Germany's Biggest Mosque Spurs Fear of `Islamization' of Europe
By Seda Sezer
The twin spires of Germany's largest Gothic cathedral will soon be joined on the Cologne skyline by the minarets of the country's biggest mosque.
The $23 million Ehrenfeld Central Mosque, scheduled to be completed in about two years, will help bring Islam out of the back streets and reduce the influence of radicals, Mayor Fritz Schramma says. Others see the building as a symbol of Islamic extremism and further evidence that Cologne's 120,000 Muslims, more than half of them Turkish immigrants, refuse to integrate.
"I pray at the little chapel next to the Cologne Cathedral, and my prayer doesn't become more valuable if I pray in the big cathedral,'' said Laszlu Reischl, 56, a taxi driver. "I don't understand why they insist on building a big mosque.''
The controversy reflects Germany's struggle over almost five decades to incorporate its largest ethnic minority. Tensions were revived in February when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turks at a Cologne rally that "assimilation is a crime against humanity.'' Some lawmakers who oppose mostly Muslim Turkey's bid to join the European Union accused him of preaching Turkish nationalism on German soil.
Cologne has Germany's highest concentration of Muslims, at 12 percent of the population. The new mosque will be built in the immigrant district of Ehrenfeld, about two miles from the 13th- century Cologne Cathedral.
The 53,800-square-foot building will fit 1,200 worshippers. It will replace a converted pharmaceutical warehouse that has housed the mosque since 1984 and holds about half as many people. Many spill into the parking lot during Friday prayers.
"When our fathers came here, they rented the least expensive place to pray,'' says Mehmet Gunet, legal adviser to the Cologne-based Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs. "We are permanently here and we want more beautiful prayer houses.''
German architect Paul Boehm, who has worked on local churches, won a contest to design the mosque. The building consists of curved concrete walls connected to a central dome by glass to convey openness and transparency.
The two 55-meter (180 feet) minarets will be about a third as high as the cathedral spires. The complex will also house offices, restaurants and shops.
"We want to show that Muslims can live in peace in a society,'' Gunet says. "We are coming out of hidden places and saying, `We are here, you can come and look in.'''
The Islamic Union, a group of Imams and theologians appointed by the Turkish government's Religious Affairs authority, is awaiting final planning approval and expects construction to begin in June.
1) Germany's Biggest Mosque Spurs Fear of `Islamization' of Europe