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Germany pays off the First World War

U.S. terror warning falls on deaf ears. Germany celebrates 20th anniversary of reunification —and the end of the First World War. Shooting rampage sparks gun debate. IMF chief warns against teutonic cockiness over strong growth. And Lady Gaga proves too much for a cool aristocrat.

Stephanie zu Guttenberg

Top News: A rare travel alert issued by the United States for the whole of Europe warning of potential terrorist attacks prompted a collective shrug from Germans.

Despite reports that Berlin was a key target, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government said there was no firm evidence for an imminent attack and Germans accepted this reassuring reading of the intelligence.

After all, the alert arrived while the country was in an ebullient mood as it celebrated the 20th anniversary of its reunification. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, Germany formally reunified on Oct. 3, 1990. In one of the more unusual revelations leading up to the anniversary, Merkel admitted she still hoarded food — a habit she developed growing up in the communist East.

Most Germans were surprised to learn that Oct. 3 marked another milestone: They finally paid off the First World War. To be precise, they settled 69.9 million euros ($96 million) worth of debts stemming from reparations payments Germany was ordered to pay at the Treaty of Versailles. That treaty crippled Germany in the 1920s and paved the way for the Nazis, lending a poignancy to the news that the debt was finally history.

Germany’s 20th century history — crowded as it is — also reared its head when Verena Becker, a former member of the far-left Red Army Faction or “Baader-Meinhof gang” went on trial for the 1977 murder of federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback. The group killed 34 people in the 1970s and 1980s and it remains a mystery who pulled the trigger in the Buback murder.

A shooting rampage, meanwhile, left four people dead and 18 injured, and sparked a debate about gun ownership laws. The profile of the killer was extraordinary: a 41-year-old female lawyer. Known as Sabine R., she killed three people including her son and former partner, then went into a neighboring hospital with a .22 sporting pistol, killed an orderly and wounded many more people before police shot her dead. Calls for stricter control of sports and hunting weapons — of which Germany has many — followed the rampage.

Merkel’s center-right coalition government came under fire for its perceived attacks on Germany’s treasured welfare state. In February, the Constitutional Court ruled that benefits paid to the long-term unemployed were not calculated to ensure the recipients could actually get by.

It ordered the government to re-do its sums. The result? The government announced it would pay the long-term unemployed an additional 5 euros per month ($6.92). Opposition parties and welfare advocates were unimpressed and have vowed to take the issue back to the court.

Money: Germany continues to enjoy an economic boom — at least compared with its neighbors, not to mention the U.S. — with the jobless figure set to drop below the politically significant mark of 3 million.

Economists are now expecting 3 percent growth this year. Steel workers in the industrial north-western states were among the first to share in the spoils, winning a 3.6 percent pay rise — a significant result given it will set the mood for other states and sectors. Rising wages should in turn boost consumption and help Germany’s neighbors along.

Perhaps the clearest sign of recovery was the record amount of beer drunk at this year’s 200th anniversary Oktoberfest — revelers consumed7 million liters, which is a shade over the previous record set in 2007. Oktoberfest suffered a dip in sales of the amber nectar during the past two years as the recession kept beer drinkers at home.

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s timing was therefore all the more impeccable when he warned Germany not to get drunk on its success. He doubted Germany’s 2011 performance would be so impressive.

Germany also had a tussle with Strauss-Kahn’s homeland, France, over how swiftly to punish European countries that broke the EU’s budget rules and ran up big deficits. Germany wants penalties to kick in automatically, including the the suspension of EU voting rights and development aid. France said, “Non.”

Elsewhere: Singer Lady Gaga suffered an unexpected attack from Stephanie zu Guttenberg, the wife of Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and a descendent of the great Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Not only are the Guttenbergs Germany’s most glamorous political couple, they’ve also turned being conservative and aristocratic into something young and funky.

But in a newspaper article to promote her new book on preventing child abuse, Stephanie wrote: “When I see 9-year-old girls … excitedly discussing the new video clip from Lady Gaga — with black leather corset, suspenders and naked bottom cheeks — then I am really worried about the female role models these children are growing up with.”

The lecture was a curious double standard given her husband is well-known as a fan of the Australian rock band AC/DC. Evidently AC/DC’s song titles such as “Hard as a Rock,” “What You do for Money, Honey” and “Given the Dog a Bone” are okay while Lady Gaga’s translucent bras are not.