The head of an employers group has said Germany's image is being damaged by an anti-foreigner movement. Officials at Cologne's cathedral have said they will turn off floodlights to counter a protest set for Monday.
Ingo Kramer, head of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA), told the Munich-based magazine Focus on Friday that Germany needed immigration to sustain its job market and social system, given that its population is aging.
Germany's image as a business location was being damaged, Kramer said, by the impression that foreigners were the targets of Monday evening protests held since October by the PEGIDA movement in Dresden.
The group, which purports to be patriotically European and anti-Islamic, drew German Chancellor Angela Merkel's ire on Wednesday when she called its leaders racists who were full of hatred.
Kramer, like Merkel, said German society had a moral responsibility to help refugees fleeing conflict regions.
"We need immigration for our labor market and so that our social system can also function amid a shrinking population of employable age in the future," Kramer said.
Wolfgang Tiefensee, who was once federal transport minister and is now economics minister in Germany's eastern state of Thuringia, told Focus that Germany needed a "real welcoming culture" for "qualified immigrants."
He said the PEGIDA protests sent a "devastating message" and were "anything but helpful" for Thuringia and Saxony, of which Dresden is the state capital.
The Catholic administration of Cologne's cathedral said it would switch off floodlights that illuminate Germany's historical landmark next Monday evening during a march planned along the Rhine River city by KÖGIDA, a local offshoot of PEGIDA.
An alliance calling itself "Cologne stands crossways," comprising various religious communities, including Muslim organizations, said it expected thousands of people to attend a counter-demonstration opposing attempts to split society.
Cathedral provost Norbert Feldhoff said extinguishing the lights was to challenge those who joined KÖGIDA's rally to "consider whom you are marching alongside."
The cathedral, commonly known as the "Dom," the German word for cathedral, wanted to set a conspicuous signal against "xenophobia, exclusion and racism," Feldhoff added.
When PEGIDA last marched in Dresden, its famous opera house, the Semperoper, extinguished its outdoor lighting to deny marchers the cultural backdrop.
Praise for Cologne church stance
Senior federal parliamentarians praised Cologne cathedral's intended move.
Merkel's former Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, who now chairs the Bundestag's Foreign Affairs Committee, said PEGIDA's behavior was "unchristian."
"As a Catholic and politician I am very happy about this clear sign of demarcation from within my church," Röttgen said, adding that PEGIDA stood for what he termed darkness.
Deputy Social Democrat floor leader Rolf Mützenich said he could "only welcome" Cologne community's "very confident" signal against PEGIDA.
Federal Development Aid Minister Gerd Müller, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union- the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, told the "Augsburger Allgemeinen" newspaper that a "factual discussion" was needed about the protests.
Despite its overall good economic situation, Germany has millions of impoverished families, especially in its larger cities, who view the influx of more refugees as competition.
These trends required a response from Germany's political leaders, Müller said.
Escaping from fundamentalists
Cem Özdemir, the co-leader of Germany's opposition Greens, told the Leipzig-based public broadcaster MDR that many refugees trying to reach Germany were fleeing radical Islamism, contrary to PEGIDA's anti-Islam rhetoric.
"These are people who do not want to live as the fundamentalists would want," Özdemir said, referring to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
PEGIDA tipped as 'non-word'
The linguistic jury, which on January 13 will announce Germany's "non-word" for 2014, said PEGIDA had been suggested many times. Translated, PEGIDA means "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West."
Numerous European countries, including France, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands, have seen a growth in anti-immigration parties, which have capitalized on voters' disenchantment with economic austerity.
ipj/nm (Reuters, KNA, epd, AFP, dpa)