According to a study commissioned by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, social prejudice is rife across the full spectrum of German society -- ranging from a dislike of foreigners to a resentment of the unemployed.
Racism is not confined to society's margins, the study says
The report presented in Berlin this week was the second part of a study begun in 2006, which questioned 5,000 Germans over 14 about their views of right-wing extremism and concluded that one in four Germans holds xenophobic opinions.
Drawing on interviews with 60 of the initial participants, the survey aimed to establish the roots of prejudice by examining attitudes among people of various ages, social background and profession.
"We were interested in finding out what determines an individual's political opinions, be they far-right or democratic," said project coordinator Dietmar Molthagen.
"For this reason, we set out to examine the interviewees' opinions in the context of their lives," said researcher Oliver Decker.
He and Elmar Braehler from Leipzig University's Institute for Clinical Psychology and Sociology said their work revealed that racism in Germany is increasingly mainstream: in both eastern and western Germany and across the generations, the public has little compunction about expressing far-right beliefs.
Their conclusion is that the problem lies at the very center of society, undermining the theory that the breeding grounds for right-wing extremism are the parts of the country struck by unemployment and social decay.
37 percent of the population maintain that immigrants come to Germany "to exploit the welfare state," 39 percent think Germany "is dangerously over-run with foreigners," and 26 percent would like "a single, strong party that represents the German community."
The main targets of German prejudice are Turks and Russians, who are seen as parasitical and grasping.
Prosperity and prejudice are closely intertwined
However, researchers also identified the emergence of what they call "cultural racism" -- prejudices against marginal groups such as the jobless and the socially disadvantaged. This, the study suggested, reflected a strong pressure to conform to a perceived social norm and a condemnation of those who failed to do so.
With most of the participants saying they felt powerless to help define politics, the study also revealed a widespread disillusionment with democracy and democratic principles.
The findings suggested that most people supported democracy to the extent that it guaranteed personal prosperity, but in its absence, turned immediately to intolerance.
The researchers cited similar attitudes in the 1950s, when the economic miracle proved an obstacle to coming to terms with the past.
"The rapid accumulation of wealth in West Germany [in the post-war years] left no scope for reflection and shame," said researcher Oliver Decker.