The vote late Thursday by most of the city's political parties cleared the way for the Ditib Turkish-Islamic umbrella group to build a new house of worship - complete with two 55-meter-tall, or 177-feet-tall, minarets - in the city's Ehrenfeld district.
Sardi Arslan, the leader of Ditib, said Friday that construction of the mosque would begin immediately, and he expressed hope that it would facilitate communication between Muslims and non-Muslims. "We are building for all citizens of Cologne, not just for the Muslims," Arslan said in a statement.
For the past 20 years, Ditib has used a converted warehouse as a house of worship. That will be torn down to make way for the new building, which the group hopes to finish by 2010.
Cologne's conservative mayor, Fritz Schramma, has championed the project, arguing that it was necessary for the city's approximately 120,000 Muslims to have a proper house of worship. "It will take some time, but someday the mosque will be integrated into Cologne's cultural heritage," he said in a statement.
But the project prompted a rash of disputes among Cologne city leaders and inhabitants, many of whom were bitterly opposed to the mosque, which has been designed by a local architect, Paul Böhm.
In a city with the greatest Gothic cathedral in Germany, and no fewer than a dozen Romanesque churches, adding a pair of fluted minarets would scarcely alter the skyline.
But an extreme-right political party waged a noisy, xenophobic protest campaign, drumming up support from its far-right allies in Austria and Belgium.
The proposal also drew fierce criticism from a prominent German-Jewish writer, Ralph Giordano, who said last year that the mosque would be "an expression of the creeping Islamization of our land." He did not want to see women shrouded in veils on German streets, he added.
The Roman Catholic leader of Cologne, Archbishop Joachim Meisner, was similarly ambivalent. Asked last year as the controversy heated up if he was afraid of the mosque, he said, "I don't want to say I'm afraid, but I have an uneasy feeling."
Those statements rankled German-Turkish leaders, who have been working with the city since 2001 to build a mosque on the site, which now houses a far smaller mosque, a community center and the offices of Ditib, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs.
"The 120,000 Muslims of Cologne don't have a single place they can point to with pride as the symbol of our faith," Bekir Alboga, a leader of Ditib, said during the furor last year. "Christians have their churches, Jews have their synagogues." Alboga, a 44-year-old Turkish imam who immigrated here at 18 and speaks rapid-fire German, said the mosque would be a "crowning moment for religious tolerance." Given Germany's dark history, he added, "German politicians need to be careful about what they say."
Alboga said he was particularly dismayed by Meisner, because the Catholic Church, along with Germany's Protestant churches, has long supported the mosque. Ditib, he said, is an organization that acts as a "bulwark against radicalism and terrorism." It plans to finance the more than $20 million project entirely through donations.
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