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German's Hitler joke strikes the wrong note in Israel

Gerd Reinke thought a false autograph on the bill at his hotel bar would make a hilarious joke. Unfortunately for Mr Reinke, a double bass player on tour with the German Opera in Israel, signing Adolf Hitler did not go down too well with his hosts.

Not only has he now been sacked and sent home in disgrace to Berlin, but his actions have managed to undo years of painstaking work by his country's diplomats.

German officials, who helped organise the Opera's third tour of Israel, were unable to contain their frustration. "One drunken hooligan has wiped out 10 years of work," commented a member of the embassy.

It was on Friday night that Mr Reinke signed himself as the Nazi leader "for a laugh" and informed the waiter: "Adolf Hitler will pay you." "It's a joke," he hastened to add.

By the following evening a crowd of unamused Holocaust survivors were demonstrating against the company in Tel Aviv where the orchestra was due to be playing. That night's performance of The Magic Flute opened with a public reading of a letter of apology hurriedly dispatched from Berlin by the director, Gotz Friedrich.

A representative of the orchestra also took the stage and said the players no longer regarded Mr Reinke as their friend and colleague and agreed he should be dismissed. Mr Friedrich flew to Israel yesterday to pick up the pieces, and Mr Reinke flew home on the return flight. After his arrival in Berlin, the dissonant musician took a taxi to a secret location.

"I drank too much alcohol and was not aware what I was saying," he said by way of an apology. Staff at the hotel in Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv, said he had consumed less than two pints of beer.

One of the demonstrators in Tel Aviv said: "I felt embarrassed, angry. What are you able to feel when you hear something like this. Even after 50 years people will not learn, they'll never learn, this hate will never pass." Imre Karacs