Tuition fees of €500 (£317) a semester - to take effect in 2004 - have provoked a hostage crisis in the city of Hamburg.
Fees are so controversial in Germany that when the government of Hamburg announced plans earlier this year to impose fees on those from outside the region, the Hamburg University branch of the student union AStA took three goldfish hostage.
The fish - named "Tuition-free Education", "Democracy at the University" and "Self-determined Study" - were held in the student union's Hamburg University office.
Grateful for news in a traditionally quiet period, the tabloid newspaper Bild treated the affair as a crisis of historic proportions with headlines such as "Hostage drama at Hamburg University" and "Leftwing students kill fish".
Hamburg state senator for science and research Jörg Dräger was drawn into the controversy, publicly denouncing the campaign as "questionable and inappropriate".
To ensure that the fish were being looked after, however, he made sure that two packs of goldfish food - labelled "Quality" and "Innovation" - were delivered to the beleaguered fishbowl.
Bild readers inundated AStA with hate mail, and the students were forced into making a statement in which they admitted that the goldfish belonged to one of their members and would be returned shortly.