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Immigration pushed Germany's population higher in 2012, official statistics showed on Monday, the second gain in two years despite the country's rapidly ageing society.


Federal statistics office Destatis said that 82.0 million people were living in Germany at the end of 2012, compared to 81.8 million at the start.

"After eight years of decline, the population number has now risen for the second year in a row," commented Destatis.

At least 340,000 more people entered the country than left it in 2012, the statistics showed. This net immigration effect outweighed a high net death rate. During the year, there were between 660,000 and 680,000 births and between
860,000 and 880,000 deaths.

Like other advanced economies, Germany is facing a snowballing population crisis, leaving the country short of workers and adding to the strain on already stretched public coffers.

With one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, Germany, currently the European Union's most populous country, could see its population decline to between 65 and 70 million by 2060, Destatis has calculated.

AFP/mry

 

Discount supermarket chain Lidl has been fined €1.5 million for leaving dangerous, Listeria-contaminated cheese on sale for too long. One person died after eating the cheese and three more became ill

 

Lidl did not act fast enough in 2009 when the Listeria bacteria were discovered in its Harz cheese, a product of Austrian company Prolactal, said Heilbronn Administrative Court on Tuesday.

The state prosecutor said four customers fell ill with listeriosis after eating the cheese, one of whom later died as a result of the food poisoning.

Listeria is a bacterium - usually eliminated in the pasteurization process - which causes serious infections in humans and can be life-threatening for people suffering from other illnesses, pregnant mothers or new born children.

On hearing that the bacteria had been found in the product, Lidl said it had asked Prolactal for an inspection - and received negative test results. The supermarket removed the cheese from its shelves but failed to recall the product until Austrian authorities issued a warning in late January 2010.

The court ruled that Lidl should have not only withdrawn the product earlier - by the end of 2009 at the latest - but also should have issued an immediate recall, and fined the supermarket €1.5 million for failing to meet its legal obligations.

Four company employees were also singled out to pay fines of between €27,000 and €58,500. However, the court found that Lidl did not bear any legal or criminal responsibility for the illnesses or death caused by the food poisoning.

A Lidl spokesman said the company had at all times met its inspection obligations, but admitted that the reaction had been too slow and accepted Tuesday's court ruling.

"Lidl Germany accepts the court's decision and regrets that the results of the routine inspections carried out three years ago on the product were not correctly interpreted," said a spokesman.

The ruling came on the same day as Irish authorities said they had found horse meat in burgers sold in several supermarkets in Ireland and Britain - including German discount supermarkets Lidl and Aldi.

DPA/The Local/jlb

At least a million people peacefully rang in 2013 at Germany’s largest New Year’s party in Berlin on Monday night.


Organizers of the two-kilometre-long celebration in front of the German capital’s icon Brandenburg Gate said they had broken the million mark of revelers. Entrances to the party zone in Berlin’s centre were closed hours before the turn of the year due to the huge turnout.

Drawn by a 15-minute fireworks display with more than 6,000 rockets at midnight, visitors also came to see an international lineup of musical acts including The Pet Shop Boys. The large crowd also hopped to the horsey dance made famous by 2012’s suprise South Korean pop hit “Gangnam Style.”

The police said the gathering remained largely peaceful without major incidents.

Across Germany, revelers gathered to say goodbye to the old year and hello to the new one. From Cologne to Munich, hundreds of thousands watched the sky light up at midnight over the country.

Germans spent an estimated €115 million on fireworks, according to the Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.

DAPD/The Local/mry

Hamburg has become the first German state to strike an historic agreement with Muslim community groups, but the deal has riled some members of the political establishment, who claim it undermines the separation of religion and state.

The agreement was struck between Hamburg city authorities and the council of Islamic communities (Schura), the Turkish-Islamic Union (Ditib), the association of Islamic cultural centres (VIKZ), as well as the city's Alevi community. Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz was set to sign it on Tuesday, the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper reported.

Religious instruction in schools and state recognition of Muslim holidays are among the cornerstones of the deal, which ties into existing agreements with Christian churches and Jewish communities.

In future, Muslim teachers will join Protestant pedagogues at the front of the classroom, the paper said. Moreover, Muslim holidays would be given equal status with other religious holidays, such as the Day of Prayer and Repentance celebrated by Christians.

The agreement, which was launched by the city's former mayor Ole von Beust in 2007, also sees Muslim groups pledge to adhere to the core values set out in Germany's constitution - including religious tolerance and gender equality.

