Magazine

Templer town

When the German Colony was really German.

Templer town
Photo by: 'Hamoshava Hagermanit Verehov Emek Refaim'
Hamoshava Hagermanit Verehov Emek Refaim By David Kroyanker Keter 403 pages; NIS 148 I suspect that David Kroyanker's fourth illustrated guide book on the architecture of Jerusalem, this time devoted to the German Colony and Rehov Emek Refaim, will be his most popular, if only because Jerusalemites love this particular area of of their city and its combination of quiet lanes of tile-topped homes cheek-by-jowl with the bustling shopping and cafes of the "Emek." It wasn't always this way. I can remember when tiny tots could safely play in the middle of Emek Refaim and when the vehicles that delivered bread and kerosene were pulled by mules. Historic photographs in this handsome volume back up these memories. The most dangerous vehicle on the Emek was my motorbike. That was in 1949, the beginning of the Colony's Israeli period. But for nearly a century prior to 1939, the Colony had been thoroughly German and even harbored a branch of the Nazi Party, headed by a fanatic young schoolteacher named Ludwig Buchhalter. The Moshava, as it is now known, occupies a triangle bounded by Derech Beit Lehem, the old train line on Rehov Harakevet and the houses on the north side of Emek Refaim. It is crisscrossed by quiet tree-lined lanes and its old stone houses are often concealed by stone walls, many topped with flowering creepers. The houses were wonderfully insulated by their meter-thick double stone walls filled with earth, a common building technique in 19th-century Jerusalem. The builders (aided by Arab masons) were Templers, a Protestant sect that emphasized a connection to Jerusalem and which had received special permission from the Ottoman Turks to purchase the land from the Arabs of Beit Safafa. Their modest houses were built over a floor of cellars, as Kroyanker demonstrates in inked illustrations. The Templers were not farmers but merchants and craftsmen, and during the Mandate one of them operated the Hotel Fast next to the New Gate. Others ran three small inns. Templers ran a bakery (with an active Jewish partner), a smithy and several shops. They had their own school (a quarter of the pupils were Christian Arabs) but no church; they did not believe that a pastor was necessary. The Templers were German patriots who turned out in force to welcome Kaiser Wilhelm during his 1898 visit to the Holy Land, when he laid the foundation stone of the still extant hospital of Augusta Victoria, named for his mother, Queen Victoria's daughter. After Britain's General Allenby accepted the surrender of Jerusalem in 1917, a number of the German communal leaders were interned for a while in Egypt. There were other German colonies, too - one in Haifa, the other in Sarona on the eastern edge of Tel Aviv, which became that city's Kirya and IDF headquarters in 1948. THE TEMPLERS got on well with both Arabs and Jews until Buchhalter formed a branch of the Nazi Party in Jerusalem in 1934. This was followed by the outbreak of the three-year armed Arab revolt against the British Mandate in 1936 and Jerusalem Arabs happily saluted Templer architect and builder Hermann Imberger when he took his Sunday stroll wearing a swastika armband. Heinrich Fast flew a huge swastika banner from his Fast Hotel next to the Old City wall. One can imagine what a shock this was to the thousands of German-Jewish refugees who arrived in the city. Despite their patriotism, the majority of the Templers were not Nazis and declined to join the Nazi Party or the boycott of Jews (who in turn boycotted the Nazis). Buchhalter was furious when he learned that the Colony's cinema (now the Smadar) was rented to a Jewish operator and in a letter reproduced by Kroyanker threatened a report to Berlin. Buchhalter had previously helped put the Templer owner out of business when he refused to screen Nazi propaganda films. The cinema went through many names. The new Jewish operator called it the Efrat. The Templer school in the Nazi period was firmly anti-Jewish, and its scouts and girl guides became members of the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls. On occasion, they threw stones at Jews. Yet in 1935, Philip Vorst, head of the Templer Association, banned the Nazi salute in the school. At this time, Nazi propaganda was printed in the huge Schneller complex by Ernst Schneller, grandson of the founder of the "Syrian Orphanage." Buchhalter was in favor of selling the Schneller Compound together with the Bikur Holim Hospital because they were "surrounded by Jews." Quoting British police files, Kroyanker reveals that the Schnellers planned to import arms with which to train Arab groups. Still an IDF base, in the '50s "Schneller" served my battalion on its nightly departures to mount ambushes around the encircled city and along the Jerusalem "corridor." Before setting out, we were given bread, jam and half an egg. Buchhalter was able to buy a large area of land next to the Mar Elias monastery before land prices soared. But Hitler's war brought all his schemes to an end. Yet he lived to reach an unrepentant 100, dying two years ago. In the '50s, he even received $60,000 for his house in the Moshava, a