The German “Templers” colonies in Israel

Written by Z.Gasner 14-August-2019, updated 10-November-2020, photography by Angela Hechtfisch

The “German Colony” Introduction

The “German Colony” or “German villages”, which are nowadays independent neighborhood in several cities in Israel, established in the second half of the 19th century by members of the German Temple Society, which the members refer to themselves as “Templers”. The Temple Society is a German Protestant with a radical diversion from the Lutheran Church which they were expelled from in 1858 because of their millennial belief. The Templers aim was the realization of daily livelihood and life of the apocalyptic visions of the prophets of Israel in the Holy Land. The name “Templers” derives from the idea that the body is God’s Temple and good deeds and social conformity embrace the coming of the new Messiah.

At the mid of the 19th century, the Templers members of the Templers sect from Württemberg, Germany established colonies in Haifa and Jaffa, later in “Sarona” (Tel Aviv), “Wilhelma” (Bney Atarot),  & Jerusalem . The 2nd generation of German colonies established in 1906 were Bethlehem of Galilee and “Waldheim”( Aloney Aba) in the “Izraeli-valley” region.

They built their homes in the style to which they were accustomed in Germany- farmhouses of one or two stories, with slanting tiled roofs and shuttered windows, but using local materials such as stone instead of wood and bricks in Jerusalem and other places. The basement usually used for storage, the 1st floor as house living room and the 2nd floor as sleeping area.

Their homes ran along two parallel streets. The colonists were engaged in agriculture and traditional trades such as carpentry and blacksmithing. “Sarona”, was the 1st solely agriculture settlement.

WW2 and the German colonies

After the establishments & the successful businesses of the German villages they’d encounter an ironic turn in history in World war 2, where the country mandatory governs of the British empire and the local Jewish society became a fierce enemy of their “homeland” Germany with its Nazi regime, which only minority of the Templers community was supportive of (only 20% of the population were members of the Nazi party) , and over 500 Templers join the German army in the war. In a long process of deteriazing the relationship with the local Jewish society, the colonies were held in insolation, then some of the inhabitants were held in concentration, later to be deported, mostly to Australia (a British exile colony at that time), and some were a part of an population exchange with Jewish holocaust survivals (the Hungary diaspora) during time of the war.

Eventually, after the 2nd world war  has ended with the defeat of Germany and the establishment of the state of Israel, all colonies land & property were nationalized by the Israeli government. “Saraona”, for instance, became part of the “Hakiria” military camp, and other estate in other cities became part of governmental offices. In the 60’s, Israel and Germany signed a compensation deal for Jewish holocaust survivals. One part in that agreement was to pay back the Templers 13 Million dollars for their lost property in Israel.

NOWADAYS: Tel Aviv “Sarona” German Colony

In the tourist perspective nowadays, a visit to “Sarona” in Tel Aviv is highly recommended. It is located in the heart of the city next to “Hashalom” train station/”Azrieli” center and is a very scheque place, a walking promenade with no car allowed, with typical 2 streets structure which are fully reconstructed. The houses of the originals Templers are used nowadays for outdoor restaurants, bars and fancy shops. Also, at the end south part of the colony lye’s the fabulous indoor Food market. You may found there many interesting and exotic cuisine, eating on spot or as takeaway’s.

The American–German Colony in Jaffa

The American–German Colony in the north-east part Jaffa is a neighborhood located between Eilat street, Elifelet and Jerusalem blvd. The colony established in 1866 by the American Protestant, Christian Restorationism movement, a Christain stream that saw the coming to the holy land as a step towards the bringing of the Masia. On a ship named “Nallie chapin” they brought with them Maine U.S.A full equipment and wooden houses. However, once landing on the shores of Jaffa, they were severely strack; diseases & death been caused by the fact of temporary awaiting on a muslim open cemetry infected with Plague, the violent Israeli climate, and the insecure and arbitrary treatment by the Ottoman authorities. These incidents made many colonists regret, returning back to America , lieving behind only a single person .

3 years later, In 1869, The German Templers, found this almost empty village as an attractive position to mark their establishment there. They bought the settlement houses and rehabitat it, this time with great success. Their main businesses were hotelair & tourism, among this the #1 hotel in the country “Hôtel du Parc”, and the “Jerusalem” which hosted the German kaiser William II In his stay in Jaffa on 27 October 1898. (whereas “Jerusalem” hotel used for the kizer stuff). Nowadays the “Jerusalem” hotel has been under 8 years of serious renovation and re-opened in 2018 under the name of “Hotel Drisco” calling it after the two brothers who had built the original building. Also, the German colony was famous for companies of transportation, pharmacies, grossey and more.

The beginning of WW2 was the end of the German Templers establishment in Jaffa, such as the rest of the colonies around the country.

Haifa German\Templer’s colony

In Haifa, the German colony main street called”Ben Gurion” is also the high street for the night life of the down town city. It is filled with restaurants and bars, most with the influence of Arab modern kitchen. In the night with lights and the magnificent “Bahai” gardens on the slops of Carmel mountain as a background it is a must  see location. The“Colony” hotel which is located in , have been beautify reconstruct and it is a most joyful spot to stay the night.

