiers who have been based for some time in barracks around the city, who, apart from cafes and restaurants, shop at retail stores, primarily clothing stores.”
The owner of a local real estate agency, Matoula Pontiadou-Hatzimichail, also spoke to Kathimerini about the impact of these developments on her sector.
“We are seeing some activity, particularly an interest in knowing what real estate is available and how it can be used. However, we still don’t know what will happen. If the Americans come, as we’ve heard, the city will have to double in size in a matter of months and I don’t know if we’re ready for that. There are not enough houses available at the moment, as very few new ones were built during the decade of the financial crisis. Some are under construction now, in anticipation of the growth promised by the increased importance of the port and natural gas platform,” she told Kathimerini.
“But we are also in competition with Athens. Several houses for American officers were built in the [area’s] military bases by Athenian companies, which even took on catering responsibilities. We also have cases of Athenian companies renting derelict buildings so they can claim local headquarters and bid for local projects,” she said.
According to Pontiadou-Hatzimichail, there has also been increased international interest in the city’s real estate.
“We recently welcomed Arab investors, while there was also interest from Spain seeking to install military officers in the city. We are all waiting to see what happens,” she added.
The benefits have so far been limited to the increasing frequency of visits to the city by NATO officers in a support role for military convoys, the frequency of which is also increasing due to the latest developments in South Eastern Europe. , and in particular in Ukraine.
A few hours after the departure of the USS Arlington from Alexandroupoli, the colossal American vehicle carrier Arc Endurance took its place. After unloading her cargo of military equipment for US forces participating in NATO missions, she loaded equipment sent to Alexandroupoli from the Balkans and the Baltic bound for the United States.
Alexandroupoli Port Authority Chairman Kostas Hatzimichai told Kathimerini that from June to the end of September there will be a total of five operations to move military equipment through the port, including more than 2,500 vehicles, armored vehicles, tanks and other equipment, to and from the most volatile parts of the wider region. Activity is only expected to peak after US President Joe Biden’s statements in Madrid announcing the reinforcement of all military forces guarding Europe’s eastern borders and facing Russian aggression.
At the same time, the public targeting of Alexandroupolis by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Kremlin has provided ammunition for those on the margins trying to elicit reactions from the local community.
“Rumors are circulating that we are about to be bombed by the Russians or the Turks above the American base in the city. A base that we don’t have,” said Nikos Katsoulis.
However, these rumors do not appear to be enough to dampen hopes for the city’s future.