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Germany

Germany in Brief

The German Constitutional Court begins hearings on electronic surveillance in private homes; the coalition crisis is resolved in Germany's largest state; and what tickles German palates.

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Pizza tops the list of dinner favorites

Constitutional Court considers bugging law

On Tuesday Germany's Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe began hearings into complaints challenging a law that permits police to conduct electronic surveillance of private homes and offices. The law, passed in 1998 with a view to cracking organized crime, gives law enforcement agencies the right to listen into private conversations if they secure a court order first, and this can be issued even if the individual under surveillance is not suspected of committing a crime. German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries and Federal Prosecutor General Kay Nehm both defended the measure in court, with Nehm describing it as an important tool in the fight against international terrorist networks. Opponents, including the neo-liberal party of Free Democrats, say the legislation violates citizens' right to privacy.

Crisis resolved in North-Rhine Westphalia

After six weeks of squabbling over the future of the coalition government in Germany’s largest state North-Rhine Westphalia, the Social Democrats and Greens have finally decided to work together for the duration of the legislative period. State Premier Peer Steinbrück (SPD) said the coalition had found a "solution" to the crisis that had threatened to disband the red-green government and spill over to the SPD-Green coalition in Berlin. Disagreements over subsidies for coal mining, reforms in school and transport policy and the expansion of regional airports had been resolved, Steinbrück said on Tuesday. The SPD-led government’s decision to ditch the construction of the controversial magnetic levitation rail project, Metrorapid, had also helped pave the road for continued cooperation with the Greens. The state’s minister for the environment and Green Party leader Bärbel Höhn was optimistic about the future of the coalition for the first time in weeks, saying "starting tomorrow we can govern again with all our energy."

Military service debate continues

German Defense Minister Peter Struck has outlined his proposals for a far-reaching reform of the Bundeswehr, Germany's armed forces. Struck has so far resisted calls from the government's junior coalition partner the Greens to scrap mandatory military service in favor of a smaller, purely professional army. The defense minister wants to retain the country's nine month-long compulsory military service for men. His stance is not just unpopular among the Greens -- it has also come under criticism within the ranks of his own party. Reinhold Robbe, chairman of the Bundestag defense committee, told the Financial Times Deutschland Tuesday that the Social Democrats would have to give "a clear yes or no" to the issue at their party conference in November by the latest.

Germany's favorite food

According to the Institute for Opinion Survey in Allensbach Germans’ favorite food is pizza and pasta. A survey conducted among 1,600 people over the age of 16 shows that 51 percent of restaurant-goers favor foreign fare, with half of them preferring Italian food. Chinese food comes in second, closely followed by Greek and then Thai. Non-German cuisine is enjoying unprecedented popularity in Germany, with the number of diners ordering German dishes falling from 41 to 37 percent in the last two years. And it seems there's still a clear east-west divide when it comes to taste, with 53 percent of western Germans favoring foreign restaurants compared to just 43 percent in the eastern German states. The study also showed that 84 percent of western Germans say they eat out regularly, in contrast to just 77 percent in the former communist east. The Allensbach institute says income discrepancies are largely to blame for the east-west divide.

Berlin shoot-out claims two lives

One man and a 39-year-old woman died and two men were seriously injured in a dramatic shoot-out in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg on Monday night. According to German press agency dpa, the 38-year-old assailant shot and killed a woman seated outside a café, then turned his gun on a passing cyclist who attempted to intervene. The man then fled to a neighboring street where minutes later, he shot a policeman. Shortly after, he was found dead in the courtyard of a house just several hundred meters away. Initial investigations suggest the woman was his the shooter’s former girlfriend. Police also believe the gunman was a member of a local gun club and possessed a valid license for the murder weapon. The condition of the two injured men is still critical.

Compiled with material from wire services