In the stuffy corridors of Brussels, and on the streets of Poland, Portugal and Paris, the euro zone crisis has left people feeling helpless in the face of a force beyond their control, and fearful of its consequences.

A problem once confined to smaller countries such as Ireland and Greece now threatens Italy, and millions of people across the continent, are wondering -- what does it mean for me?

Honestly, I'm afraid this euro zone debt crisis could lead to a war, said Stefan Berciu, 43, a manager of a telecoms company in Bucharest.

I am worried because everything is being turned upside down, in Hungary and around us, said pensioner Gitta Varga in Budapest.

It's frightening to see Italy running into a wall. We're next on the list, said Catherine Lepetit, 38, a French banker.

In Brussels, the immediate problem is what can be done to save Italy and the euro. The months of crisis management are beginning to take their toll on those seeking a solution.

One EU diplomat said he was asked to work flat out even when his wife and children were ill. People don't want to go home to their spouses and say they have to work another weekend or cancel another holiday, said an EU official.

Another euro zone diplomat said decision-making was becoming more centralised as the crisis grew, meaning he worked extremely long hours but was effectively 'out of the loop'.

One bureaucrat was surrounded in his office by empty take-away food cartons and trays. My wife says I'm getting fat but there's not time to eat properly, he said.

In Brussels and elsewhere in Europe people are considering whether the euro, and even the European Union, can continue in its present form. Many express their frustration at Greece for taking the single currency to the brink.

I think they (Greece) should be kicked out, said Ludek Balaz, 41, a technician in Prague. The Greeks never worked, their productivity is zero. Same as Italy, although they do work a little.

I think we should chuck out countries like Greece from the euro zone, said Sylwester Dynek, a florist in his 50s in Warsaw. They can't even help themselves so why should we support them?


Many people believed a two-speed euro zone -- in which some countries would deepen economic integration while leaving behind those on the southern periphery -- was on its way.

What we have now is not a real Europe, it's a system with lots of countries sticking to ideas that are from another era, said Marc Breviglieri, 63, a coach for executives in Paris.

We try to make it work but it never works because the different countries are set on maintaining an obsolete status quo, out of fear.

Down the street in Paris, Charles van der Noot, 49, a real estate agent, believes things have to change. If they want to try a two-speed Europe, why not? I think we need to invent a new model because the current system has clearly failed.

Others believe EU governments should hold firm. When you create a group such as the EU, you can't just back out, said Jacek Oleksiak, a Polish security guard in his 50s.

We're all in this together until the end. If one country sinks, we all sink.

Worries about the single currency, and what might replace it if it collapsed, could worsen an economic slowdown and has accentuated people's fears about their finances.

Marcos Sanchez, 40, a physiotherapist who runs his own clinic in Madrid, says the end of the euro, and a return to the peseta, would be cataclysmic for Spain and its economy.

My business is going very well - when there's stress, the number of patients I have goes up - but I really don't think I'd be able to charge 36 euros if it were 6,000 pesetas instead.

It's psychological, I know, but people would think a lot harder about spending any money if we went back to the peseta.

The euro zone crisis brings back worrying memories for Wolfgang Sander, 71, a pensioner in Berlin who lived in East Germany before reunification.

I do feel anxious about my savings, the stability of the banks and how much our money is worth, he said. I've lived through many changes in currency and each time it feels like we come out of it worse off.

My son is unemployed ... I'm worried about what this all means for future generations.

Minja Timperi, 23, is a Finnish student living in Berlin and is nervous about her money.

I never would have imagined a few years ago that I'd be worried about how safe my money is with a bank. There are fears back home in Finland, which also has the euro, but I think in Germany the debate is much more intense.

There is a lot of frustration at southern European countries and their carefree spending, Timperi said.

But in Greece itself, there was no trace left of those carefree days, as people with savings desperately worried about what would happen to them.

A grandmother asked us to have 100,000 euros ready in banknotes but when she came in the following day and saw that the money was there, available, she told us to redeposit it, said a bank officer at a large Greek bank in central Athens.

Another banker at a foreign-owned bank said rentals of safe deposit boxes had increased about five-fold compared to last year. The most extreme case was a client who told me he was building a safe under his pool, he said.

Nic Gidaracos, 30 and a property owner in Greece, says the only sure thing at the moment is that there is very little light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

He said one of his tenants approached his lawyer a few days ago to ask for a reduction in rent. I heard a Greek lady suggest recently that average Greeks are very worried as they are earning 'Bulgarian' wages and paying 'London' prices.

I got most of my money out a year ago. People who have liquid assets will no doubt move them. The average man or woman on the street, though, who doesn't have that luxury will not go down without a fight.

(Writing by Robert Woodward; Reporting by Alexandra Hudson in Berlin, Anjuli Davies in London, Jason Hovet in Prague, Krisztina Than in Budapest, Nick Vinocur in Paris, Sam Cage in Bucharest, Luke Baker in Brussels and George Georgiopoulos in Athens; Editing by Myra MacDonald)