The construction of one of Europe’s biggest mosques near to a globally famous Christian landmark has sparked a furious row in Germany.
Immigration and integration are hugely sensitive questions in Germany, which is home to a Turkish community of several million. But almost within the shadow of Cologne Cathedral, political correctness has now been replaced by bitter confrontation as the city’s Muslims begin to build a 2,000-capacity mosque with twin minarets that will reach 170ft.
“Muslims have been here for 40 years, yet people are praying in back rooms,” said Seyda Can, an Islamic theologian at the Turkish Islamic Union in Cologne. “There are 120,000 Muslims in Cologne, that’s 12 per cent of the population. We should not hide.” Work will begin in the autumn on the £15 million mosque, which will include huge glass and stone cupolas and two six-storey minarets.
“It’s not a popular plan,” said Joerg Uckermann, the district’s deputy mayor. “We don’t want to build a Turkish ghetto in Ehrenfeld. I know about Londonistan and I don’t want that here.” Mr Uckermann is part of a curious coalition of protest that has united Jewish intellectuals and neo-Nazis. Leading the charge is Ralph Giordano, a prominent Jewish author, who wrote recently that Germany was witnessing a “clash of two completely different cultures” and questioned whether they could ever be reconciled.
For Mr Uckermann, who belongs to the Right-wing CDU party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr Giordano’s comments smashed a long-held taboo in Germany. “Giordano broke down the wall,” he said. “Before if you criticised this monstrous mosque you were a Nazi. But we have a problem with the integration of Muslims. It’s a question of language and culture.”