Tag Archives: German Colony

Gustav Bauernfeind and Orientalism

Orientalism refers to the depiction or imitation of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers and artists, and can also imply a sympathetic stance towards the region. Since the 1979 publication of Edward Said‘s book Orientalism, the term has arguably taken on a pejorative meaning, becoming shorthand for prejudiced views towards cultures of the East. Said claimed that “every European (and similarly American), in what he could say about the Orient, was . . . a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.”

Bauernfeind_Gustav_photoLuckily for Gustav Bauernfeind (born in Sulz am Neckar, Germany 1848 – died in Jerusalem, 1904 and buried in the Templer cemetery on Emek Refaim Street; on his tombstone is the first verse of Isaiah 43 …I have redeemed thee, … thou art mine!) he lived before Said’s volley against Europeans who were sharing their impressions of the exotic Orient.

Bauernfeind was a German Orientalist painter, illustrator and architect. After completing his architectural studies at the Polytechnic Institute in Stuttgart, he studied painting. He first visited the Levant from 1880 to 1882, living and working in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. He became interested in the Orient and returned repeatedly, moving to Palestine in 1896  with his wife and son and settling in Jerusalem in 1898. For a time, Bauernfeind lived upstairs in the house at 6 Cremieux Street named for the French statesman and founder of Alliance Française that was inhabited by August Bienzle, blacksmith, who did most of the ironwork of the German Colony.

German Colony, aquarelle by Gustav Bauernfeind

German Colony, aquarelle by Gustav Bauernfeind

An album of Bauernfeind’s watercolor paintings of the German Colony was presented to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II when he visited Jerusalem and the German Colony in 1898.

Bauernfeind’s work is characterized primarily by architectural views of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. His oil paintings, of cityscapes and recognized holy sites, are meticulously crafted, intricately composed and almost photographically accurate, at a time when travel photography was already becoming popular. During his lifetime he was the most popular German Orientalist painter but fell into oblivion after his death. Since the early 1980s, Bauernfeind has been gradually rediscovered, with his paintings appearing at auctions and garnering high prices.

In 1992 his oil painting The Wailing Wall was sold at Christie’s in London for €326.000. When the painting was auctioned at Sotheby’s in London in 2007 it fetched €4.5 million. Note that there is no mehitza (separating the area into men and women sections), this happened only after 1967.

In 1997, another oil painting of Bauernfeind, The Port of Jaffa, was sold at the Van Ham Kunstauktionen in Cologne for 1.510.000 DM, thus becoming the most expensive 19th century painting ever sold in Germany.

If you are interested in exploring the various German Colonies, in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Haifa where the German Templers settled in the late 1800s contact me for a guided tour.

Matthaus Frank and German Colony

Just recently I received an email from Australia commenting on my German Colony tour.

I am a descendant of Matthaus Frank, he is my great-grandfather, and I was hoping you could send me, via email, information on him as I have very little knowledge about him to pass on to my daughters. Thank you in advance, Kind regards, Petra Frank, Clayton, Australia.

It’s always nice to hear from someone who is engaging with my site. It’s an opportunity to delve a little deeper into the neighborhood where I live and know very well. So I did some research and found some old photographs in architect David Kroyanker’s excellent book “Jerusalem – the German Colony and Emeq Refaim Street” (the book has only been published in Hebrew). I also went out and took some of my own photos of the German Colony today and the Templer cemetery. I learned that there were two Matthaus Franks, father and son and that the son wrote about his life in Jerusalem. For those into genealogy there is enough information in the cemetery to start a family tree.

Matthaus Frank

Matthaus Frank (1846-1923)

The German Colony in Jerusalem was founded when a small group of German Templers arrived in 1868. At first, they rented housing in the Old City and in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the walls a few years earlier. From 1867 it became possible for foreigners to purchase land, on condition that their European government had signed an agreement with the Ottoman Turkish authorities which Prussia, representing Germany, did in 1869. Consequently, in 1872 young Matthaus Frank (1846-1923) purchased a large plot of land suitable for farming from the Arabs of Beit Safafa for his father-in-law, Nikolai Schmidt. Schmidt travelled to the Holy Land in 1874 with a group including his wife Katharina but died on his way to Jerusalem. The German Templers bought the land from Frank and divided it into 1 dunam building lots – bounded by Emek Refaim Street and Derekh Bet Lehem. This became Jerusalem’s German Colony and in 1878 the spiritual center of the movement with a school, sport club and  Gemeindehaus, the community center and church on Sunday. Two historic events took place shortly thereafter, the completion of the railway that joined Jerusalem to the port at Jaffa in 1892 – today the station has been renovated and is a popular meeting place of food and culture and the German Kaiser Wilhelm II and Augusta Victoria’s official visit in 1898 – the three churches that were initiated then stand to this day as part of Jerusalem’s skyline.

