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Rash withdrawal of US nukes poses dangers

David Wroe · 4 Mar 2010, 09:14

Published: 04 Mar 2010 09:14 GMT+01:00

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Five transatlantic experts told The Local that huge opportunities and dangers hinged on the issue: the weapons could be used as leverage to persuade Russia to reduce its own – still very large – stockpile, while their removal could upset the strategic balance that stretches from the North Atlantic to the Middle East.

Talk of the removal of weapons left over from the Cold War period intensified this week after US media reported President Barack Obama planned to reduce his country’s nuclear arsenal, including withdrawing weapons still on European soil.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who has long pushed for their removal, welcomed the news. But some analysts said Westerwelle was chasing domestic political points rather than offering a long term strategy.

“I don’t see any strategic plan (on the German side),” said Oliver Thränert of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). “And at the end of the day, if this happens, it’s because the US wants to do it, not because of Westerwelle’s influence.”

Stephen Szabo, executive director of the Transatlantic Academy in Washington DC, concurred, saying: “I think it’s Westerwelle trying to get a profile in foreign policy. He’s saying, ‘Here, I have an issue.’”

Henning Riecke of the German Council on Foreign Relations said Westerwelle’s goal in bringing up the debate was partly to put disarmament firmly on the agenda at the planned NATO foreign ministers meeting in the Estonian city of Tallinn in April.

But it could backfire and in fact strengthen some NATO allies’ conviction – notably Eastern Europeans still worried about a revival of Russian power – of the need for US nuclear weapons in Europe.

“It’s a little bit overoptimistic … I wouldn’t call it unwise or dangerous, but a bit risky,” he said. “I’m not convinced this will work the way the Germans have in mind. It might lead to a discussion in NATO that would confirm the need for US nuclear involvement in Europe.”

The analysts agreed Russia was pivotal to the issue. It would be senseless to remove the US weapons from Europe without using them as a bargaining chip to push Moscow to reduce its own stockpile.

No military value

“There is no military value to these weapons. NATO itself said that 10 years ago – there’s no secret there,” said Daniel Hamilton, director of the Centre for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. “The question is, do you take them out or negotiate with the Russians to draw down their own weapons?

“I think the (NATO) alliance will come around to … a negotiating position with Russia. After all, (the Russians) still have thousands of these weapons.”

Many NATO allies, notably those in the east, were still “very concerned” about a revival of Russian power, according to Hamilton. “In recent years, there have been many doubts about Germany’s credibility, with some of these Eastern neighbours doubting its commitment,” he said.

The SWP's Oliver Thränert said that the weapons still played an important symbolic role in transatlantic security cohesion. “Newer NATO members still value them because the bind the US to the old continent,” he said.

If the weapons were removed from Germany and from the other countries where the US is believed to have nuclear stockpiles – Italy, Belgium, Turkey and the Netherlands – then countries currently enjoying the security of the nuclear umbrella could be encouraged to go nuclear to protect themselves, Thränert said.

This was particularly the case with Turkey. If Iran continued to develop its nuclear programme and Turkey no longer felt protected by the US arsenal, it could build its own weapons, fuelling a Middle East arms race. Europe could then be drawn into the military escalation.

Missile defence the answer?

Story continues below…

“In that case, we’d certainly need a damage limitation option such as a missile defence shield,” Thränert said.

However, the Transatlantic Academy’s Szabo said the move could actually give the West more leverage in its arguments against a nuclear Iran.

“If the US is seen as reducing its arsenal, it makes the arguments against Iran’s nuclear programme stronger. It’s another step,'' he said.

Thränert and others said that a Europe-based missile defence system proposed by Obama last September could provide an alternative to the present nuclear stockpile acting as a deterrent.

However, reception to the idea has been fairly muted among European NATO allies, said Professor Joachim Krause, director of the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel.

“There is a strong strain to the public debate (in Germany) that missile defence is bad,'' he said. ''What we need is a broader debate if we are going to reduce reliance on nuclear deterrence. This is critical. Most people don’t understand that if you get rid of nuclear deterrence, you need to think about how to replace it.''

