As Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper writes on its website on Thursday, if you did this on the street and someone decided to rat you out to the police, you could get a €600 ($800) to €4,000 fine for giving someone the bird. So why is Peer Steinbrück, the opposition Social Democratic Party's (SPD) candidate for chancellor, and the only person one could seriously describe as a challenger to Angela Merkel, seen on the front page of the paper's weekly magazine showing his middle finger?
The magazine has a weekly interview feature called, "Don't Say Anything Now," which features various people providing gestures instead of answers to the questions asked. The magazine has featured Carla Bruni and many other celebrities and politicians in the wordless interviews. "Some come very prepared, others less so," Süddeutsche writes. Steinbrück was "very spontaneous."
For Steinbrück's spokesman Rolf Kleine, it was apparently "a little too spontaneous," according to the paper.
So what question prompted the candidate to give what German's call the "stink finger"? To be fair, the question was a bit obnoxious, though if this had been in the middle of a bar instead of a campaign in which the man in question is trying to become a major global leader, it might not raise any eyebrows. It's a bit base, but also funny -- defiantly so. Here it goes: "Gaffe Peer, Problem Peer, Peerlusconi -- you don't have to worry about being given any nice nicknames, do you?" The question was a reference to gaffes made by the candidate early on in the campaign.
'You Can't Do That as a Chancellor Candidate'
Editors at the magazine told their colleagues at the newspaper that PR minder Kleine had tried to prevent publication of the photo. In the end, Steinbrück himself allowed them to go to the printer. "No, they're ok," he reportedly said.
The image could prove controversial for a candidate who has largely failed to gain traction, at least until his strong showing earlier this month in the only television debate to take place during the entire election with Merkel. Will it now haunt him?
Germany's economics minister, Philipp Rösler of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party has already responded: "That's unacceptable. You can't do that as a chancellor candidate."