This aquarelle painting by Gustav Bauernfeind (born Germany 1848 – died in Jerusalem, 1904 and buried in the Templer cemetery) and the photograph from about 1890 (train station is already built) document what the German Colony looked like. The painting was presented to the Kaiser on his visit. Bauernfeind was a German painter, illustrator and architect of Jewish origin, considered to be one of the most notable German Orientalist painters.

German Colony, aquarelle by Gustav Bauernfeind

German Colony, aquarelle by Gustav Bauernfeind

German Colony, photo from 1890

German Colony, photo from 1890

Frank entrance Frank kept 5 dunams for himself and on it he built his house in April 1873. It was the first building to be completed, the home of the miller Matthaus and Gertrude Frank, today #6 Emek Refaim Street. You can see the date on the keystone of the arch above the door and the name EBEN EZER carved in the stone lintel, mentioned in Samuel 7: 11 when God helped the Israelites against the Philistines.

Frank installed the first steam-driven flour mill and ran a bakery. Up until then there were only windmills for grinding wheat. Two exist to this day, Montefiore’s windmill built in 1867 beside Mishkenot Sha’ananim and a Greek owned windmill on Ramban Street, later the office of Erich Mendelsohn who fled Nazi Germany in 1934 and split his time as a successful architect between London and Jerusalem.

A fellow German Templer, Theodore Faust, describes the Frank house in his handwritten memoirs.

A large garden with fruit trees, vegetables and flowers, and the  ‘proud’ two-storey house, like a fortress or castle, that’s what we thought as children, with a steam-driven mill, stable for donkeys and other buildings, with the spacious living quarters above, there was the kindergarten of the Colony for many years. Behind the house was a large vineyard, and the property was six times as large as a regular property. In addition to the usual underground  water cisterns there were two open pools, one large and one small where sometimes the children were allowed to swim and so perhaps this was the first private swimming pool in Jerusalem… In later years, the Frank house was a popular meeting place.

Mattheus Frank house

In 1910, Mattheus Frank the son (1877-1927) decided to rent the house to a Templer family, the Kirchners, who lived there until 1917. Frank and his wife Luise moved the family to a new property (Neue Mühle) on Derekh Bet Lehem where they lived and ran the bakery (Franks Bäckerei). Only the two large arches of the ground floor façade exist today, as the entrance to underground parking for a housing development.

early 20th century photo of courtyard of Frank Bakery behind the family residence, Arab wagoners and carts that delivered bread

Courtyard of Frank Bakery behind the family residence, Arab wagoners and carts that delivered bread

Matthaus and Luise Frank house

Matthaus and Luise Frank house

The Templer cemetery is the final resting place for these pioneers and this is where our tour of the German Colony ends.

Templer cemetery

Mattheus & Luise Frank

Jerusalem Armenian Ceramics

Walking the streets of the Old City your first introduction to Armenian ceramics may be the tiles designed by Mr. Karakashian that display the names of streets in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Please note that much of the painted pottery that you see in the souvenir shops in the Arab market is done in Palestinian workshops in Hebron.

The Armenian community in Jerusalem goes back to the 5th century and in the Old City they live primarily in one of the 4 quarters, a walled neighborhood within the walls to the right from Jaffa gate called the Armenian quarter. Their religious center is the Cathedral of St. James that goes back to the 12th century. The Crusader King Baldwin II married the Armenian princess Morphia who bore him 4 daughters, the eldest, Melisende was married to Fulk, Count of Anjou who was King of Jerusalem and ruled in her own right from 1129-1161. She is buried in the Tomb of Mary in the Kidron valley. From at least the 17th century numerous ceramic tiles by Armenian artists from Kutahya and Iznik were sent as gifts to the Cathedral and  the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

After the British defeated the Turks, Ronald Storrs was the military governor of Jerusalem and one of the projects was to repair the 16th century ceramic tiles of the Dome of the Rock. David Ohannessian who had fled from the city of Kutahya, Turkey to Jerusalem and was known to Mark Sykes was recommended to Storrs. Ohannessian set up a workshop first on the Haram el Sharif and then later on the Via Dolorosa. Although the project fell through due to lack of funds he started producing ceramic wares and tiles to sell. An Armenian told me that the Muslims didn’t allow the Armenians who are Christian to work on the building.

Many recognize David Ohannessian as the founder of local Armenian ceramics based on the Iznik tradition and a bridge between the ceramic artistry of Turkey and what was to be developed later in Jerusalem. Ohannessian created tiles for buildings in Jerusalem until 1948 when he left for Beirut. You can see examples of these tiles at the Rockefeller museum and in my neighborhood, on the facade of originally Christian-Arab buildings, at 25 Emeq Refaim (I lead a tour of the German Colony that includes the Armenian story in the fascinating history of the German Templars) and next door to my house, at 24 Hazefira. Be on the lookout for other examples as you explore the city, buildings on Jaffa Road, in Talbiye, American Colony Hotel, St. John’s hospital (today the Mount Zion Hotel), Scottish Church of St. Andrew.

