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Be fruitful and multiply

December 2, 2010

Like many religions, Germany encourages its citizens to go forth and multiply. A family's seventh child automatically gets a bonus godfather - the German president. But what happens when the family has extremist views?

Babies in a newborn hospital ward
The 1949 law wanted to see Germany's population blossomImage: DW/Sanel Kajan

For President Christian Wulff, a run-of-the-mill process honoring a slightly antiquated German custom has turned into something of a political minefield.

Under a law established in 1949, while Germany sought to replenish its population and workforce after World War II, a family's seventh child automatically has the right to a special bonus godfather - the German president.

This routine procedure, which also includes a 500 euro ($658) reward, applies to any seventh child. However, President Wulff's decision to honor the custom for an allegedly neo-Nazi family in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has solicited strong opposition.

After a few days deliberating, Wulff's office issued a statement saying that the godfather decision ultimately concerned the newborn child, not the family or their political background.

"It's everyone's responsibility to create an atmosphere in which children can be brought up to adhere to democratic principles," Wulff also said.

Local opposition

The social minister for the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Manuela Schwesig, said she was disappointed with Wulff's statement and that he should have more clearly distanced himself from the alleged political stance of the family.

NPD supporters wave a large flag at a rally
Local politicians advised against the honor because of the family's far-right tiesImage: AP

"Instead of issuing a general appeal to everyone to create an atmosphere in which children can be brought up according to democratic principles, it would have been more courageous to issue a direct challenge to the parents in this specific instance," Schwesig said on Thursday.

Regional politicians on all sides have said that the family in question was closely tied to the far-right scene in Germany. Extremism experts in Germany have said they were friends of the high-profile lawyer and member of the far-right NPD party, Juergen Rieger, who died in 2009.

The Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb) said the mother was a member of an organization with close ties to the NPD whose name roughly translates as "The Ring of National Women."

"We can't fight against far-right culture in our schools and local projects and then give out state honors to such people," the local authorities in Krakow am See, responsible for the family's hometown of Lalendorf, said in a statement.

A truly extended family

The German president is set to travel to the region on Thursday on unrelated business, although it seems unlikely he would visit his controversial new godchild, who is but one of many.

German heads of state have been honorary godfathers to 76,440 children since the law's inception in 1949. Parents can apply for the honor - which is usually a formality - as soon as their seventh babe is born.

Author: Mark Hallam (dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson