One of Germany’s most famous landmarks, Cologne Cathedral will switch off its lights on Monday evening in protest over a march by an anti-Muslim movement.
The rise of Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida) has shaken the political establishment, prompting the chancellor, Angela Merkel, to warn in her new year address that its leaders were racists full of hatred and citizens should beware being used.
The group’s last weekly rally in the eastern city of Dresden attracted an estimated 17,000 people. It plans to hold further marches in other cities.
“Pegida is made up of an astonishingly broad mix of people, ranging from those in the middle of society to racists and the extreme right wing,” the dean of Cologne Cathedral, Norbert Feldhoff, said. “By switching off the floodlighting we want to make those on the march stop and think. It is a challenge: consider who you are marching alongside.”
Dresden’s Semperoper opera house also turned off its lights in protest during an earlier Pegida march through the city.
An opinion poll on Thursday revealed that one in eight Germans would join an anti-Muslim march if Pegida organised one in their town. Many people are concerned about the numbers of asylum seekers entering Germany, which rose to about 200,000 in 2014, four times the number in 2012. Net immigration is at a two-decade high.
Anti-immigration parties, capitalising on voters’ disenchantment with economic austerity, have surged in popularity in several European countries including Britain, France, Sweden and the Netherlands.