Syrian refugee carves two-metre model of Cologne Cathedral

Muslim, 42, says German city's Gothic building has been 'a dear friend to me'

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A Syrian refugee has hand-carved a model of Cologne’s majestic cathedral.

Fadel Alkhudr, 42, arrived in Germany in 2015. The first thing he saw when he stepped off the train was the city's Gothic landmark on the Rhine, with its twin spires and elaborate ornaments.

He became so fascinated by the building that he spent hours looking at it. He took photos of it, drew sketches and eventually started carving a wooden replica.

For more than two and a half years, Mr Alkhudr worked on creating a two-metre copy of the structure in a small basement workshop in Cologne’s Kalk neighbourhood, AP reported.

Mr Alkhudr, who is Muslim, said he developed such a close connection to the Catholic cathedral that at some point it felt like the building became a part of him, “like it’s a dear friend to me”.

The Syrian, who learnt carving from his father at the age of 13, first fled to Turkey and then to the western German city of Cologne after his family’s woodcarving business in Aleppo was destroyed in the war in Syria.

Fadel Alkhudr said he became so fascinated by Cologne Cathedral, he would spend hours looking at it. AP

He said he is often asked if it felt strange for a Muslim to dedicate himself to Germany’s most famous Christian house of worship.

“When we were in Aleppo we used to have … no issues between a mosque and a church,” said the father of five. “Our neighbours were Christian and we are Muslims, we used to invite each other into our homes and there were no problems.”

Mr Alkhudr is one of more than a million migrants who came to Germany from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in 2015 and 2016, escaping war, destruction and poverty in their home countries.

He first did odd jobs to make 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 make a living in Germany as an art carver.

Mr Alkhudr used hard beech wood and 50-year-old tools from back home in Syria that his father had passed on to him. The end result was taller then himself, measuring two metres in height and length, and 1.40 metres in width.

Fadel Alkhudr carved his work from hard beech wood using 50-year-old tools his father had passed on to him. AP

The original cathedral is 152 metres tall and took more than 600 years — from 1248 to 1880 — to complete. It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and hosts the Shrine of the Three Kings, believed to contain the bones of the Three Wise Men from the Christian nativity.

The cathedral is one of Germany’s top tourist attractions and one of the oldest and most important pilgrimage sites of Northern Europe.

Mr Alkhudr’s delicately chiselled work is now on show at the cathedral’s Domforum visitor centre just across from the original. The Syrian hopes that he can present his woodwork in other cities, too, and spread what he sees as the cathedral’s unifying message.

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

Updated: June 21, 2022, 8:46 AM