Syrian carves model of Cologne Cathedral

COLOGNE – When Syrian refugee Fadel Alkhudr arrived in Germany in 2015, the first thing he saw as he stepped off the train in Cologne was the city’s majestic cathedral.

Alkhudr, 42, was so fascinated by the famous Gothic landmark on the Rhine, with its twin towers and ornate ornaments, that he gazed at it for hours. He took photos of it, drew sketches, and eventually began carving a wooden replica.

For more than 2.5 years – or around 5,000 hours, as he puts it – Alkhudr worked on a two-meter high copy of the building in a small basement workshop in the Kalk district of Cologne.

Alkhudr, who is Muslim, said he developed such a close bond with the Catholic cathedral that at one point it felt like the building had become a part of him, “like it was a dear friend to me”.

The Syrian, who learned to carve from his father at the age of 13, fled first to Turkey and then to Cologne in western Germany after his family’s wood carving workshop in Aleppo was destroyed in the war in Syria. He said he’s often asked if it doesn’t feel strange for a Muslim to devote himself to Germany’s most famous Christian place of worship.


Not at all, he replies, because growing up in Aleppo before the civil war, he had friends, both Muslim and Christian, and clients from different religions who came to buy wooden art from the family shop.

“When we were in Aleppo, we didn’t have any problems between the mosque and the church,” says the father of five. “Our neighbors were Christians and we were Muslims, we used to invite each other to our homes and there were no problems.”

Alkhudr is one of over 1 million migrants who came to Germany from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in 2015-16 to escape war, destruction and poverty in their home countries. He first worked odd jobs to earn a living, brought his family over in 2017 and has focused on creating the cathedral model since 2019. He hopes that in the future he will also be able to make a living as a carver in Germany.

Alkhudr used hard beech wood and 50-year-old tools from his homeland in Syria, which his father had passed on to him. The end result was taller than himself, measuring two meters in height and length and 1.40 meters in width.


The original cathedral is 152 meters (500 feet) tall and took more than 600 years – from 1248 to 1880 – to complete. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is home to the Shrine of the Three Kings, believed to contain the bones of the Three Kings. The cathedral is one of Germany’s top tourist attractions and one of the oldest and most important places of pilgrimage in Northern Europe.

Alkhudr’s finely sculpted work is currently on display in the cathedral’s Domforum visitor center directly opposite the original. The Syrian hopes to be able to present his woodwork in other cities as well, thus spreading the unifying message of the cathedral.

“For me, the cathedral is a home for all people,” he said.


Kirsten Grieshaber reported from Berlin.

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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/06/21/a-dear-friend-syrian-carves-model-of-cologne-cathedral/ Syrian carves model of Cologne Cathedral

Sarah Y. Kim

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