Syrian sculpts model of Cologne Cathedral – Herald Democrat
By Daniel Niemann and Kirsten Grieshaber Associated Press
COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — When Syrian refugee Fadel Alkhudr arrived in Germany in 2015, the first thing he saw as he got off the train in Cologne was the city’s majestic cathedral.
Alkhudr, 42, became so fascinated by the famous Gothic monument on the Rhine with its twin spiers and elaborate ornaments that he spent hours staring at it. He took pictures of it, drew sketches and eventually started carving a wooden replica.
For more than 2.5 years – or around 5,000 hours, as he puts it – Alkhudr worked on creating a two-metre (6.5ft) tall copy of the structure in a small converted basement. in a workshop in the Kalk district of Cologne.
Alkhudr, who is Muslim, said he had developed such a close bond with the Catholic cathedral that at one point he felt the building was part of him “like it was a dear friend to me”.
The Syrian, who learned sculpture from his father at the age of 13, fled first to Turkey and then to the city of Cologne in western Germany after the destruction of the family woodcarving business in Aleppo during the war in Syria. He said he was often asked if it was strange for a Muslim to dedicate himself to Germany’s most famous Christian place of worship.
Not at all, he replies, because having grown up in Aleppo before the civil war, he had Muslim and Christian friends, and customers of different religions who came to buy wooden art at the family store.
“When we were in Aleppo, we had… no problem between a mosque and a church”, says this father of five children. “Our neighbors were Christians and we are Muslims, we used to invite each other to our house and there was no problem.”
Alkhudr is one of more than one million migrants who came to Germany from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in 2015-2016, fleeing war, destruction and poverty in their home country. He first did odd jobs to earn a living, brought his family over in 2017, and since 2019 has focused on creating the cathedral model. He hopes that in the future he can also earn a living in Germany as an art sculptor.
Alkhudr used hard beech wood and 50-year-old tools from his home in Syria that his father had passed down to him. The end result was taller than him, measuring two meters in height and length and 1.40 meters in width.
The original cathedral is 152 meters (500 feet) tall and took over 600 years – from 1248 to 1880 – to complete. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to the Shrine of the Three Kings, believed to contain the bones of the Three Sages. The cathedral is one of the main tourist attractions in Germany and one of the oldest and most important places of pilgrimage in Northern Europe.
Alkhudr’s delicately crafted work is currently on display at the cathedral’s Domforum visitor center, directly opposite the original. The Syrian also hopes to be able to present his woodwork in other cities and thus spread what he considers to be the unifying message of the cathedral.
“For me, the cathedral is a home for everyone,” he said.
Kirsten Grieshaber reported from Berlin.