In a city with the greatest Gothic cathedral in Germany and no fewer than a dozen Romanesque churches, adding a pair of slender fluted minarets would scarcely alter the skyline. Yet plans for a new mosque are rattling this ancient city to its foundations.
Cologne's largely Turkish Muslim population is pushing for approval to build what would be one of Germany's largest mosques, in a working-class district across town from the cathedral's mighty spires.
Predictably, an extreme-right local political party has waged a noisy, xenophobic protest campaign, drumming up support from its far-right allies in Austria and Belgium.
But the proposal has also drawn fierce criticism from a respected German-Jewish writer, Ralph Giordano, who said the mosque would be "an expression of the creeping Islamization of our land." And he does not want to see women shrouded in veils on German streets, he said.
Giordano's charged remarks, first made at a recent public forum here, have catapulted this local dispute into a national debate in Germany over how a secular society, with Christian roots, should accommodate the religious yearnings of its growing Muslim minority.
Mosques have risen in recent years in Berlin, Mannheim and Duisburg, each time provoking some hand-wringing among residents. But the dispute in Cologne, a city Pope Benedict XVI once called the Rome of the north, seems deeper and more far-reaching.
While Turkey itself is debating the role of Islam in its political life, Germans are starting to ask how -- or even if -- the 2.7 million people of Turkish descent here can square their religious and cultural beliefs with a pluralistic society that enshrines the rights of women.
Giordano, a Holocaust survivor, has been sharply criticized, including by fellow Jews, and has even received death threats. But others say he is giving voice to Germans, who for reasons of their past, are reluctant to express misgivings about the rise of Islam in their midst.
"We have a common historical background that makes us overly cautious in dealing with these issues," said Cologne Mayor Fritz Schramma, who supports the mosque but is not without his qualms.
"For me, it is self-evident that the Muslims need to have a prestigious place of worship," said Schramma, who belongs to the center-right Christian Democratic Union. "But it bothers me when people have lived here for 35 years and they don't speak a single word of German."
Cologne's Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, is similarly ambivalent. Asked in a radio interview if he was afraid of the mosque, he said, "I don't want to say I'm afraid, but I have an uneasy feeling."
These statements rankle German-Turkish leaders, who have been working with the city since 2001 to build a mosque on the site of a converted drug factory, which now houses a far smaller mosque, a community center and the offices of 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," said Bekir Alboga, leader of interreligious dialogue at the union, which is known as Ditib.
"Christians have their churches, Jews have their synagogues," he said.
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."