David Wroe (david.wroe@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

15:33 March 4, 2010 by Eagle1
As an American, I'm happy to see the nukes go. We can save a few dollars by not having to maintain them, and we can watch the Germans from the left who have been bitching and moaning about all things American squirm and potentially suffer the negative consequences of the pullout. Let Germany protect itself against the radical Muslim hordes and crazy Russians. Good luck, loudmouths.
15:54 March 4, 2010 by nepo77
Russia stages no threat to europe -thats the real issue here, the US is pissed that europeans get along now so there not needed anymore. Westerwelle is completely correct.
16:30 March 4, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
I have a modest proposal. Germany enjoys a great deal of competence in aerospace and nuclear technologies. May I suggest the construction of our own warheads and delivery systems? I am sure that we could come to an amiable understanding with the new eastern democracies elements of the middle east regarding inclusion in the central European nuclear defense umbrella.
16:50 March 4, 2010 by Ratt
" May I suggest the construction of our own warheads and delivery systems? "

Germany has already started 2 World Wars. What? You shooting for three?
16:51 March 4, 2010 by Hans321
And with "Forget it" I mean Germany building nuclear weapons, not the treaty.
17:02 March 4, 2010 by Fredfeldman
Yes, lets give the europeans responsibility for their own defense. All thru the cold war it was the US defense umbrella that gave europe a high standard of living. Of course they could live high on the socialist hog with no major defense budget. Now that they have the "muslim hordes and the crazy russians" banging on the door lets see how quickly they start crying for help. My guess it will be sooner rather than later. Think the russian danger is all in the past? Think Georgia and think again.
17:30 March 4, 2010 by Thames
Yes the irrational fear of the barbaric Russian hoards taking over Europe

or the time honored false accusation that Germany started 2 World Wars and so automatically would start a third.

The Soviet Union is dead the military industrial complex and the war profiteers will always find some reason to make people think they need to spend billions on weapons. Despite their allged barbarity the Russians are not going to nuke Europe. It make no sense to destroy something if you want to take it. It would be like a burgler burning down a house before he steals from it. Furthermore, after nuking Europe what would the Russinas do with it? Their troops would have to cross over 1500 k of fallout to get to Paris. Addtionally the Russians are not barbarians. Stalin is long gone.

As far as the idea Germany started 2 World Wars and can't be trusted is absurd.

First Germany did not "start" World War I. A combination of factors led to the start of WW I . Just because Germany was forced to sign a document saying they started the war doesn't make it so. Taking in to account that Germany certainly bares a great deal of responsiblity for the last two great Eurpoean wars doesn't mean their current leadership will start another.

If that is the case nearly every major power in the world has started or participated in an agressive war does that mean they should not be allowed weapons for self defense or is it only Germany that is not allowed to defend itself. It is this type of mistreatment of the Germans and that lead to World War II.

The Eurpoeans could pool their resources and buy a few nukes from the US just to keep the Russian Bear honest. Besides American could use the money anyway so they can pay make the Communist Chinese who nobody seems to be worried about despite the fact they are more dangerous than the Germans or Russians.
18:05 March 4, 2010 by k1964
Move them and the bases to Poland. If the Germans dont (and never did) appreciate the US being here I am certain the Poles would not mind US security.
18:09 March 4, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
The American nuclear weapons in Germany are actually under Luftwaffe control, with an american 'custodian' (usually some Corporal with a rifle). That custodian has the arming keys. This setup was intentional so that the Luftwaffe could respond with nuclear force in case American C&C is for whatever reason delayed or disabled.

Additionally, for the above suggestions of purchase or non-proliferation, you've got to be kidding yourselves. Germany and France are the largest nuclear technology exporters in the world. As such, Germany could build a small guaranteed-critical warhead by simply overengineering inside of a matter of days, if it so chose. I would probably inclined to think that the engineering of it has already been done, but there are no assembled weapons. We sat next door to hordes of Russian tank divisions for the better part of a century. You really think we're not interested in our own, independent defense first and foremost? Com'n, seriously; get real.

