Colonial architecture

The trendy German Colony neighborhood has come a long way from its agricultural roots.

German Colony 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
German Colony 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One of the more upscale neighborhoods in the capital is the German Colony. This name does not derive from the many German Jews who immigrated to Israel in the wake of Hitler’s 1933 rise to power, but from an event that took place some 100 years earlier: the founding of the German Temple Society, a religious Lutheran missionary group that believed settling the Holy Land would hasten the Second Coming.
The society established colonies in Palestine, which was then a part of the Turkish Empire. By 1908, it had established its last colony, Waldheim, in the vicinity of Nazareth, making six colonies in all. The others were in Haifa, Sarona in Tel Aviv, Wilhelma near Jaffa, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
The settlement in Jerusalem was the society’s third in Palestine (Haifa was the first, followed by Jaffa).
The Jerusalem colony was an agricultural settlement built on what was then fallow agricultural land outside the city’s walls. It was established 1873 after one of the colonists, Matthaus Frank, bought a large tract of land in the Refaim Valley from a landowner in Beit Safafa, a village southwest of the Old City. The Templers, Christians who had broken away from the Protestant church and encouraged their members to settle in the Holy Land to prepare for Messianic salvation, built their homes in the style to which they were accustomed in Germany – farmhouses of one or two stories, with sloping tiled roofs and shuttered windows, but using local materials such as Jerusalem stone instead of wood and bricks. The colonists engaged in agriculture and traditional trades. Their homes ran along two parallel streets that would become Emek Refaim and Derech Beit Lehem.
One of the most famous landmarks of German initiative in Jerusalem is the Augusta Victoria Hospital on Mount Scopus, a palatial building that, according to hearsay, was originally built by Germans who had designs on Palestine as a potential seat of their government in the Holy Land. When the British took over in 1917, they also took over the pretentious Augusta Victoria complex and used it as their government house. The residence of the high commissioner for Palestine was built in the late 1920s, and only then was the building vacated.
The original Templer residents and their descendants were deported to Australia as enemy aliens during World War II, and the well to-do middle-class Arab families who built houses in the area fled or were evicted after the War of Independence.
It has now been a long time since German Templers walked the streets of Jerusalem and engaged in agriculture.
Today the area in which they lived is a highend neighborhood popularly called “the Moshava” and bisected by Emek Refaim Street, with its trendy shops, restaurants and cafes.
After the War of Independence, the empty houses were divided into apartments to house immigrants.
Consequently the neighborhood, which had been the abode of the rich, with lovely stone single-family homes set in large gardens, became something of a slum. But then the expected happened. Even though the houses – sturdy, elegant structures – had been subdivided, they retained their old-world charm behind the partitions and additions, and gradually affluent Jerusalemites started buying up the old properties and restoring them to their former glory.
Today the vast majority of inhabitants are wealthy families who can afford the hefty prices in the area.
In most of the restored houses, especially landmark buildings, there have been efforts to maintain the original architectural features, such as arched windows and tiled roofs.
The German Colony has a large English-speaking population, consisting of both families and singles, permanent residents and visitors. The neighborhood is also home to the Smadar Theater, Jerusalem’s art-house cinema and a perennial gathering place for young people.
The influence of the German Templer settlers, wealthy Christians from the Old City and officials from the British Mandatory Government is evident in the mix of architectural styles within a relatively small area: Swabian-style homes, examples of late provincial Ottoman architecture and British Art Deco from the Mandatory period. An example of British architecture is the Scottish Hospice and St. Andrew’s Church, built in 1927 and decorated with local Armenian tilework.
The side streets of the German Colony are named for gentile supporters of Zionism and the Jewish people, such as French author Emile Zola, who defended Alfred Dreyfus; former Czech president Tomas Masaryk; and former South African prime minister Jan Smuts. Many other streets are named for prominent Britons such as former prime minister David Lloyd George; former Labor Party leader Josiah Wedgwood; Col. John Patterson, commander of the Jewish Legion in World War I; and the pro-Zionist British general Wyndham Deedes.
These days, the real estate market in the German Colony is warming up, according to Yoel Zalcman of the Anglo-Saxon Jerusalem real estate brokerage.
“Many want to live in the German Colony because it is both centrally located and pastoral,” he tells In Jerusalem. “Consequently the potential demand is great. The supply, in contrast, is limited, because those who live there are not so keen on selling. Yet despite the gap between the excessive demand and small supply, prices held steady for the [better] part of last year. The prices in the area are high, and in the current economic climate, prices have reached a temporary ceiling.”
Prices in the German Colony are indeed high. An old, restored single-family home with a garden can cost upward of $4 million. Apartments in old houses that have been tastefully divided into apartments fetch from $10,000 to $12,000 per square meter, while a square meter in an ordinary apartment can cost $7,500 on average.
There is also as much as a 25 percent to 30% difference between properties in relatively noisy areas like Emek Refaim Street and properties located on some of the side streets. •
Recent Transactions.
• A four-room, 81-square-meter apartment on the second floor sold for NIS 2.65 million. The apartment was completely renovated, but had no parking.
• A two-room, 55-sq.m., unrefurbished apartment with parking sold for NIS 1.65m.
• A four-room, 109-sq.m. ground-floor apartment with a 190-sq.m. garden sold for NIS 4.7m.
• A five-room, 140-sq.m. garden apartment with a 200-sq.m. garden sold for NIS 5.75m.
• A three-room, 68-sq.m. apartment in dire need of refurbishment and with parking sold for NIS 1.68m.
• In the somewhat noisy part of town on Emek Refaim Street, a 65-sq.m., three-room apartment sold for NIS 1.55m.
• On the same street, a two-room, 48-sq.m. apartment in need of refurbishment sold for NIS 1.287m.