In the footsteps of Wilhelm II

Some of the additions and improvements the city saw in 1898 for the kaiser’s iconic visit can still be viewed today.

Mamilla Mall (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Mamilla Mall
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, heard that Kaiser Wilhelm II planned to visit Jerusalem in 1898 to inaugurate the Church of the Redeemer. True, the kaiser, emperor of Germany and king of Prussia, wasn’t in the least interested in creating a home for the Jews in the Land of Israel, but Herzl hoped that if they met on the soil of the Holy Land he might be able to win him over.
Herzl docked at Jaffa port on October 28 and traveled by train to Jerusalem. Although a carriage was sent to bring him from the train station to his hotel, Herzl decided to walk – as it was Friday and Shabbat had already begun. (According to another source, there were so many people waiting for the emperor to arrive the next day that there wasn’t a carriage to be had.) Already ill when he landed, his fever rose as he made the trek from the station to his overnight lodgings at the Kaminitz Hotel.
Perhaps Herzl was tucked into a tiny, stuffy, out-of-the-way room at the Kaminitz because Jerusalem hotels were overbooked.
A view of the Old City from the Tower of David.
Or it could be that the proprietors worried he was contagious.
But most likely they were afraid to be hospitable: the city’s Old Guard Ashkenazi leaders – who were violently opposed to the Zionist idea – had put up posters warning Jerusalemites to boycott the great man. (They worked, too: Herzl wasn’t invited to any of the festive events.) Early the next morning, he packed up and moved to his friends, the Sterns, who lived on Mamilla Street just outside the Old City walls.
While Herzl spent the next four days biting his nails in anticipation of his meeting, Wilhelm gallivanted around the city. In fact, within the space of a week, the emperor managed to visit every German institution in Jerusalem, along with the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the Mount of Olives. This week’s half-day Street Stroll follows in some of his footsteps, and takes you to Theodor Herzl’s overnight lodgings as well.
Begin at 42 Hanevi’im Street, which in that historic week was covered with imperial tents. It was here on November 2, 1898, that Herzl met with the emperor to discuss Zionist issues. Who knows what might have happened had Wilhelm given his wholehearted support to Herzl’s cause. But Wilhelm hemmed and hawed and remained annoyingly neutral. Indeed, Herzl wrote in his journal that “he didn’t say ‘yes’ and he didn’t say ‘no.’” At the beginning of the 20th century the German government built an imposing two-story building on the empty plot to house the head of the German Protestant community. Although the eagle and cross that symbolized the German empire have since been removed, two walls retain inscriptions. Look for them on the front and side of what is now the Jerusalem Ort Oleiski College.