Germany's interior minister Thomas de Maizière announcing new anti-terror measures in Berlin
Thomas de Maizière, Germany's interior minister © AFP

In 1995, the last time Germany drew up a comprehensive civil defence plan, the cold war was fresh in the memory, and Isis did not exist. Yet as Angela Merkel’s government outlined a version more suited to 21st century threats, it promptly ran into criticism.

The bulk of the proposals announced on Wednesday by interior minister Thomas de Maizière — which range from how to rehouse government ministries in the event of an emergency, to overhauling warning systems used to transmit news of catastrophes, and ensuring the circulation of cash — are relatively uncontroversial.

But one suggestion has got Germans talking since rumours emerged a few days ago. In a section detailing how to feed the population in the event of a catastrophe, the plan calls on citizens to keep “an individual supply of food which would cover a period of 10 days”.

Germany’s Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance already advises citizens to keep two weeks’ worth of food and drink at home in case of an emergency.

Yet its inclusion in the official civil defence plan has provoked a huge response: the German twittersphere has lit up with pictures of hamsters stuffing their pouches, newspapers have gone in search of prodigious hoarders, and opposition politicians have lined up to accuse the government of scare tactics.

“Modern civil defence plans are essential for our vulnerable just-in-time society, and updating emergency plans regularly is therefore basically right and important,” said Konstantin von Notz, a member of the Green party. “But it is politically motivated scaremongering to link these questions with the problem of dealing with terrorism.”

German officials insist the report, which has been in the works since 2012, is a long-planned update designed to co-ordinate the response to disasters ranging from cyber or terrorist attacks to a large-scale power failure, and not related to any current threats.

All the same, the country is on edge after a summer pockmarked by violence, including two incidents linked to Isis in the same week: an axe attack near the town of Würzburg in which four people were wounded on a train, and a suicide bombing in a wine-bar in the city of Ansbach, in which the attacker died and 15 people were hurt.

The country is also heading towards key regional elections next month in Berlin and in rural Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, with the rightwing anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party wooing voters with pledges to close borders and fight terrorism. “The CDU [Ms Merkel’s party] is trying to score points in the area of law and order, in order to ward off the AfD” said Mr von Notz.

Mr de Maizière on Wednesday dismissed such suggestions, arguing that the old plan was “completely out of date” and that it was “necessary and appropriate” to prepare for new threats. “Every country does this,” he said.

He added that even though leaks of his plans had prompted speculation that general conscription, which was suspended in 2011, could be reintroduced, he had no plans to do so.

Aid agencies agreed that an overhaul was needed. “On the whole Germany is very well prepared for emergencies. But it makes sense to review these policies every so often to make sure that they are up to date,” said Wolfgang Kast, from the German Red Cross. “Germany has been spared war now for a long time, but as today’s earthquake in Italy shows, you never know when what emergency will occur.”

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