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Berlin's mayor defies opposition to welcome fetish festival

Mayor Klaus Wowereit accused his opponents of being "small-minded." Welcoming the crowds at the Folsom Europe festival in Berlin this weekend for the second time, Mr Wowereit said in a written message: "We are proud that people of varied origins and predilections feel at home in our city and celebrate together. The first weekend in September will be marked by pure joie de vivre ... The international leather and fetish scene is meeting for the second time in Berlin ... Welcome to Berlin." The festival is Germany's attempt to copy San Francisco's sadomasochism fair.

However, Mr Wowereit's greeting did not please the conservative Christian Democrats, who described the mayor's message as "unspeakable".

"Glorifying violence and sadomasochistic excesses is to begin opting out of society," said Nikolas Zimmer, the Christian Democrats' leader in the Berlin state legislature.

However, Michael Müller, his Social Democrat counterpart, suggested that the conservatives were hyping up the incident and using it as ammunition for their campaign in the run-up to the general election in three weeks. Berlin's 51-year-old mayor is an openly gay member of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democratic Party and was recently crowned "The Glamour Guy" by Time Magazine. He aims to make Berlin Europe's creative centre.

In an interview with the Bild daily newspaper, he said: "A greeting message is always an advertisement as well, above all for international guests - we want to see them in Berlin. If this doesn't suit anyone, they don't have to go."

"Mr Zimmer is small-minded," Mr Wowereit added. "Berlin is open - Mr Zimmer has to learn that ... And so long as nothing forbidden is happening, I expect tolerance."