What I am proposing is not even remotely controversial. As stated, the Luftwaffe has already operated nuclear weapons for much of it's existence. All this would really be is no longer putting a pretty P.C. face on it. Russia is still a very real threat, and the Russian government is completely insane. Idiot-nations like Iran are quickly becoming a threat, too, and we're soon to be within their delivery range. We need the threat of instant annihilation to keep their more radical elements from acting out of fanaticism. The only proven, workable deterrent is the capability and willingness to respond with military force as appropriate, and have the ability to wipe the enemy off the face of the earth. This is not speculative; this is historically proven.
18:57 March 4, 2010 by tollermann
@ Thames "First Germany did not "start" World War I." Well I can say for sure that America didn't start it, nor WWII. Those were both European problems. I obviously love the German people and its culture (that is why I check this website out) but I don't believe the historical revisionism either!
19:12 March 4, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
They already took their revenge. It's called the Rape of Berlin, and it was actual state policy by the Soviet Union to use rape as a weapon against german morale.

Also, I don't think Israel is going to be nuking Germany, seeing as how we are their top supplier of submarines, among other things.
19:55 March 4, 2010 by Major B
Well... some good discussions above and some just completely idiotic. Won't respond to those.

- Germany did not start WWI. Thames is right on. That piece of paper was France & Britains way of .... oh just forget it.

- Russia poses a "potential" threat to Europe. Yes Has321, the threat is several thousand meters further east now. But, there are those proud Russians who are pissed at the Soviet decline and dedicated to a revived super Union.

- My dear Der Grenadier, geez, Germany is just getting over the "jitters" from the Afghanistan deployment. Now doesn't appear to be the time to bring up an independent German delivery system with warheads.

- My man Freenemy, of course Japan has the capability to quickly develop it's own warhead and delivery system -- but it' s people are even more adverse to an offensive military than the Germans and they would have to change their consitution. You're very right, Germany is already a de facto nuclear power. Didn't know the Luftwaffe had this much control as Der Grenadier implies -- doesn't sound right

- Eagle 1 has a very valid point. The leftist loudmouths are giving the critics of the current U.S. decision makers some real ammunition. -- The current crisis with Greece comes to mind. They are expert at using the "strategy of diversion" and blame everyone for their problems. In the 80's, facing economic problems and tension from its poplulation the small American military facilities in Greece were blamed for all of Greece's problems.

- Israel wanting more revenge on Germany? Come on Kent. Oh, I said I wouldn't address comments like that.
20:20 March 4, 2010 by Frenemy
@MajorB: the only reason I said "possibly" is because I suspect it would take a little time acquire the necessary fissile material (granted they can always purchase what they need or use breeder reactors if they have any).

I don't doubt that the Japanese have the necessary tech for device ruggedization and delivery...
21:31 March 4, 2010 by wxman
Some of you people are so full of yourselves! Like the average American enjoys spending billions of $ every year to defend countries who are too cheap to do it themselves. MANY Americans want the hell out of the entire world. This includes Japan, Korea, and the current crap buckets in the ME. Screw "nation building". I'm so damn sick of that term. Why is that our responsibility?? All US defense $ should be spent within our borders, and nowhere else! If we get attacked, we simply find out which nation supported the attack and nuke 'em. If any one attacks Asia or Europe and they plead for our help, we say eff 'em.
22:18 March 4, 2010 by Wim van Couveren
The fact that the US controls the nuclear arsenal on German soil is patently absurd and should be opposed. However the timing of these comments by a main-stream German politician is significant.

The fact that Westerwelle raises this question means that others are thinking it ­ perhaps just using this as a trial balloon.

Westerwelle is of course correct in his sentiment, but things are not always as they seem to be, especially in politics.

This begs the question - and it is not just a rhetorical one - what will replace the US nuclear weapons.Could it be that Germany would consider having its own nuclear warheads?

While it used to be just the former USSR/Russia who were afraid of a revanchist Germany ­ presently it is probably more France and the UK who would strongly oppose a nuclear armed Germany.
23:34 March 4, 2010 by Major B
People, it is time to get off that "Cold War" thinking with some of this stuff. German revanchism? France and Britain afraid? Alright.... if they are then let them sit there and stew in their juices. I'm not buying it since many of the world's problems today stem from "Old World" decisions from yesterday in the Middle East and Africa from the Normans and Anglo-Saxons. Am sure to get some knives from that comment. The more I used to study the state of the world from say 1900 - 1914 and then the lopsideness of the Treaty of Versailles and lack of statemanship in 1918, the madder I used to get. Unfortunately for the world, Pres Wilson was too weak physically to balance things.

