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Fuhrer Wine Leaves Bitter Taste

Germany has complained to Italy about a winery that labels its bottles with portraits of Adolf Hitler, the Justice Ministry said Friday.

Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries recently wrote to her Italian counterpart to say the labels are "contemptible and tasteless" and asked him to see what could be done to stop their production, spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said.

The so-called "Fuehrerwein" bottles, part of vintner Alessandro Lunardelli's "historic line," features 14 different labels portraying Hitler with slogans like "Sieg Heil" and other Nazis.

The line also includes labels with portraits of other infamous characters of history, such as Italy's former fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Napoleon, the Yalta conference, Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara and others are featured as well.

In a 2001 interview, Lunardelli told The Associated Press the labels were "a great marketing success."

The wine is available legally in Italy, where it can also be purchased on the Internet, Wirtz said. Its sale is illegal in Germany, where products bearing images or slogans from the Nazi era are outlawed.

Bavaria state said it was opening an investigation to see if any of the bottles had crossed the Italian border into southern Germany.

Zypries, in her letter to Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli, expressed hope that Italy would act as part of common European efforts to fight racism and xenophobia.

Castelli said Friday he had been unaware of the wine labels, but there was nothing his office could do and it was up to prosecutors to investigate.

"I agree, it seems in bad taste," he told Radio Padania in northern Italy.

Past attempts to end production of the wine have failed.

Jewish organizations in Italy's northern Alto Adige region sued the vintner, citing an Italian law against publicly glorifying any leaders or principles of fascism. They lost when a judge ruled Lunardelli wasn't "exalting" Mussolini or Hitler by putting their pictures on bottles.

Germany's embassy in Rome also has been protesting the bottles since 1997.

Italian remarks about Germany's Nazi past sparked a diplomatic row earlier this summer, when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told a German member of the European Parliament: "I know there is a producer in Italy who is making a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you for the role of kapo. You'd be perfect."

Relations were strained when, only a few days later, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called Germany a "country intoxicated with arrogant certainties," and Germans "stereotyped blondes with a hyper-nationalist pride" in an article in La Padania, the newspaper of the anti-immigrant, occasionally xenophobic Northern League party.

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