Flashbacks from an old local resident of Koukaki...
Oh, Spring! It’s Spring again! Again the same sweet tender smell, from those white flowers blossoming from the Bergamot trees that are plenty in the beautiful neighbourhood called Koukaki. Koukaki is a warm hug, one hand is the “mountain” of Filopappou and the other is the sacred rock of Acropolis. This warm hug doesn’t let you go. So as with me from a small child it’s been holding me tenderly and having me live in it up until now, letting me enjoy the present I love and the past that also I do. Let’s go forty eight (48) years back so you can see Koukaki as I saw it then.
The apartments were few, the houses were two to three stories high at most with beautiful architecture. The two main roads Veikou and Dimitrakopoulou same as today, and at the borders with Neo Kosmo lies Syggrou-Fix. On this border on Syggrou was the Fix brewery. When the shift began and ended there was a bell/siren that could be heard throughout the whole area. Throughout the whole neighbourhood you could sense the smell of beer from wheat and hops.
The 71st and 83rd Elementary schools where situated on Veikou, in the location of what today is the Bazaar Supermaket. The Elementary schools were made up of two old big houses with a very large play area/school-yard. Every Wednesday back then we were taken to the Agios Nikolaos church, towards the Petralona area of Koukaki. I remember walkig on Agios Nikolaos road, where all the houses where two-story ones, their entrances and balconies filled with flowers. Neighbours talking amongst each other, even from window to window. The street filled with the aroma of foods that passed through the open windows of residents preparing their lunch.
We had, and have, two parks; one is named “Paidiki Xara”/”The Playground” and is found near the borders of Kallithea. The other is located on the Syggrou road with direction towards Palaio Faliro, its is called “Perivolaki”/”Little Park. In these parks, all summer long children would play and parents would sit in near shops and discuss while their children played until late at night. The amount of fun we had as children is unparalleled. On good summer days we would meet at 9am at the “Panellinio” station to catch the bus to Agio Kosma; yes, believe it, we went swimming near the end of Syggrou which back then was very clean. Most of our school field trips would take place in Filopappou, a hill full of luscious greenery, large trees, and beautiful flowers.
We had a couple cinemas; one was the “Panellinio” from which the station previously mentioned was named after, another was “Mitsi” a name still kept but is now a public gym, the “Parthenon”cinema which is today the Veropoulos Supermaket, and the summer/open cinema “Proteas” on Zinni road where from our balconies we could watch all the summer movies.
The walkways of Georgiou Olympio and Drakou were not built back then, they were large two-way roads; however they did have large sidewalks where shops would take out their tables and chairs for customers which reminds a lot of how the walkways are still today.
There were no supermarket’s back in the day in Koukaki, there was George’s general goods store; located at Veikou and Zinni it had all the necessities a supermarket could offer, with the main difference being the humane contact and conversation with George and his wife Lola. There used to be the milk man, with his round and puffy face, his thick moustache, and his white apron. The milkman would bike with his basket every afternoon from house to house to leave us fresh milk, and would collect the bottles from the previous day; at the end of each week we would pay the amount we had consumed. Our bakery was on Falirou road, a very old bakery, that would bake only on would; the whole neighbourhood smelt of freshly baked bread.
Cars would pass very rarely, even on Syggrou road that is a highway. Now that I mentioned Syggrou, opposite of the Fix brewery were the two building of Olympic Airways, where Onasis frequently visited prior to the company being given to the public domain. On Meidani road was the shoemaker and cobbler, mr.Nikos, an amazing person with a lot of humour and laughter. Many times you could hear the sound of music coming from his shop; when he did not have a task at hand he would play his clarinet. He was truly good, and for this reason he played traditional music events hosted in Dora Stratou, a small summer musical theatre located in Filopappou.
Oh! Don’t let me forget about OTE (phone company) which was on Georgiou Olympiou, and because at the time we did not have telephones in our home the place would be packed of people waiting in line to hear which of the three telephone booths we could use to make a call.
On Falirou, with direction towards Acropolis/Plaka, there was the 14thall-male high-school, and near the Agios Ioanni church on Veikou road was the 3rdall-female high-school. It was highly restricted for the two opposite-sex schools to have communication, if they were seen by a teacher or other authoritative figure the parents of the children would be contacted and there was even the possibility of expulsion from the school. Let’s not forget that at the time the largest proportion of Koukaki’s local residents were working in the military, teachers or in the education department, public workers, and very few worked for the private-sector. Today the 3rdall-female high-school is a large apartment building, and the 14thall-male high-school is a monstrosity of a garage. The new 14thpublic (mixed genders of course) high-school is now where the old “Proteas” summer cinvema used to be. The French Academy used to be located on Falirou street, where I graduated for my French degree.
What memory should I first recall? When there was the annual Carnival (dressing up/similar to Halloween) and there was a competition for who wore the best costume between schools, for elementary and high-schools alike; and where would we go to next? But where else? To our neighbouring and beautiful neighbourhood of Acropolis/Plaka; in those years you could not walk at the time of the Carnival through its narrow streets due to the vast amount of people. Not to mention Clean Monday (Greek Holiday) where all of Koukaki, was where?But where else, other than our lovely hill of Filopapou; flying kites and eating food made for the fasting period. We all knew each other back then, and the reason was because we were, and are, a small neighbourhood where you see familiar faces and always exchange a greeting and good luck.
On the two main roads, that I have mentioned previously, Veikou and Dimitrakopoulou; there used to be a lot of commercial shops such as clothing shops, shoe shops, gift shops, pharmacies, florist shops, and book shops. There were also a lot of traditional tavernas (local restaurants), like the “Gardenia” and also a small tavern that sold fried fish, fried potatoes, fresh salads, and a lot of barrels of wine that the owner sold to all of Koukaki. There were only two places to buy souvlaki, and those so small they barely fit two people inside.
As always, through time, as do people change so does a neighbourhood, like our Koukaki. But that does not mean things are negative; good changes have been brought about as well. Like our two walkways (Georgiou Olypmiou and Drakou), the Fix brewery has become a museum for modern art. Other changes have gone for the negative however, such as that the houses of two to three stories tall have become large apartments; or that the greetings while not gone, have diminished in comparison.
But in the end some things will continue to be as they were, the one hand of our hill Filopappou and the other of Acropolis “hugging” our neighbourhood Koukaki where the fragrance of the light, delicate, white flowers of the Bergamot still goes on.
Koukaki through the eyes of young people
The new Psiri, the new Gazi, little Manhattan; what haven’t they already nick-named our small but exceptionally hospitable neighbourhood. It is one of the most “in” spots in Athens, where one shop opens soon another follows. All this in a neighbourhood where not too long ago only those who had friends in Koukaki, or lived in the neighbourhoods bordering it knew about it…Did you know about it, how it was named, a couple of years ago? You probably called it Acropolis or Petralona, but not many would find it weird that you had not heard of it back then; Koukaki is a small neighbourhood that borders the previously mentioned areas, Acropolis/Plaka and Petralona, but also borders with Neo Kosmo and Kallithea.
The popularity of the neighbourhood has risen due to the new cafes, bars, and restaurants that have opened up in the two main large walkways of Koukaki (Drakou and Georgiou Olympiou); this is especially true to tourists and people outside of the neighbourhood, but for the residents of Koukaki there are so many great things about our neighbourhood that we value even more than the new, and old, shops. You can walk from one side of Koukaki to the other in less than twenty minutes, and the neighbourhood is located in a very convenient location in the city of Athens. There are all means of public transport so you can go if you want, to the beach in 5-6 stations with the bus, to Syntagma with the metro (or even by feet! It’s a 15 minute walk), walk to the neighbouring Acropolis/Plaka…wherever you might want to go, it’s all approximately a similar distance from the neighbourhood! Further than how close other areas are, Koukaki itself has a beautiful “mountain”, Filopappou; where old and young alike go to relieve themselves of the stressful rhythms of city life, to get away from most of the pollution, take out their pets, some go for training and running, and the mountain also gathers at certain nights fans of traditional Greek music where they hear and dance to it in the musical theatre of Dora Stratou, however escaping from the traditional music and heading higher up the mountains there are “private”/”hidden” trance and electronic music events that occur throughout the year, but mainly during summer. Another part of Koukaki that the locals value deeply is the Paidiki Hara (literal translation: The Playground). What used to be, not so long ago, an area for distribution and usage of narcotic substances, with the help of the neighbourhood basketball team KOUKAKI B.C. has now turned into a hospitable and peaceful area where children can play, friends can meet, and most importantly an area for exercise and practice which over the past few years has raised talents in the field of basketball.
There are so many areas that can be brought up, little parks and playgrounds that attract all ages of people, the so many different (thematically as well) cafes that offer choices for almost every taste and style one can wish for, the famous and highly reputable bar “PULP” that gathers a lot of foreigners but also many locals of Koukaki that watch football and all sorts of sports together while enjoying a nice selection of beers and food. There are little food shops located throughout all of Koukaki that offer a variety of tastes and choices; Kyriako’s sandwich shop is one of these, where with only four to five euro you will get a sandwich with almost every topping (there are plenty!!). Augerinos a souvlaki shop that has one of the best sauces for chicken souvlaki in Athens. There are so many choices that it’s hard for someone to be unsatisfied.
With so many shops, restaurants, bars, and in general locations in the neighbourhood we almost forgot to mention about its local residents. In the past Koukaki used to be an area predominantly resided by high positioned military personnel and most of the building where small two-story houses; the neighbourhood has had a large transition, we are now a neighbourhood with large apartment buildings where now the local residents are from every type of social class, and it is a very multi-cultural neighbourhood. Due to Koukaki being a small neighbourhood in size, almost all of the locals know each other, or have at least seen each other a couple of times; it is something amazing that in a megalopolis like Athens in our time that there is still a neighbourhood where you will continuously be greeting friends, or acquaintances, while you walk down Koukaki’s main roads.
I could briefly summarize Koukaki into that it is a unique and special neighbourhood from most of the other Athenian ones; a lot of friendly and family values are visible in Koukaki that are not easily seen in other areas of Athens, at times it might even seem as though you are not in Athens. Koukaki is a hospitable get-away right in the heart of the capital.