July 19, 2012. The European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt.
It is 8:45 in the morning, and I am here, camera in hand, awaiting the arrival of the members of the Governing Council. They hold meetings several times a year, but today the situation is tense. The financial and economic crisis is making its effects felt throughout half of Europe, and especially so in the Mediterranean countries. Across the street from the BCE is a protest camp inhabited by hundreds of citizens of various nationalities. At the stroke of nine, several official cars pull up in front of the bank, and the “men in black” get out. I start taking pictures of their briefcases. I’m not particularly interested in their faces; what I find really fascinating, what really drew me here, is the shine of that leather, under which the numbers are hidden. I take shots in several bursts with my telephoto lens. In less than a minute, they have passed the security guards and disappeared.
I know they won’t be out for several hours, so I decide to take a walk around. As I circle the building, I pass a shop belonging to the Bank itself. Inside, I find all kinds of souvenirs related to the European currency (T-shirts with the Euro logo, mugs, plates, posters, lighters). I wonder who buys all of this junk “tattooed” with the letter €. I’m about to go back out onto the street when in the corner of the shop I am baffled to notice packages that seem to contain Euro bills. The shop assistant tells me that these are in fact 50,000€ bundles which were withdrawn from circulation due to some sort of printing error and were later shredded, pressed and packaged for sale as a souvenir at the modest price of 10€.
It makes me think of the perverse genius of the capitalist system, able to make a profit even from money without value. I decide to buy a package and take it with me from the European Central Bank to the Parthenon in Athens. At€nea documents the landscapes I passed through as I went from the north to the south of Europe with 50,000 fake Euros in my backpack.
PS: That same day, Thursday, July 19, Spain’s risk premium reached record levels, the IBEX collapsed and the Bundestag approved a bailout of the Spanish banking system.