For West Germans, whose tolerance for foreigners has been wearing thin lately, the seizure earlier this month of the Turkish Consulate in Cologne by a group of armed, left-wing Turks was more than an isolated act of random violence.

The picture of Turks challenging Turks on German soil reinforced a growing feeling here that Turkish immigrants, bringing with them their political wars and strong cultural identity, do not belong in West Germany.

"Of course, it wasn't a favorable development for the difficult situation here of the Turkish worker," said Can Evcen, a spokesman for the Turkish Embassy in Bonn, discussing the consulate takeover. "Such things will make life with the Germans even harder, that is clear. To destabilize relations between Turks and Germans was certainly one of the aims of the extremists."

A rise in xenophobia this year has become a primary political theme in West Germany--and a deeply unsettling problem for a people that had prided itself on opening up to non-Germans following Hitler's defeat.

But tough economic times, including record unemployment, have led to hard feeling toward foreigners who hold jobs here, often low-level jobs that Germans did not want. Foreigners and their families, entitled to draw social aid, are also seen as a drain on West Germany's generous welfare system at a time of fiscal austerity.

The word Germans use to describe the problem is Ueberfremdung, an emotive term suggesting a feeling of being overwhelmed by foreigners.

In recent months, every major West German city has witnessed insulting and sometimes violent incidents against foreign workers. These range from angry graffiti on apartment walls calling on the Kanaken (scum) to get out of the country, to hate-mail campaigns by such neo-Nazi groups as the "Commando for the Extermination of Foreigners."

National opinion surveys confirm a mounting prejudice. The Allensbach Institute, among the leading polling organizations, reported that 82 percent of West Germans believed "too many" foreigners now live here. Helmut Kohl, Bonn's new conservative chancellor, declared the same thing in a television interview soon after his parliamentary election victory Oct. 1.

"There is no other topic or issue about which so many Germans are in agreement," Allensbach reported. "It cuts through generations, education levels, income brackets and political affiliations."

By the government's count, nearly 4.7 million foreigners live here, or 7.5 percent of the population. Turks are the most numerous, about 1.5 million, and they live mostly in big cities.

Foreigners make up 22 percent of the population in Frankfurt, 18 percent in Stuttgart, 17 percent in Munich, with the highest concentration of Turks living in West Berlin and the industrial Ruhr Valley city of Duisburg.

Encouraged to come 20 years ago during the economic boom, foreign labor flowed here in waves. But workers who came from other European Community countries and to a lesser degree those from Spain, Greece and Yugoslavia, have managed to integrate more smoothly than have the Turks, whose Moslem culture contrasts sharply with German society.

At first, the Turks who arrived said they intended to stay only a short time, just long enough to earn a modest nest egg. But more than half the Turkish workers here now have been resident for more than 10 years, and despite a move in 1973 by all the European Community states to clamp down on the influx of foreign workers, the Turkish population in West Germany has grown, as wives and children have been allowed to join husbands and fathers already here.

To get to West Germany, many Turks also took advantage of this country's liberal asylum laws, before a tightening of the rules last year. Applying as political refugees when in fact the label "economic refugee" might have been more apt, they gained enough of a foothold in West Germany to find work while their cases were processed over many months.

In the minds of quite a few Turkish workers living here, there is apparently still a vague plan to return home someday, which is why they resist giving up their Turkish citizenship for a new one.

A survey this year by the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg involving 350,000 foreigners living in southwest Germany found 40 percent intending to leave eventually, although they had no idea when. Only 14 percent of those polled expressed interest in obtaining West German citizenship.

But this leaves their families caught between two worlds, because the children, educated here and exposed to German customs, regard Turkey as the strange and foreign place. They end up living in ghetto-like communities on the fringe of West German urban society.

"Sometimes I am afraid that there could be something like the Crystal Night again, that the Germans could come and smash all the windows of the Turks," said Tulay Pirodi, a Turkish woman who has lived in West Germany for 10 years. She was referring to the night of Nov. 9, 1938, when the Nazis went on a rampage against Jewish property.

Benim Oezyueruek, a mining engineer in the Ruhr who studied in Berlin, spoke of a growing restiveness among fellow Turks about the German mood. But they hesitate to leave the country, he said, because of German financial benefits that include entitlements to child allowance payments and pension plans.

Even those without work have an incentive to remain.

"A jobless Turk," explained Oezyueruek, "cannot expect to find a new job nowadays. But if he wants to receive unemployment pay, he has to stay available to the employment office. So he stays here."

What to do about the foreign worker problem has been the subject of special commissions and endless debate since the 1970s. Outright deportation seems out of the question. Politically this would cause an uproar among liberals and church groups and exacerbate the moral dilemma for Germans, who are constantly reminded that, because of a history as persecutors, they must be careful how they treat others.

"Foreigners -- and here above all it is the Turks who are affected -- must not be made the scapegoats for structural weaknesses in the economy as the Jews were in Hitler's time," said formet interior minister GerhartBaum on the occasion last summer of the 38th anniversary of the assassination attempt on Hitler.

Besides, if Turkish workers were ordered back to Turkey, there is the practical consideration that West Germany suddenly would become a much less efficient operation.

A report this year by the Federal Office for Political Education concluded that without the Turks, some major factories would have to shut down. So would the coal mines. Much construction work would cease. Only local trains would run. No trash would get collected, and restaurants would be without service.

The new Bonn government plans a two-track attack on the problem. On the one hand, more emphasis is expected on integrating younger generations of foreign residents through improved German-language and vocational training and a shortening of the residency requirement for West German citizenship.

At the same time, the government is considering cash incentives for Turks to return to Turkey.

This week, the interior minister proposed a law to prohibit children over the age of 6 from joining their Turkish parents in West Germany. Minister Friedrich Zimmermann said lowering of the current age cutoff of 16 was necessary as a humanitarian measure at a time of high unemployment.

Kohl declared to parliament last month: "The foreigners in Germany should be able to choose freely, but they also must decide whether they want to return home or whether they want to stay here and integrate themselves."