Topless cathedral protest gets day in court

A member of activist group Femen will stand before a court in Cologne on Wednesday after jumping topless onto the altar of the city's famous cathedral.

Topless cathedral protest gets day in court
The protest from last year. Photo: DPA

Josephine Witt's bare-all protest took place on Christmas Day 2013. She told press agency dpa that she wanted to demonstrate against the Catholic Church and its hierarchy.

“Cologne is the capital of the Catholics in Germany, and [Cardinal] Meisner stands for a very conservative orientation”, she said.

“It was a radical form of protest that might cause pain,” she told television reporters at the time. “Of course not everybody would do that.”

“Josephine Witt protested half naked during Christmas Mass in the Cologne Cathedral against the Vatican's propaganda about the criminalisation of abortion,” Femen said in a statement.

That protest took the form of jumping onto the altar with the words “I am God” painted onto her bare chest in stark black letters as red-robed officials tried to stop her.

“I'm 80 years old. I've lived through so much: first the Nazi period, then the whole Communist period – something like this can't shock me after that,” the Cardinal, who has since retired, said.

Although media reported at the time that Meisner included Witt in his prayers, he can't remember after so much time.

“It's possible”, he said. “She could really have done with it.”

Witt is charged with interfering with the free exercise of religion and could be sentenced to up to three years in jail if found guilty.

A worshipper at the cathedral slapped Witt after she had been overpowered by cathedral staff, who settled a legal case over the blow for €500.

Femen compared the case to the trial against feminist activists Pussy Riot in Russia after the group conducted a protest in a Russian Orthodox church in Moscow, which led to three of them being imprisoned amid protests from Germany and other countries.

Cathedral provost Norbert Feldhoff called the comparison “completely overblown”, saying that the German and Russian justice systems were hardly comparable.

“This isn't just about the Catholic Church, it's about the free practice of religion in its widest sense, it's about living together peacefully.”

Witt also took part in a demonstration against Russian President Vladimir Putin this year and was overpowered by his bodyguards.

SEE ALSO: Topless protest spoils Christmas service

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Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors