Choose the Acropolis. Choose the Ancient Agorà. Choose Plaka. Choose Kolonaki. Choose the shopping on Ermou Street. Choose the marbles, the history, and the museums. Choose the cobbled streets, the souvenir shops and the panoramic view from the terrace of a fancy restaurant. Choose the cruise. Choose an idyllic Greek island. Choose the beach, the sea, the sun, and the cocktails with little umbrellas sticking out of the top. Choose to suck life in a disciplined way through a brightly-coloured straw.
But why would I want to do a thing like that? I choose not to choose the Acropolis: I choose something else. I choose Metaxourgeio. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?*
*loosely based on Trainspotting’s monologue “Choose life”.
I don’t have heroin, although it wouldn’t be any difficult to find some in Metaxourgeio, that corner of Athens surprisingly close to the Acropolis and the pretty streets but, at the same time, forgotten by all those people who choose life.
Athens’ bustling and chaotic vibe drastically slows down here. Everybody moves in slow motion, on their inner slow pace -if they do move at all. More likely, they are simply sprawled on the sidewalk, withdrawn and skeletal figures leaving you wondering if they are still breathing. I walk into drug statistics, where each digit is a person, a sensitive hero.
The dodgy streets of Metaxourgeio are dirtier than everywhere else, rough and neglected. Street art is illegal and ground-breaking, green areas are wild, bars are smoky.
The buildings are crumbling, some of them are even partially burnt, and the ‘hood looks as if it had just been bombed. Sealed doors are covered with posters promoting concerts that happened months ago, greasy windows open on dubious bars and people lie around like cut flowers waiting to shrivel up.
At night, the decay is swallowed by the darkness; all I can see are some flashing OPEN-signs of brothels, whose lights on the entrances are anything but red.
All those things hidden by other cities, such as prostitution and drugs, in Metaxourgeio happen above-board and with a ‘so what?’ attitude, like a disgraced Hollywood star who is going to the grocery in a tracksuit. She doesn’t care about paparazzi spotting her, and lives her days without apologizing.
The acropolis is still there, towering over the ‘hood in the full moon and, with this romantic background, two drug users shoot each other up in the neck, surrendering like two lovers kissing in the night.
Street Art in Metaxourgeio
In Metaxourgeio you can find some of the best street art in Athens.
Check out my Athens street art guide!
Contemporary Art Galleries in Metaxourgeio
9, Leonidou st.
Founded in 1995, this gallery moved to Metaxourgeio in 2008. It focuses on contemporary art and works with all media, from paintings to video and engravings.
Last time I visited this gallery, the exhibition was a solo show by DeAnna Magania entitled “Something is in the house”, featuring works about the abstract nature of the cosmos surrounding us versus a seemingly predictable reality.
72, Salaminos st.
Atopos is a cultural organization interested in the expression and adornment of the human body. It collects rare historical garments and original creations by contemporary designers relating to the human figure. Atopos’ branch office in Metaxourgeio opened in 2010 inside a neoclassical building that was abandoned. It now hosts Atopos’ offices, exhibition spaces and library and, occasionally, workshops, lectures and cultural events. This is also where the largest paper-fashion collection in the world (the Atopos Paper Dress Collection) is conserved.
45, Iasonos st.
The opening of this gallery in 2002 was an attempt at ‘cleaning the neighbourhood’ and I’m confident that –eventually- The Breeder will have its role in Metaxourgeio’s gentrification. The gallery represents Greek and international artists, both rising and established.
Last time I visited the centre, the exhibition was “Method of Loci” by artist Item Idem, who explores new dialectics with local components and follows the principles of readymade contextualization creating a multifunctional environment that maps the current human condition.
His artworks are made with sourced mass-marketed products and packaging, and he turns consumerism and the toxicity of the world into an art medium of itself.
Restaurants and Cafés in Metaxourgeio
49, Kerameikou st.
This is my favourite restaurant in the area and it serves Modern Greek cuisine. They have a seasonal and ever-changing menu, but you can also drop in for one of their renowned cocktails. The venue has maintained the 100-year-old decorations of this neoclassical building, and the furniture is beautifully retro.
46, Leonidou st.
A traditional restaurant with kitsch décor, but the food is good! It is located in the pretty central square of the ‘hood, in a picturesque building with old stones in view.
2, Achilleos st.
I entered for a coffee, and I discovered a unique bakery! At the mezzanine floor, experienced bakers do their magic in view, while downstairs you can buy all kind of breads, biscuits and cakes. They also serve freshly cooked traditional meals and salads.
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