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Mosques in Cologne-Ehrenfeld and Duisburg-Marxloh

Miners once satisfied their hunger in one of the places. And pharmaceutical products were stored in the other. Where crockery used to rattle, Muslims later gathered to worship. For over 20 years a colliery canteen in Duisburg-Marxloh served as a prayer and meeting place. And Muslims met for worship over two decades in the storage depot in Cologne-Ehrenfeld situated 80 kilometres to the south.
When the buildings became dilapidated, the two mosque congregations wondered whether to renovate them or build new places of prayer. At each site the decision was for a new building. The builders themselves felt that it was important to create not only a prestigious place of worship for Muslims, but also a place of meeting for all the people in the neighbourhood.

The "Wonder of Marxloh"

In October 2008, after a construction period of just four years, the Merkez (Central) Mosque was inaugurated in Marxloh. The laying of the foundation stone for the Central Mosque of Cologne was scheduled for autumn of this year. Whilst the mosque project in Duisburg ran smoothly from the outset, the one in Cologne, on the other hand, was beset by protests. The builder of the latter is the Ditib umbrella association, the Türkisch-Islamische Union der Anstalt für Religion [Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs]. Around 800 mosque associations nationwide - including the Merkez congregation in Marxloh - are affiliated to the umbrella association, which has links with the religious authority in Ankara.
During the groundbreaking ceremony Michael Vesper, the Building Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia at the time, described the mosque project as the "Wunder von Marxloh" [Wonder of Marxloh]. Mustafa Küçük does not seek to compare the structure, built with domes and minarets in classic Ottoman architectural style, with a wonder. The press spokesman for the Merkez congregation is matter-of-fact in summing up the reasons for the smooth progress of the project. "It was clear to us from the start that we wanted not only a house of prayer, but also a site for education and meetings," says the 39-year-old. By "us" Küçük means all the members of the congregation, which numbered around 500 at the time, who are second-generation immigrants like him.
The Merkez community also received backing from the advisory board that was created shortly after the decision for a new building. Members of the committee, now in existence for nine years, are representatives from political parties, churches, local associations, neighbours and business people. Küçük recalls that discussions at the meetings were tough and frank, and a compromise was always reached.

Transparency top aim of the Duisburg mosque construction

The overriding aim was "to be transparent". And so there were many meetings for local townspeople and a temporary meeting place on the construction site, where critical questions could be asked and reservations discussed. During the construction phase the congregation received around 40,000 visitors, who wanted to find out about Islam in general and the mosque community of Marxloh in particular.
The Merkez mosque congregation was given support by the local authority from the outset. The education and meeting site was incorporated into the urban development plan and a financial boost to the tune of around 1.6 million euros was thus ensured. There was an equally high grant from the EU within the framework of a project for regional development. The congregation itself paid the building costs for the place of prayer, on the other hand through donations. The information policy, the work of the advisory board, the "transparent funding", the endorsement of the project by all the parties represented on the town council and a sympathetic attitude on the part of the neighbour-hood – according to Küçük, all of this helped to ensure that the building sparked off no conflicts on the grounds of supposed traffic problems, the size of the place of prayer or the height of the minarets. Very different to the project to build a "Grand Mosque" in Ehrenfeld.

Conflicts during mosque construction in Cologne-Ehrenfeld

For Mehmet Günet of the Ditib umbrella association, the opposition to the mosque project in Cologne-Ehrenfeld is attributable to one factor alone: "that one political group seized upon the issue to go hunting for votes". He is talking about Pro Köln, the right-wing voters union, which is represented on the Cologne city council and mobilised against the implementation of the building project once it was announced. According to Günet, local residents were egged on by "deliberately leaked false information". However, unlike in Marxloh, not all the factions on the Cologne city council were behind the project. In autumn 2008, for example, the CDU voted against the development plan, without which the construction of the mosque is not possible. The project was nevertheless given the green light with votes from the SPD, the Greens, the FDP and the Die Linke Party.
Günet is also of the view that the local press whipped up the atmosphere. And unrest would have been created not least by comments made by Holocaust survivor and writer Ralf Giordano and the journalist of Turkish descent Necla Kelek. Both are critical in their stance towards Islam and the Cologne project.
Unlike the mosque union in Marxloh, the umbrella association in Cologne only set up an advisory board in the later stages of planning and it failed to include the local community in the project from the outset. There were also initial ambiguities surrounding financing – about the amount of building costs, for instance, and the question of who the financial backers would be. However, Ditib lawyers are unable to identify errors in the procedure of the umbrella association. In the run-up to the project an independent expert had been appointed to clarify the issue of traffic congestion; and the only proviso in terms of the architecture was that the building should be recognisable as a mosque from the outside.

Architectural competition for the Ehrenfeld Mosque

Ditib invited architects to submit their ideas and appointed a selection jury composed of architects, representatives of Ditib, town planning, local and federal politics, and members of citizens' groups. The jury selected the design by Paul Böhm. This is being built in slightly amended form and should be ready to move into no later than two years after the laying of the foundation stone in 2011. "Ins-hallah - God willing", as Günet says.

Canan Topcu, 18.06.2009

Personal details: Canan Topcu is a member of the German Islam Conference, an editor on the Frankfurter Rundschau and freelance journalist.

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