@Wxman - your rationale is EXACTLY the kind of thinking that got American in trouble from 1936 - 1939 -- when the public and the Congress were extremely "isolationist". In 1940 the size of the US army was a meager 100,000. Pres Roosevelt knew what was coming. Understand your criticism and used to think the same. One good thing about your comments is that they reflect the opinion of the MAJORITY of Americans -- which probably surprises much of the world since they "just know" the U.S. wants to be involved in everything. Blind eyes led to Pearl Harbor(1941 attack) and yes, 9/1/01!!!!
00:41 March 5, 2010 by Logic Guy
Well, I'm sure we all know, at least sub-consciously, that there will always be nuclear weapons. It's a big waste of time to think that every country will give them up. Not all of us are so stupid.

Missile Defense, like it or not, is clearly the answer.

Therefore, politicians and decision-makers should focus more on this. Because sooner or later, some country may send a few nuclear weapons flying across the sky. No matter how many weapons a nation may have, it will nonetheless be too late. then
01:04 March 5, 2010 by Fredfeldman
Yes, wxman, many americans do want to disengage from the world. Those with any experience and knowledge of history know, however, that the best way to protect yourself from viruses like Facism, Islamic terrorism and other threats is to counter them before come within striking distance of the homeland.
03:17 March 5, 2010 by maxbrando
Bring 'em home. Next time we will give you to the Russians. see how you peaceniks like that. You spoiled, insulated slugs.
10:58 March 5, 2010 by Bushdiver
@ kent. You're an idiot, plain and simple!
13:34 March 5, 2010 by Frenemy
@anne0619: Were did you get that idea?? (actually, I was thinking more along the lines of mutual stockpile reduction agreements...)
01:41 March 6, 2010 by Prowler
Obama does not know the first thing about defence. Pulling nukes out and hoping that the missile defense shield is enough is a horrible mistake. And hoping that russia follows suit... eh? They just announced 2 weeks ago that no longer will russia fly patched up aircraft and drive cold war vintage tanks, they are calling for a renewed military that can match the west.

Ivan is waking up again, Achmed wants nukes, Uncle Sam is becoming sleepy, sounds like the start of WW3
04:21 March 6, 2010 by Ducano
The nuclear capability of the American submarines floating around in the seas brings any and every country in the world instantaneously within their reach.To have that garbage stored all over the European continent is insane and only helps the US to put a greater stranglehold on this planet as the lone suprepower.It s about time,that Europe unites to the point,that it can defend itself and quit to subserviently do the US bidding.The real enemy in the world today is not Russia or China,not even the so called Islamic extremists.I remember the time,when critisizing Germany would have gotten you a one-way ticket to a concentration camp.The same danger exists today for critisizing another country,albeit with a different destination.There is an evil force crawling around on our planet today,that is capable of even greater atrocities than the world witnessed during WWII.A lot of people in the west run like rats behind this modern pied piper.
17:36 March 6, 2010 by Kertis
I really see no problem with American nukes leaving Germany. Actually, if the American military would leave, that would be even better. The Czechs, Poles and Ukrainians are certainly American-ophiles and they could better host the overly-bold Americans.

Russia will just play chicken, all bark and no bite.

In Georgia they had a reason (oil pipeline to control), and besides Stalin was a Georgian and it would look bad if their pater's place didn't have some form of control that was Russian.
21:08 March 6, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
To address the asides above; you'll note there was some scandal a few years ago about Germany delivering submarines capable of launching nuclear-tripped cruise missiles to Israel.

Trust me; we have a delivery system if we want one.
04:15 March 7, 2010 by peschvogel
For all you Germany vs US against each other. Stop. Listen...

This is a move clearly decided byy Germany. The US is currently making a case for Iran. Germany, along with Turkei, Belgium, France, Neth, Lux are saying to the US they wont US missels out. This has been planned for over 2 years now.

You see, if the US makes a case for a "nuclear" Iran, then European countries have already said they A) Dont want to make a case out of Iran when their counries have weapons B) The dont want Iranian missels pointed at them. The case for Iran is a further push to isolate Russia & China against each other.

