Because Germany has been instrumental in pushing Greece to make austerity cuts in exchange for its bailout loans, Mrs Merkel has routinely been the object of anger at public protests in Athens.
Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras said Mrs Merkel’s visit on Tuesday was good news, however. “We will receive her as befits the leader of a great power and a friendly country,” he told reporters in Athens.
But Greece’s main labour unions were swift to call a protest rally outside parliament on Tuesday against “the neo-liberal policies of Mrs Merkel and the European Union’s core leadership”, and a three-hour work stoppage in Athens to facilitate participation.
Mrs Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, was at pains to portray the trip, her first since July 2007, as “a normal visit” which follows an invitation Mr Samaras made when he visited Berlin in August.
He underlined Germany’s message that it wants Greece to stay in the euro bloc – but that the Greeks must also push ahead with their painful reforms that has seen it repeatedly slash incomes, raise taxes and raise retirement ages.
“We want to help Greece to stabilise itself in the eurozone. We are doing that by contributing massively to the rescue programmes that are supposed to help get Greece out of the crisis,” Mr Seibert said.
Officials from the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank – the so-called “troika” – remain in Greece assessing the country’s progress in fulfilling the terms for receiving aid.
If their report does not clear the way for the payment of the next E31bn (£25 billion) tranche of the country’s bailout, Greece could be forced to default on its debts and perhaps leave the euro.
It is unclear when a decision will come.