Jerusalem — After spending so much time and money to get to Israel, many vacationers rush around the country in an attempt to cover as much ground as possible.
But sometimes you just need a day to unwind, and the German Colony, a neighborhood in southern Jerusalem, is a good place to do it.
Renowned for its many historic buildings, boutique shops and three dozen (kosher) restaurants, the German Colony (HaMoshava Germanit in Hebrew) is a popular destination for walking tours and people just out for a leisurely stroll. Located within walking distance of several hotels, including the King David, it’s a pleasant, lively place any time of the day.
The neighborhood is named after the German Templers who settled there in the early 1870s. The website GoJerusalem.com describes them as “a somewhat heretical religious splinter group of eschatologically-minded German Protestants who in the mid-1800s left Germany for the Holy Land in anticipation of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.”
The sturdy, picturesque homes built by the Templers along Emek Refaim Street and Bethlehem Road — constructed out of local stone, with slanting red roofs — are today worth a small fortune on the real estate market. The same is true of the flat-roofed Arab houses in the Moshava (Colony) and nearby Baka and Katamon.
The Mandatory British government deported the Templers during World War II, considering them enemies of the state because of their German citizenship. Not long afterwards, Arab residents fled during Israel’s War of Independence. Jews, many of them refugees from Arab countries, moved into the empty houses, some without electricity or running water.
During the past 20 years Emek Refaim (the Valley of the Ghosts), the Colony’s equivalent to Main Street, has gone from a relatively sleepy street to major (if physically narrow) thoroughfare. It’s especially frenetic on Friday mornings, the start of the Israeli weekend, when people go out for brunch, do their food and flower shopping, and, during the warmer months, attend an arts-and-crafts fair in the courtyard of the Adam School (22 Emek Refaim). Virtually all establishments close a couple of hours before the start of Shabbat and reopen about an hour after Shabbat has ended.
For a relaxing day, consider the following itinerary: stroll and shop; have brunch/lunch, take a swim; eat an early dinner; and catch a movie.
A walk through the Colony can begin almost anywhere, but the Super HaMoshava mini-market (43 Emek Refaim) is a good starting point. Heading toward the city center, on both sides of the street, you’ll see specialty shops and loads of restaurants.
Nisha (43 Emek Refaim), a wonderful little shop, sells hand-made/Israeli-made items, including eye-catching necklaces, ceramics with Hebrew writing, baby gifts and hot plates inspired by the neighborhood’s distinctive floor tiles. Stav (40 Emek Refaim) is the studio shop of Dalia and Eyal Stav, husband-and-wife jewelry designers who work with gold, silver, precious and semi-precious stones. Set offers a wide range of Israeli-made ceramic Judaica, jewelry and much more, while Sheshet specializes in sumptuous Israeli-made leather handbags and jewelry. Hoshan (32 Emek Refaim) sells affordable jewelry and elegant modern Judaica made from colored aluminum, much of it by the artist Yair Stern.
When you’ve shopped enough, explore some of Emek Refaim’s side streets. Just parallel to Emek Refaim, Yehoshua Bin Nun Street is a quiet oasis from the bustle. Lloyd George, Emil Zola and Peterson streets are also quaint and quiet.
Brunch or Lunch: About three dozen restaurants line Emek Refaim Street, all but one or two kosher. Check out e-Luna (www.eluna.com), which offers 10 percent coupons and profiles and menus of many kosher restaurants on the street and around the country.
Tal Bagels (46 Emek Refaim), Café Caffit (35 Emek Refaim), Café Café (Emek Refaim 44) and Ben Ami (Emek Refaim 38) all offer good brunch packages as well as dairy/pareve meals. The Coffee Mill (23 Emek Refaim), a tiny café whose walls are lined with New Yorker covers, has the very best and biggest selection of custom-brewed coffee in Jerusalem.
For meat, try Joy (24 Emek Refaim), where you can get everything from a freshly-made hamburger to roasted duck breast and oven-grilled salmon. Burger’s Bar (18 Emek Refaim) also has good burgers and chicken, to stay or go. RYU, an upscale Asian restaurant, has an Upper West Side ambiance. Marvad Haksamim (42 Emek Refaim) serves Middle Eastern food. On Friday mornings, the restaurant closes to diners and opens to customers looking for delicious take-out.
There are also at least a dozen small places along the street that sell everything from falafel and schnitzel to fruit drinks and frozen yogurt.
The Jerusalem Pool
One of the Colony’s best-kept secrets is its pool, the only Olympic-sized one in Jerusalem. Not visible from the street, the pool, called “Breychat Yerushalyim,” has a large, shaded kiddie pool and a very large pool for older kids (the latter two are open from the end of May through October). Day and month passes are available. Though the pool is very crowded during the summer, it’s peaceful the rest of the year. It’s open on Shabbat. Enter through the corridor just right of the Super Hamoshava mini-market (43 Emek Refaim).
Dinner and Dessert: Once you’ve had dinner (see above), consider a stop at Aldo (44 Emek Refaim), which offers about two dozen creamy dairy and pareve ice cream flavors.
A movie: Housed in an historic building, the Smadar Theater (www.lev.co.il) at Lloyd George 4 offers one film at a time, the old-fashioned way. The theater and its (non-kosher) bar-restaurant are open on Shabbat. Check ahead to see whether the film is in English or contains English subtitles. Most do.