Posted on October 15, 2007

Two Mosques, Two Different Reactions in Germany

Emily Harris, All Things Considered, October 11, 2007

Simmering conflicts about immigration, integration and Islam in Europe have flared into an unrestrained national debate about whether a big, new mosque should be built in Cologne, Germany. But another large, new mosque an hour’s drive away faces little opposition.

Zuelfiye Kaykin is head of a Turkish community center that is getting a new home in the mosque under construction in Duisburg, a former coal-mining city near the Dutch border. Kaykin says there was no divisive debate there because German politicians, church and community leaders were invited to advise the project early on.


She circulates with friendly grace and a watchful eye through a party breaking the daily fast of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Germans and Turks share round tables in a large, white tent across the street from the mosque. Born and raised in Duisburg, Kaykin speaks perfect German. She is proud that banners advertising Mercedes and a national bank hang on either side of a small stage. It’s the first time the local branches of such big German companies have sponsored a Ramadan event there.


No Divisive Debate, But Flashes of Discontent

The new mosque in Duisburg will be one of the biggest in Germany. Its walls are up, but the main prayer room is still full of scaffolding.

Sabrina Vorberg, a non-Muslim interning with the mosque organization, points out extra-large windows—a detail intended to promote transparency. The idea was suggested by a local Catholic priest. The community center has a separate entrance from the prayer areas, designed to make non-Muslims feel more comfortable coming in.


But her husband, Thomas Vorberg, volunteers that some of his relatives who live nearby don’t like it.

“They are not so happy about this building,” he says. “Now they . . . must accept that these Turkish ones will be neighbors for many years.”


An Hour Away, Strong Resistance to Mosque

The sparks of discontent in Duisburg have burst into full flame in nearby Cologne, where another large mosque is planned.

“It’s not a sign of the will to integrate but a wrong signal. It is a conquest on foreign territory; it’s a declaration of war,” says Ralph Giordano, a highly respected Jewish writer in Germany.


“Apart from individual exceptions, integration is not possible. This is because here we have a clash of two cultures. Islam is simply not compatible with our Judeo-Christian history,” he says.


City’s Culture Plays Role in Discontent

Still, Schneider supports the mosque on the principle of religious freedom. He says opposition flared in part because of the history and culture of Cologne. Indeed, the small right-wing political party fanning the flames is called Pro-Cologne.

“For us, Cologne is still a German city, even if that’s hard to see in some areas. We want to preserve the German character, the Christian-occidental character of this town,” says Markus Wiener, the group’s deputy president.

The symbol of Cologne is its Gothic cathedral with its massive organ and towering spires. Those spires are three times the height of the mosque’s planned minarets, which would be more than a mile away. Still, the minarets bother Winrich Granitzka of Germany’s main conservative party.

“The bigger the mosques become, and the more monumental they appear, the more people fear our culture is being pushed back and another culture is getting more and more powerful,” Granitzka said.


Mosque Finds Supporters Despite Debate

Some observers say the controversy in Cologne, compared with the lack of one in Duisburg, is in part simply because of the different personalities involved in the different towns. There are mosque supporters in Cologne, to be sure.


[Editor’s Note: Listen to this story here.]