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Germany gears up for highly fissile debates

Banker sparks fury with anti-immigration book. Merkel locks in a nuclear future. Hamburg police shut down 9/11 mosque. Germany’s Finance Minister has a laugh at Tim Geithner’s expense. And who are these vegetarian cannibals?

Muslims in Berlin


Top News: Immigration shot to the top of Germany’s agenda after cantankerous central banker Thilo Sarrazin launched a book arguing that the country’s estimated four million Muslims were making Germany “dumber.”

Politicians including Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned Sarrazin. President Christian Wulff appears poised to sack him from the board of the Bundesbank. But one-third of Germans told a pollster they agreed with Sarrazin and one-fifth said they’d vote for him if he formed a party.

A consensus seems to be emerging out of the initial maelstrom: while Sarrazin’s language can be rabid and some of his ideas downright wrong, he has sparked a necessary discussion about the poor integration of many of Germany’s Muslims.

A radioactive topic of a more literal kind came up when Merkel announced that nuclear power, which produces one-fifth of Germany’s electricity, would remain part of its energy mix for an extra 12 years. In doing so, she scrapped a plan by her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, to phase out the nation’s nuclear reactors by 2022 and altered Germany’s energy profile for years to come.

Germany is a proudly green nation that wants to lead the world in renewable energy technology. As such, Merkel was careful to sell the nuclear extension as a “bridge” while renewables are developed.

Climate change has been very much on people’s minds here after two months of wildly oscillating weather. A sweltering three weeks in July caused transport chaos and hospitalizations. Then abruptly, the skies opened up and heavy rains caused widespread flooding, giving Germany its wettest August since record-keeping began in 1881.

Meanwhile, with the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington approaching, German police shut down the Hamburg mosque frequented by 9/11 leader Mohammed Atta and two of his fellow hijackers.

Investigators said the Masjid Taiba mosque had once again become a hotbed for radicalism, with several worshippers going to Pakistan in the past year to join the jihadist Uzbekistan Islamic Movement. One, who was arrested by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told investigators that militants were planning attacks in Germany and neighboring countries.

Authorities have foiled several advanced plots by Islamic extremists in recent years.

Google suffered a spanking at the hands of privacy-conscious Germans objecting to the U.S. internet giant’s “Street View,” which provides panoramic images of city streets taken from cameras mounted on cars.

Street View has been established in about 20 countries without much fuss, but many Germans, including senior politicians, feel that having the fronts of their houses posted on the web invades their privacy.

Google offered an olive branch – residents can “opt out” and have their homes blurred in the pictures. It wasn’t enough; the government is considering tightening the law.

Money:Nobody is exactly saying, “I told you so,” but Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble came close. After being criticized by U.S. President Barack Obama in June for endangering the global recovery by cutting spending to reduce its deficit, Germany watched with satisfaction as its GDP grew 2.2 percent in the second quarter – the fastest rate since reunification 21 years ago.

Schäuble cheekily offered “to talk to my American colleague,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, to tell him how it was done.

Even the French can’t complain, because, as their Economy Minister Christine Lagarde admitted, the rest of the euro-zone is set to benefit from Germany’s quick recovery. Long criticized by the likes of Lagarde for growing at its neighbors’ expense, Germany has recorded a rise in consumption that should pull the rest of Europe along, as should the big wage hikes being demanded by unions.

All the more bewildering, then, that the German voter remains so thoroughly dissatisfied with Merkel. Her popularity is languishing on a record low.

Elsewhere: If there were any doubt the good times are rolling,a newly-retired pensioner from Aschaffenburg in Bavaria put them to rest. He donned a suit and hung sign around his neck that read: "Not unemployed or homeless. Have a wife. I'm ok. That's why I'd like to give you a euro."

And he handed out money.

German and international media feasted on the bizarre – surely impossible! – news that a soon-to-open Berlin restaurant was going to offer human flesh on its menu.

Flimé restaurant’s online call for willing donors and a broad-minded surgeon should’ve been summarily laughed off. Except that in Germany, it was uncomfortably close to being plausible, given the memories of Armin Meiwes, the Cannibal of Rotenburg.

But fear not, Flimé won’t appear in any Berlin travel guides. The restaurant advertisements turned out to be a hoax by vegetarian activists trying to draw attention to the human cost of eating meat.