Germany’s iconic Cologne Cathedral was plunged into darkness on Monday night in a symbolic protest against a rising tide of anti-Islamic sentiment sweeping through Germany.
Authorities across Germany joined the protest against a rally organized by a group calling itself “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West,” (PEGIDA) with the famous Brandenberg Gate in Berlin and bridges across the river Rhine also going dark.
In a Facebook post on 30 December, Cologne Cathedral Provost Norbert Feldhoff said Monday’s protest would “certainly not take place in the light of the cathedral” and described his protest as one “against xenophobia, racism and exclusion”.
It follows a PEGIDA protest in Dresden on 22 December, during which that city’s old opera house, the Semperoper, flickered its lights in protest at the march while a nearby Volkswagen car plant switched off its lights completely.
More than 17,000 people participated in the Dresden rally with some 4000 people mounting a counter-protest.
PEGIDA’s Cologne march however, saw just about 250 people show up with more than 2000 countering the protest.
Counter protestors in Berlin and elsewhere have previously included prominent government ministers including law minister Heiko Maas.
In her New Year’s address, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Germans to shun PEGIDA.
“We need to say that right-wing extremism, hostility towards foreigners and anti-Semitism should not be allowed any place in our society,’ Merkel said.
PEGIDA insists that it is not right-wing or anti-immigrant but ‘anti-Islam’, a religion which it says encourages the oppression of women and encourages violence.
The group has also called for a toughening of Germany’s asylum policies, which remain amongst the most liberal in the world, saying that too many economic migrants are exploiting those laws to “enjoy a higher standard of living in Germany”.
The number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany, many from the Middle East, rose to nearly 200,000 in 2013, four times the number seen a year before.