fortune at the time. Many of the Templers were similarly recompensed after the 1953 signing of the reparations agreement between Germany and Israel. The British had kept a seemingly tolerant eye on the Templers, but after Germany invaded Poland all the German communities in Palestine were interned and soon deported, some to Australia. Some of Kroyanker's sources are Templer publications in Australia. Several groups of German women and children were sent back to Hitler's Germany in exchange for Jewish hostages held in concentration camps. THE GERMAN Colony briefly became British. In 1946 its homes were given to British army and police officers and their families. But by April 1948 most of them had packed up and left for Britain, leaving behind furniture and carpets which were snapped up by Jewish traders and looters after the Hagana took over the Moshava on May 16, 1948. The empty homes of the Moshava were quickly given to lucky new immigrants and government officials brought to Jerusalem to staff Israel's new ministries. The Arabs who ran fruit shops and other businesses on Emek Refaim fled to the Jordanian side of the city or to Bethany (Eizariya). Most had a working knowledge of Hebrew, as I discovered when my unit took Bethany during the Six Day War. Kroyanker devotes space and both a photograph and a drawing of the façade of what he calls "the Tsrif" (hut) erected by the satirist/journalist Dahn Ben-Amotz in the early 1950s on the seam of two plots behind the Israeli school on Emek Refaim. It was actually a very modern Swedish prefab complete with all modern conveniences and imported customs-free by his new-immigrant wife Ellen St. Sure, whom he had met in California while sitting out the War of Independence there. Ellen and I for a while shared an office at The Palestine Post and Dahn suckered me into guarding the Swedish lumber while he caroused at Fink's Bar. Ben-Amotz later sold the house and moved to Tel Aviv. The main area of the Colony had all its streets renamed after Zionist heroes, both Jew and gentile: Col. John Henry Patterson, commander of the Zion Mule Corps at Gallipoli and of the 38th battalion of Jewish volunteers; French statesman Yitzhak Adolphe Cremieux (formerly Seestrasse); Maurycy Gottlieb, Jewish painter; Jan Smuts, the South African who became a Zionist supporter and a British field marshal (formerly Talstrasse); David Lloyd George, the British prime minister who approved the Balfour Declaration; Josiah Wedgwood, the British Zionist politician; Emile Zola, defender of Dreyfus; Wyndham Deedes, adviser to High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel; and Thomas Masaryk, first president of Czechoslovakia (Café Masaryk on the corner of Emek Refaim is now a popular dairy restaurant). ONE OF the early views of the German Colony reproduced in this book is a watercolor by Gustave Bauernfiend, a skilled German narrative painter who made several extended visits to Jerusalem well over a century ago. The painter was not a Templer but he married a Templer girl and they lived on Emek Refaim. The painter specialized in local genre from Jaffa to the Western Wall, often painting Jews. He took his canvases to Germany but did not sell well and died there. On his tour of the lanes of the Moshava, Kroyanker identifies all the houses of the most notable of the Templers. Many of them lived on what is now Rehov Cremieux, a lane made famous by the house belonging to Ehud Olmert. Another walk takes us westward down Emek Refaim, with its curious mixture of Arab, German, British and Jewish architecture of the Mandate (the Arab facades and entrances are the best; Arabs also left their artistic mark on the entrances of many homes in the lanes of the moshava and on their tiled floors). The further one gets down Emek Refaim, the more Israeli it becomes. The still popular swimming pool, a large one with ancillary massage rooms, is concealed by a line of shops; all you get of its presence is a roar of fun. In this complex is Café Hillel, once the tragic scene of a terrorist bombing. This street, now bereft of parking, peters out in apartment buildings. Kroyanker also takes us to a small area north of Emek Refaim, bounded by the Natural History Museum and Rehov Dor, Dor V'dorshav. He has a marvelous eye for important detail, like the iron "anchors" used to bind corners and walls in the early Templer homes. He also records the various battles to preserve the character of this unique section. Many of the previously unpublished historic photographs in this book were found by Kroyanker in the private archive of the late Arieh Gini, an architect dealing with planning at the Jerusalem Municipality. Gini was a collector of anything connected with the Templers. The community photographs are mostly posed ones, with the often attractive girls and ladies decked out in their Sunday best. Under different historical circumstances, the Templers, genuine pioneers who had a lot in common with Jewish halutzim, might still have kept the Moshava German. This book is an extraordinary achievement and is beautifully designed and printed. Kroyanker and his wife Leora, his collaborator, could well be candidates for an Israel Prize.

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