“Wilhelma” (“Bney Atarot”)German colony

“Wilhelma”, also known as “Bney Atarot”, is located next to the Ben-Gurion airport, and it is nowadays a quite pastoral village. It is known for its boutique winery called “Villa Wilhelma”, that serves as a high classy buffet on Fridays.

Jerusalem Templer’s colony

The Templers’s (German) colony in Jerusalem is probably the only environment that is occupied and used for living in the daily life still nowadays. It is located on “Emek refaim” street ( “Ghost valley” ).Some buildings are reconstructed, like the north wing at “Orient hotel”, and some are left in their original state. The houses which have been renewed usually added one or two floors extra.  The street, which is at the tip point of the Old Utman fashionable train station, is highly kept and in great condition.

“Waldheim” (“Aloney Aba”)Templers colony

“Aloney Aba”, former called “Waldheim” ( meaning the “home of the forest” in German) is located 20 km. south-east to the city of Haifa with a good reason for; Waldheim habitation was Haifa’s German colony next generation,  thus the direct children and grand-children of Haifa’s Templers, therefore the location at this point made sense for particular reason as well of sentimental. This hub connected Haifa’s with its growing importance due to the city’s harbor and its financial commerce center to other main cities in the Izraeli-vally area, including “Nazareth” and “Tiberias”. Nowadays, the little elegant village is well kept filled with beautiful parks and nice greenery, and most of its German Templers original houses have been reconstructed. The protestant church, which used as a praying place but also as a communal centre, needs the help of the good people and the foreign ministry department of Germany in particular to complete the church renovation. Next to the village lays the “Aloney Aba” woods which are rich with “Hatavor-Oak” trees and can be mostly enjoyed for a complete 1 hour circular walk in nature.

Historically, at the Othman succession in Israel until the early 20’s of the 20’s century, the entire terrain between the Izrael-valley till the Hashron district in the south, approximately a 90 km. of terroir was filled with Oak vegetation. Once the Othman needed a high stream of wood supply for their train steamers, the destiny of the woods was doomed. The size of the forest are now insignificant and never to be recovered. A number 5 items only of the “Hatavor-Oak” trees symbolically grows at “Hod-Hasharon” city. The fact that the Oak forrest of Aloney-Aba managed to survive this was due to the Templer’s of Waldheim and Bethlehem of Galilee claim of their ownership over it, therefore refusing the Othman attempt to take over and cut the trees down.

Bethlehem of the Galilee

To distinguish Bethlehem near Nazareth to Bethlehem near Jerusalem, it is known as Bethlehem of Galilee (Galilee the area in Israel) or Bethlehem of Zebulun (Zebulun is the biblical territory of the Zebulun tribe of israel). In the Jerusalem Talmud it is was referred to as Bethlehem Zoria, acknowledging it as part the kingdom of Tyre.  The archaeologist Aviram Oshri suggest that “Zoria” might be a mispronounced of the Word “Noziria”, meaning in hebrew the “christian” Betlehem. The city near Jerusalem was called “Bethlehem of Judea”.

Due to the city proximity to Nazareth, some historians believe that it is the Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Again, Aviram Oshri, a senior archaeologist who had several diggings with the Israeli Antiquities Authority at Bethlehem of the galilee, claims that finds of Jewish artifacts from the time of the 2nd Temple when Jesus had lived, such as remains and pottery made of limestone that are unique for jewish use thanks to its kosher naturality, and christain findings from the era of Byzantine around 4th and 5th CE, may support this theory.

Furthermore, in Luke 2,1-5 its written:

“In those days a decree went out from mCaesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of qNazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”

Following this, Aviram Oshri suggest that a woman carrying a child in the 9th month could NOT and would NOT be able to do the walk through a distance of 160 km. from Nazareth to Bethlehem of Judea and more likely the operation can be succeeded only when referring to bethlehem of Galilee a more likely 20 km. voyage. The reason for stating Bethlehem of Judea in Luke is more for making a linkage between Jesus and the seeds of house of (king) David entitling him one of Masia’s thrown “requirements” by christianty and also by judaism.

Contrary to all said above, others at the Israeli Antiquities Authority reject this theory, and future digging were stopped due to financial cutbacks.

Through the centuries there was a small habitation of approximately NOT more than 25 families, mostly muslims, whereas In 1906 a 2nd generation of the Templars from the German Colony in Haifa established a colony in the Galilee (the area is also known as “Izrael-valley” with a “z”), part for particular reasons such as commercial strategic location just in crossroad between the city of Haifa and Nazareth) and part theological where Gottlieb Schumacher the Templars main civil engineer and architect (and also an enthusiastic amature archaeologist ) deciding Bethlehem of Galilee as Jesus birth place. The village has been a twin colony to the nearest Weilheim(nowadays “Aloney Aba”) and operated a successful agricultural village.

By August 1939, one fifth of all German Templers in the country were members of the Nazi Party and after the start of WW2, all Germans in Palestine were declared enemy aliens. The British authorities put them under quarantine in Sarona (nowadays Tel Aviv) and Bethlehem (Galilee), later in the summer of 1941, they’ve deported to Australia, and in the course of 1942 more children and women were released to Germany for the
purpose of family reunification.