In 1922 Balian and Karakashian opened their own workshop at 14 Nablus Road where the families worked and lived for more than 40 years. Ballian was the master potter and Karakashian the painter artist and they passed on their skills and traditional craft to the next generation. It was here that the transformative process took traditional Kutahyan Armenian ceramics and created a uniquely Jerusalem pottery, the introduction of an art form that had not previously existed  in the city. It is a major contribution to decorative art, creating an artistic language that combines Eastern and local elements.

Their repertoire of forms was grounded in the traditional designs of Iznik (carnations, tulips, almond blossoms and saz leaves) and Kutahya (white or blue background with discretely outlines images) and included themes from the Bible. Two mosaic pavements in particular seems to have inspired them: the 6th century Bird Mosaic in the Armenian chapel and an Umayyad mosaic from the 8th century at Khirbat al-Mafjar (Hisham Palace) near Jericho. As they worked the two artists created new forms of their own inspired by local sources. Their first major project was a series of tile panels for the walls of the courtyard where the Patriarchs are buried in the Armenian Cemetery on Mount Zion. Their last work together done in 1963 were three rectangular tile pictures in the center of which are arched niches enclosed behind latticework doors for the facade of the Cathedral.

The designs were created by the master painter as drawings on paper. The paper design would be perforated along the lines so that the copyists could transfer them to the ceramics. The copyist-artisans would then paint the outlines in black and then colored glazes would be painted onto the ceramic. When the Balians and Karakashians separated in 1964, the traditional patterns, property of the joint workshop were divided between them.

In 1965 the Karakashian family moved to live and work in the Old City, where they created a studio, “Jerusalem Old City” on the Via Dolorosa between El Wad and Khan El Zeit (recently they moved to 3 Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Street in the Christian quarter). The main designs are those of arabesques, various bird designs, flowers, grapevines, a fawn, fish and biblical scenes on ceramic vessels and tiles.


The Balian studio, called Palestinian Pottery, is still at the original 14 Nablus Rd location.


The creative force behind the Balian workshop was Marie Balian, who had studied painting in Lyon, France. One outstanding example is her dialogue with the images of the tree, gazelles and lion from the Hisham Palace painted in various combinations. By the early 1980s Marie Balian was working on larger compositions of many tiles, as if they were monumental canvases.

In 1986 she created a multi-tile triptych for the “Sukkoth patio” of the President of Israel’s residence which included pomegranates, date palms and grapevines (from the seven species that grow in the Land of Israel).

For an excellent book on the subject check out
Kenaan-Kedar, Nurith, The Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem: Three Generations 1919-2003, Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Jerusalem, Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, 2003.  ISBN 965-217-217-0

Sato Moughalian, the grand-daughter of David Ohannessian published a book in 2019 about his life and art, Feast of Ashes.

German Colony Walking Tour

I have lived in Jerusalem, in the German Colony for more than 15 years. We bought our house in 1988 from the widow who had been given it in 1948 when she and her family had fled from Persia and arrived here as refugees. Just in the last 4 years we’ve renovated it twice – I don’t think Mrs. Hakimian would recognize it. The neighborhood too has changed, hardware stores and green grocers have made way for fancy restaurants and shops. Walking down the street you hear English and French spoken as much as Hebrew.

The land that became the German Colony was purchased in 1872 by Mattheus Frank from Arabs in Beit Safafa, as a farm for his father-in-law. Frank came to Israel from Germany in 1867 with a sect of Protestants called the German Templers. Unfortunately, the father-in-law died on his way to Israel and so it was decided to divide the parcel of land into 1 dunam lots and build a colony, planned as a street village, a strassendorf. Even with all the changes you can recognize the same layout today – individual stone houses of one or 2 stories, with gardens surrounded by stone walls, green wooden shutters and red peaked roofs along Emeq Refaim Street. Often on the lintel over the front entrance of the house is a Biblical verse in German. At the entrance to the colony was the gemeindehaus, their community center and house of worship built in 1882.

  • Learn the stories, history, culture, and architecture of this popular Jerusalem neighborhood from a licensed guide.
  • Become acquainted with the personalities and the experiences of the settlers – Germans who came to Israel in 1867 and built one of the first neighborhoods outside the walls of the Old City.
  • Find out about their contributions to the development of Israel and the intrigues that led to their deportation.
Take a guided walking tour of the popular German Colony neighborhood. Contact me to book your tour. Ask about combining a tour with lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants in the German Colony.