Auch, Russia will indeed attack Europe. In all the 50 something conflicts between Russia & Europe, guess who attacked who first 95% of the time? Da.. Europe will not have an ample force nor a Nuclear setante because they were worried about Iran...

Its all been planned folks: http://ww-iii.tripod.com/russia.htm
04:42 March 7, 2010 by Thames

It is not revisionist histroy to say that Germany did not bare sole responsibilty for the war, it is simply history. Blaming Germany for everything is propoganda not history and certainly not objective or just.

Certainly the US didn't start WWI I never wrote that in my post.

However, the US investigated it's own role in WWI and found that it was business interests that dragged America into the War. THis was done shortly after the war and is not so called revisionist history.
22:04 March 7, 2010 by maxbrando
If you Germans think the Russians are wusses, boy are you ignorant dreamers. As a former Russian foreign minister said about Andropov (I think, "he has a nice smile but he has iron teeth."
14:58 March 9, 2010 by Johnny Cash
Aren't these called intercontinental balistic missiles? Which I believe means they can be launched anywhere on the planet and reek death and destruction anywhere . So does it really matter where they are stationed? I think we should be more afraid of the warmongering USA, their facist government and industrial military complex ,which has been causing most of the trouble in the world for the last 60 years, than anyone else out there. The American Government is the world champion now of false flag operations after all. To Fredfeldman I refer him to the US constitution which warns against foreign adventures but I guess that piece of paper, like all the treaties signed with the American indians, isn`t worth anything anymore. Ron Paul was right when he said that the reason America is a target for extremists is because the US is occupying their countries and you should withdraw from around the world and get your country back in order as you are going bankrupt with your current aggressive policys. But that is only my opinion, I could be wrong
20:26 March 9, 2010 by peschvogel
Sehr gehter Herrn Cash:

A) Yes, you are wrong. B) No, the US is not going bankrupt.

You are wrong in your global strategy because these missels are used as a deterante against Soviets. You Germans think you are good with your Helmut Kohl on the board of Gazprom. There is credible evidence that Russia is gaining strength and out of the 40 something times Europe has been attacked in its marvelous history, it has come from one place....da...Europe has no time to nor money to raise an army to protect herself in the near future. Your people would probably cook for the Soveits as they march into your stadtmitte's. No loyalty nor honor for your rights whch are going away due to the new facist EU Superstate. I think this project will fail because of the Euro problems confronting the "one size fits all" perihphery's.

B) The US has something your precious Euro does not. Control over currency. Dont take it from me but the numerous Nobel laurete's who claimed the failure of its "one size fits all currency". Look, because of the sovereign debt problems, demographic problems, currency problems, export only and no consumersim problems, museum economy problems, racists problems, immigration problems, europe is looking screwed. The US, UK, Japan can inflate its way out of the crisis and monetize its debt but Europe CANNOT do this. Thats why you will see massive civil unrest in your "civilized" society. Social welfare = kaput.

So, Mr. Cash, I ask you to explain yourself. The US has done the same thing French, British, Dutch and yes, even German past had done, protect its strategic routes. Germany is showing on TV's in April, "How to deal with riots and social unrest". Now, I suggest, why are your people becoming violent?
23:26 March 9, 2010 by Beachrider
Although the unnecessarily-edgy dialog is gratuitous, I agree that the USA taxpayer can stop defending Germany with tactical nukes (there are NO American Intercontinental missiles outside the USA, that is why they are intercontinental). The alliance does include airbases and other resources that are key, though.

The USA does not have a strategic need to have ground-pounders in Germany anymore. I would really prefer that we just bring them home. I don't particularly understand why we would move them to former Warsaw pact nations. Europe's defense is clearly in Europe's hands.

The USA will get more back from General Motors and AIG TARP than they will from the post-WWII Marshal plan investment. But we are big-boys and can learn from our mistakes.
16:29 March 10, 2010 by Beachrider
It is just silly to consider Submarine missiles being stored on German soil, so that is also gratuitous.
17:37 March 10, 2010 by Frenemy
Repeated misuse of the word "gratuitous" aside,

If you knew the shadowy details of the relationship between the American and German navy and their level of cooperation everywhere from Norfolk to Diego Garcia, you wouldn't think the notion of storing American reserve (nuclear) submarine munitions in Kiel was all that "silly"....
22:14 March 10, 2010 by Beachrider
Dictionary.com, gratuitous, definition #2 "being without apparent reason, cause, or justification". It fits just fine.

