Thursday, February 5, 2015

The View from Jerusalem's German Colony

What I have loved so far this semester on Kesher Hadash is getting to experience a Jerusalem I would never get to see as a tourist here.  When I'm traveling in a giant mob of 30 people, it's difficult to be spontaneous.  Maybe it's too many Madeline books as a kid that filled me with an insatiable need to investigate the mysteries of my surroundings. Today I'm going to talk about some places I've discovered around German Colony, the neighborhood I've been staying in for the past three weeks and just moved out of today.

For some background--why is it called German Colony?  Isn't that a kind of ironic name for a neighborhood in Israel?  The other night I actually ran into a group of American tourists who were coming to the area thinking they might find some good German restaurants.  The name, I explained to them, refers to the Templars, a group of German Protestants who moved to this area of Jerusalem in the mid 19th century to wait for the Second Coming.

19th-century house with a German inscription above the door
The area attracted  Germans throughout the rest of the century, giving much of the architecture a particularly European flair combined with a Middle Eastern aesthetic.

I have no idea what the story is behind this building, but it's fucking gorgeous

 After WWII, the British sent the Templars back to Germany, and the area became a home for Jewish immigrants.

Today, German Colony is one of the more trendy neighborhoods in Jerusalem.  Demographically, I would say it reminds me of Park Slope or Lincoln Park--lots of little boutiques, cafes, and strollers. The abundance of signs in English makes it an especially attractive neighborhood for American immigrants to Israel, religious and secular alike.

And while these amenities are lovely to walk past every day, I am personally too much of a cheapskate to actively partake in them.  I want to focus on some of my favorite spots I discovered while living there.

Hansen House

Okay, so this is technically in Talbiya, but I wouldn't have discovered it had I hadn't had to walk by it to go to class.  Hansen House was built in the late 19th-century as a hospital for people with Hansen's disease (also known as leprosy).  The building was still in use as a medical facility until 2002, and apparently it was only last year that the space opened as a contemporary art center.  I was first attracted to the building by the overgrown Secret Garden-like quality of the grounds, and inside I was totally blown away by the multimedia exhibits and installations.

Reminds me a lot of MoMA PS. 1 in Queens.

Adam Waldorf School

For a bit of background:  Waldorf education is a kind of holistic European school system based on the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner.  The pedagogy incorporates creativity into all stages of educational development, and my mom has been interested in the philosophy for years.  A Waldorf instructor herself, Mom discovered there was a school right down the street from where I've been living and urged me to check it out.  When she gave me the address, I was amazed to discover I passed it every day on my walk to class.  So on my day off, I wandered in and managed to wrangle the fourth grade teacher into chatting with me about it.  In particular I was interested in how the school adapted the principles of Anthroposophy--a system with roots in Christian spirituality--for students in a Jewish state.   The teacher didn't have time to go into a ton of detail, but it was still super interesting.  She also mentioned that some of the Waldorf schools in the north of Israel do a lot of intercultural work between Jews and Arabs.  Even before I discovered that there was a Waldorf school there, I had been enamored with the building.

The First Station and Train Track Park

Again, this technically lays just outside the boundaries of German Colony.  But it's been a central feature of my life here.  The original train station was built in 1892 as the final destination for a line that connected Jaffa to Jerusalem.  In 1998 the station was closed and fell into disrepair.  In 2013, the station opened once again as a cultural and community center.   Leading up to the station, the former train tracks were converted into a pedestrian park that on Saturdays is filled with joggers, dog walkers, and families heading to and from Synagogue.

At the the theatre last week, I met a South African-Israeli immigrant who had been living in the neighborhood for years and marveled at how the park had brought her into contact with the local Arab population in a way she would not meet otherwise.

Jerusalem's Nature Museum

I haven't explored the inside of this building yet, but the outside is just delightfully magical.

I mean, look at that dinosaur sculpture.

My mentor Daphna, who grew up in Jerusalem, told me that the museum hasn't been updated since the 1970s, which gives it a kind of funky, retro feel.  There's also a site-specific indie theatre show that occurs there on Thursday evenings I plan to attend next month.

That's all for today!

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