Yet despite broad support for the deal in Hamburg's legislative assembly, not all politicians have endorsed it.

Members of the pro-business Free Democrats have taken a critical view, with the party's deputy in the assembly, Anna von Treuenfels, telling the Hamburger Abendblatt that such agreements "fundamentally contradict the liberal world view that calls for maximum possible separation of religion and churches and the state."

She also warned that "imprecise" formulations in the agreement could open the city up to legal headaches - saying it does not expressly regulate the wearing of headscarves or other religious clothing, such as the burka, during school instruction.

Hamburg's school board dismissed those concerns, however, saying decisions on such issues would be made on a case-by-case basis.

"As soon as clothing has a de-personalising effect, the line has been crossed and wearing it would not be allowed," spokesman Peter Albrecht told Hamburger Abendblatt. "Wearing a burka during class in Hamburg is not permitted."

The Local/arp

 

Bavarian police were on Wednesday still trying to figure out why a man and woman killed by a train on Christmas Eve were standing on railway tracks - and who they were. 

The pair were on the tracks at the Diedorf station near Augsburg when a train pulled in at speed and the driver was unable to stop in time to avoid hitting them. 

Mystery surrounds the identity of the pair - and their relationship to each other, a police spokesman said on Wednesday. A forensic examination was expected to offer some answers on Thursday. 

The IC train travelling between Municha nd Karlsruhe hit the pair despite the driver slamming on the emergency brake - he was only able to bring the train to a halt around 500 metres down the tracks. 

The track between Augsburg and Ulm was shut for several hours. 

DAPD/The Local/jcw

After years of steady progress, a new study shows German customer service seems to be sliding back into its old surly ways. Have you noticed a decline - or do you think it's so bad it couldn't possibly get any worse? Have your say.

Germany is not only living up to its old reputation as a service wasteland, but is turning back improvements made in the past few years, according to a new study published this week by pollsters YouGov.

Conducted as part of the search for Germany's "most customer-friendly service provider 2013", the study suggests overall consumer trust in service providers is down eight percent on the previous year. Only four percent of those asked said they saw no major problems in the way German companies treat their customers.

More than half (57 percent) of the more than 1,000 consumers surveyed said being dumped in a call centre queue while waiting to speak to an adviser was their most infuriating customer service experience.

The most frequent complaint was incompetent staff, with 44 percent saying unhelpful or idiotic assistants were most likely to make their blood boil.

Contacting companies in the first place was also often a major problem - 36 percent of those asked said companies being unavailable was their biggest service nightmare. And just nine percent said opening times were too short.

Other forms of communication problems came high in the survey results, with 22 percent of participants citing bad website design as their pet hate.

So could Germany really be sliding back into the service dark ages? Are staff that surly, or do you know companies who will go out of their way to meet your every need?

What's your biggest customer service pet hate? Ever have trouble phoning your phone company or accessing your internet company's website?

Or is the worst thing about being a consumer in Germany something different? Do you ever get scowled at in a shop or bullied by your vet?

Have your say here.

The Local/jlb

Chancellor Angela Merkel has for the first time publicly spoken about her Christian faith, which she has always held to be a personal, private matter, despite being leader of the Christian Democratic Union. "I am a member of the evangelical church.

I believe in God and religion is also my constant companion, and has been for the whole of my life," she said on a videoblog when answering questions from a theology student.

"We as Christians should above all not be afraid of standing up for our beliefs," she added.

The structure of the world relating to belief was a, "framework for my life that I consider very important," she said.

The Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper noted on Tuesday that until now Merkel had been very quiet on the subject, despite the much-cited fact that her father was a protestant pastor.

She was more intensely affected by her family home and the Christian faith than she was by her study of physics and scientific thinking, her biographer Volker Resing suggested to the paper.

"And now she has realized that her avowal of Christianity is important - as a signal within the secular society, but also to her party members who have often accused her of not being concerned with the C [in the party's initials CDU]," he said.

Just less than a year before the general election in Germany, is the chancellor fishing for votes from the declining Christian community, despite friction with the Pope and her liberal position on stem cell research, the Frankfurter Rundschau asked.

Such a suggestion has always been too low for Merkel, which is in part why she has always kept religious questions private, the paper said. But it also suggested that her comments were a reaction to the strong media presence of the Muslim community in Germany.

The Local/hc

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