I am aware of Kiel. There are no nuclear sub missiles stored there. Unless the USA is breaking the SALT treaty with the Soviet Union/Russia. You need examples before you should say that.

Kiel is important to Baltic and North Sea operations. Just like anything else, the USA could certainly be convinced that everyone there can take care of themselves. I would like the tax money back, too.
11:59 March 11, 2010 by Frenemy
Unlike the nuke situation, submarine resupply/support is not a political talking point. Its about collective security cooperation and has nothing to do with whether or not they "can take care of themselves".

But you lost me with the tax money bit. What do you mean?

PS: I was talking about word usage, not general definition. (I have no intention of getting into a discussion on linguistics)
16:59 March 11, 2010 by Beachrider
There is a pretty broad base of American taxpayers that feel that we spend tax money (that could otherwise go to healthcare, schools, roads, etc.) to keep Europe stable and secure. You would find broad support within the USA to stop-spending that money in Europe. That includes Infantry, Armor and many other kinds of basing and staffing. That is the tax money that I would like back.

I am concerned that the free-wheeling discussion here will get into basic changes of peace treaties and alliances. Abrogation of those agreements can destabilize the EU surprisingly quickly. I doubt that the Russians would stand on the sidelines if Germany abruptly turned-around on those key agreements.

That being said, I have always found it fascinating to consider significant changes, especially if the USA can keep more of its tax dollars at home (or reduce taxes).
19:15 March 12, 2010 by Johnny Cash

Dear Peschvogel

Interesting, your link from your earliest blog on this subject about the planned invasion of Europe by the Russians goes to a nostredamus site. Really, well if we are going to gagaland then my ouija board and chicken entrails consultations say you are wrong. Noticed you didn't comment on my bit on your constitution or is that a non subject these days. The US is in control of their finances is it. Do you mean the Federal Reserve bank . That secretive cartel of private bankers who decide how they will manipulate the US economy for their own agenda and gain with no oversight from your government. Oh great system you are lauding up there where these sweethearts print up the money and charge your government for the privilege. US not bankrupt? Here are the latest figures and predictions. During the administration of President George W. Bush, the gross debt increased from $5.6 trillion in January 2001 to $10.7 trillion by December 2008,[6] rising from 58% of GDP to 70.2% of GDP. During March 2009, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that gross debt will rise from 70.2% of GDP in 2008 to 100.6% in 2012. Maybe in your world that is not bankrupt but I sure as hell would not be buying dollars. The Iranians have dropped the dollar for oil deals. Call me cynical if you like, but maybe this is the real reason the US is sabre rattling over Iran. If that rot sets in and all the oil producers price in Euros then wouldn't that cause a few problems back home. Most of the problems you set out in your second blog that Europe has are also being experienced in the US too are they not? As far as unrest is concerned ,it is all planned, but it is not the Russians causing that problem it is the New World Order we are hearing about all the time in the controlled mass media that is pushing unrest everywhere, not just in Europe. It is an old ploy that somehow always seems to work called divide and conquer and reading these blogs it seems to be working very well indeed. Have we really learnt nothing from history?
20:19 March 12, 2010 by peschvogel
Mr. Cash:

this article is about nuclear weapons? Lets not get carried away with ourslves. Ungloublisch!

However, if you are on the topic of economics, i love this topic, then lets continue. The US, Japan, UK have something your country does not. Control of its currency. Its the words reserve you ninny. Spako, look, the Americans & Japenese dont "riot" like you Euro monkeys in times of crisis, we obey, take it on the chin, act like grown adults and move on. All this radical talk, typisch Deutsche....NWO, you are crazy, arent you. Well, whatever your issues are, you should rest knowing that Germany's "Bismarkian" welfare state is over so you will have to get a job rather than surf these web sites trying to pick fights.

Look, your decisions are being made for you. A certain group meets every year to discuss the coming years agenda. Sorry if you werent invited. It was no coincidence that it was held last year in Greece and this year it will be in Isreal. So you can pund your fist on the dsk all you want and read your radical nostradamus whatever, just make sure your ready...
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