german weekly magazine Der Spiegel sparked controversy at home and abroad on Saturday with a front cover illustration of US President Donald trump beheading the Statue of Liberty.

It depicts a cartoon figure of trump with a bloodied knife in one hand and the statue's head, dripping with blood, in the other. It carries the caption: "America First".

The artist who designed the cover, Edel Rodriguez, a Cuban who came to the United States in 1980 as a political refugee, told The Washington Post: "It's a beheading of democracy, a beheading of a sacred symbol."

The cover set off a debate on Twitter and in german and international media, with Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of Germany's Free Democrats (FDP) and vice president of the European Parliament, describing it as "tasteless".

The cover follows a series of attacks on Berlin's policies by trump and his aides, marking a rapid deterioration in german relations with the United States. Chancellor Angela Merkel was the go-to European ally for former US president Barack Obama, who praised her as "an outstanding partner".

Last month, trump said Merkel had made a "catastrophic mistake" with her open-door migration policy, and this week his top trade adviser said Germany was using a "grossly undervalued" euro to gain advantage over the United States and its European partners.

No one was available for comment on the Spiegel cover at the US embassy in Berlin.