Germany Oliver Bierhoff Pegida Muslim Islam
Oliver Bierhoff, the retired German footballer, signed a petition against PegidaReuters

Retired footballers, actors and former heads of state are among dozens of Germans who signed a petition against a xenophobic movement that gathered momentum staging large anti-Islam protests in the country.

Tabloid Bild, Germany's most read daily, chose former striker Oliver Bierhoff as the leading face of its petition against the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida) movement.

"We have become world champion with many players who come from migrant backgrounds," Bierhoff told the paper, referring to Germany's victory at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. "So, of course, the way we live integration with the national team should also work in the society."

Another 79 celebrities, including former chancellors Gerhard Schroder and Helmut Schmidt, actress Karoline Herfurth, TV presenter Thomas Gottschalk and foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed the "No to Pegida" appeal.

Chancellor Angela Merkel previously decried the anti-Muslim group, urging ordinary citizens not to be drawn in by its xenophobic rhetoric.

"There's freedom of assembly in Germany but there's no place for incitement and lies about people who come to us from other countries," she said.

The development came as up to thousands of people took to the streets in several German cities as part of Pegida's weekly protests on Monday 5 January.

The group's ranks have swelled since its first demonstration in October in Dresden, where it still draws the largest number of demonstrators. Approximately 18,000 people rallied against the perceived growing Islamic presence in the eastern city.

Nevertheless, a growing anti-Pegida movement is also taking root across the country.

Xenophobic demonstrators were outnumbered by counter protesters in numerous cities including Berlin, Stuttgart and Cologne.