Exarcheia, Greece: Chess & Molotov Cocktails

  • April 20, 2017

Upon arriving at The Orange House the founders tasked me with assembling the shelter’s computer lab. “But don’t worry,” I was assured, “there’s a computer guru volunteer coming in a few days.” After a dismal multi-day attempt at wiring the two decade old computers, I reported back that I would require additional assistance from the unnamed whiz. “I think he’ll be here soon. He’s bringing computer software! They say he’s from Alaska.” It slowly dawned on me. I’m the supposed computer guru. Back to work…

On to the juice of the post: Exarcheia.

Campaign Friend Alex

The Orange House is nestled in the heart of Exarcheia: Athens’s graffiti ridden anarchist district. A network of ATM’s and police buses dot the circumference of the neighborhood, neither daring a tiptoe over its boundary lines. After Airbnbing in a bordering neighborhood for the past two weeks with an old campaign friend, I recently relocated to a Facebook-advertised flat in the core of Exarcheia. My new roommates aren’t around much but given the living room’s centerpiece is a stripper pole, I suspect they have more fun options than mingling with their transient house guest.

Those options, for example, could be tossing Molotov cocktails at police. This seems to happen frequently. While walking to the shelter last week, I spotted a small flame bobbing along a dim outer alley of Exarcheia. Riot shields at their side, a group of eight police officers shared cigarettes and conversation nearby. They noticed the flame with a shrug. Suddenly, the flame’s bob turned to an arc. It was careening toward the officers. Ready for some citizen journalism, I unholstered my phone. And yet, nothing. Lackadaisically, the officers shuffled away from the trajectory’s endpoint. The flame morphed to a rag-topped bottle as it neared the officers and upon striking the ground, splashed into a fiery skid three meters long. The officers returned to their cigarettes, the pitcher to his darkness. Raging at first, the fire quickly reduced to a smolder. The whole ordeal seemed all too relaxed given homemade bombs were involved.

Despite the lazy unrest at its outskirts, Exarcheia’s interior exudes safety. Leftists rule. An unspoken sense of community keeps wrongdoers in line. I pestered some Frenchmen into letting me join them for daily chess over coffee and beers. The 3-4 hours a day we spend plotting our attacks must have proved our dedication to the local Greek chess fanatics. They recently invited us to their smoky stoop for timed games. Just cause I’m “in” with the anarchist chess community doesn’t mean I’m competing. Quite the opposite, in fact. But don’t worry, I’m reading up on opening theories…

Athens itself is nothing as I expected. I arrived dreaming of marble ruins and majestic ancient art tributes. I’m leaving warmed by a neighborhood whose exterior walls are so thick with graffiti their original hues are unknown. Whose streets water your eyes with the leftover tinge of tear gas. Whose late night drum circles consistently wake me at four in the morning.

It always seems it’s time to leave when you start to feel at home.

On Sunday, it’s off to Budapest!


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