Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls Germany visit 'very successful'

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Erdogan in Germany: Friend or foe?

A visit to Cologne, home to a significant number of Turks, was the final stop in the Turkish leader's three-day trip. Hundreds of people, including many from the Kurdish community, came out to the streets.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrapped up a three-day trip to Germany on Saturday saying the controversial visit had been "extremely successful."

"I believe our meetings for two days have cemented a long-established Turkish-German friendship," he said of the visit that aimed to mend ties with Berlin after two years of tension. He added that Turkey and Germany "need to focus on joint interests, leaving aside some recent differences of opinion."

Read more: Opinion: Recep Tayyip Erdogan's pompous state visit to Germany

Erdogan traveled Saturday to the western city of Cologne for the final leg of his visit, where he inaugurated one of Europe's biggest mosques. The new mosque is run by DITIB, a Turkish-Germanic Islamic organization funded by Ankara.

Read moreErdogan in Germany: What you need to know about DITIB mosque association

"In a critical period, we have made a fruitful, successful visit to Germany," Erdogan told guests at the opening of the Central Mosque. "I stressed that we need to put aside our differences and focus on our common interests." 

The Turkish president called on Germany to take a hard line against Kurdish separatists. At a state dinner Friday with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Erdogan alluded to the "hundreds, thousands," of terrorists living in Germany. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey as well as the United States and the European Union.

Erdogan also said soccer star Mesut Özil was forced to retire from the German national team after Germany's World Cup exit because of his Turkish roots.

"This racism has to end," he said, adding that Germany should reinstate dual citizenship.

Supporters, opponents come face to face

Hundreds of people, including several from the city's Kurdish community, protested Erdogan's visit to the city, citing the deteriorating human rights situation in Turkey.

A number of Erdogan supporters lined the street leading up to the mosque to greet the Turkish leader.

DW's William Glucroft and Carla Bleiker were on the ground in Cologne to cover events surrounding Erdogan's visit to the city and mosque.

Carla Bleiker tweeted a picture of Erdogan supporters and opponents facing each other a few meters away from the mosque with police standing in between:

Security in Cologne has been stepped up in view of the protests. Police snipers were stationed on rooftops and the area around the mosque was cordoned off.

Authorities on Friday canceled an open-air event outside the mosque, citing security concerns. Some 25,000 people had signed up for the event, a Facebook page set up by the organizers showed.

Erdogan met the premier of the western state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Armin Laschet, moments after he landed in Cologne.

Laschet and Cologne mayor Henriette Reker did not attend the opening ceremony of the mosque.

ap/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Inspired by a flower bud

The building was designed with glass walls and a staircase accessible from the street, symbolizing openness to people of all religions. It features two 55-meter (60-yard) minarets and a dome of glass and concrete which appears to open like a flower bud.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Ehrenfeld's mix of cultures

The mosque is located in Cologne's Ehrenfeld district, a formerly a working-class quarter. Ehrenfeld suffered a rise in unemployment and poverty when factories closed in the 1970s. Some time later, however, low rent prices lured in artists, galleries and theaters, ultimately gentrifying the area. Today, 35 percent of locals there have an immigrant background.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Impressive plans

The construction was funded by hundreds of Muslim associations, but also bank loans and donations from the Turkish government's religious affairs authority in Germany, DITIB. Cologne city council approved the plans in 2008, despite Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, the conservative Christian Democrats, voting against it.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Architect drops out after row with Turkish association

Architect Paul Böhm, who specializes in building churches, won the contract in 2005. He saw the building as an act of integration. He later fell out with the new leadership of DITIB and stopped working on the project in 2011.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Doors opened in 2017

The mosque first opened for prayer during Ramadan in 2017, but was only officially opened by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his visit to Germany in September 2018.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Room for 1,200 worshippers

Inside the mosque, there's a prayer area which takes up both the ground and the upper floor, with the two sections connected by a well in the center of the building's glass front. The compound houses an Islamic library. There are also shops and sports facilities intended to foster interactions among people of different faiths.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

New skyline

Some residents were shocked by the sheer size of the construction when the plans were first presented, especially the height of the minarets, and feared a change in the skyline of their "Christian city." Then-Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the archbishop of Cologne, admitted to having "an uneasy feeling" about the project.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Right-wing protesters oppose the mosque

Right-wing politicians picked up on the sentiment and launched a heated debate about the integration of Muslims in Germany. Author Ralph Giordano said the mosque would be "an expression of the creeping Islamization" in the country.

Cologne's central mosque: A troubled symbol of unity

Imams or spies?

In 2017, German authorities launched an investigation into the activities of DITIB imams, who are schooled in Turkey and paid by the Turkish state, as well as other people working in the Cologne complex. Mosque employees were suspected of spying against Turks living in Germany on behalf of the Turkish goverment.