In the mid-19th century, members of the German Templar Society established what we now know as a trendy upsacle neighborhood, the German Colony. The Templars picked this location due to its proximity to the Temple Mount, as well as to several historical landmarks built in the 12th century by Crusaders and Templars, who conquered Jerusalem and other cities of the Holy Land in fierce recurring battles.
Are these Templars related to the Knight Templars?
It is not known whether the Templars of the German Colony could have traced their lineage back to the original Templars, a Christian order whose role was to defend Pilgrims on the road to the Holy Land. Acceptance in the order depended of various requisites: to be of noble descent, to donate all personal property to the order, to be very secretive regarding the order’s affairs, to be highly trained soldiers and never to recede in battle.
However, according to historians, nine of these Templars chose to reside just above the Temple of Solomon, thus calling themselves “The Poor Templar Hospitaliers of Solomon”. Very soon, however, they were anything but poor. It is believed that this group of impostors were skilled archaeologists who dug under the Temple and extracted numerous holy vessels from the Temple of Solomon, as well as two hundred tons of gold and silver, buried beneath the remains of the Jewish Temple and never found since. The Templars also established the first banking system. The latter operated on the basis of a deposit in exchange for letters of credit, the first form of bonds, which allowed them to retrieve money on their expeditions, identifying themselves via a secret code. Thus they avoided being exposed to robbers and assailants. The Templars lent money on interest and Kings and nobles were indebted to them. The Pope had absolved them from paying taxes and they could travel all over the Christian world without passports.
The existence of these Templars lasted two centuries, until after the third Crusade, which was a catastrophe for the Christian Crusaders. They lost all the conquered cities and were crushed by Saladin. They owned enormous amounts of property all over Europe, donated by church members who believed in their role as liberators of the Holy Land, as well as a large fleet of boats that disappeared mysteriously with their treasures. Where did they go? Nobody knows. To date, many explorers have tried to discover their whereabouts and the places where they hid their enormous wealth.
From Templar Houses to Sushi Bars and Trendy Cafes
Emek Refaim, the German Colony’s main street is a trendy and bustling avenue, replete with cafes, such as Caffit, operating for more than 20 years, the Coffee Mill, where you can pick fresh coffee beans from Columbia, Guatemala and Ethiopia, as well as scented butterscotch, vanilla and mint coffee, Café-Café, Ben Ami, half bakery, half coffee shop.
The avenue owes its name to the Templars. Upon their arrival in 1873, the Templars, based on Scripture, thought they had reached the biblical Valley of the Refaim, mentioned various times in the battles of King David. They thus named the main street of the German Colony, the valley of Refaim, Emek Refaim.
In this area, the Templars built many houses, mostly one family homes in a style that had been unknown in Jerusalem. These houses were large but simple, surrounded by metal fences with inscriptions in Gothic German carved above their doors. The German design which would have been built in wood was replaced by stone with added borderlines in light colored stone on their corners and windows. The houses still retain their original look, although they were renovated and other houses were built in this architectural style to preserve the neighborhood’s German village atmosphere.
The Templars, who had made vows of frugality and denied themselves the simplest luxuries could not have imagined the yuppie lifestyle that would follow in the German colony one hundred and fifty years later. Sushi Bars, Italian and Asian restaurants, pizza joints, Bagel joints, like Holy Bagel and Tal Bagel, the New Deli delicatessen, Hummus joints and waffle bars, amidst fancy continental cuisine, open air craft vendors, jewelry and fashion stores.
Impressive Templar buildings in the German Colony
The first building on Emek Refaim, on the corner of Derech Beit Lehem was the headquarters of the Templars’ community center and was inaugurated by the Turkish governor. This building served as a meeting and worship center for Sunday mass. Templars were called for prayer by a bell and singing was accompanied by an organ, following the weekly sermon. Today the building belongs to the Armenian Church. This beautiful building is shaded by tall cypresses and pine trees.
The German Colony’s earliest building belonged to Mattheus Frank; it was called the miller house (6 Emek Refaim) because Frank operated a steam-powered mill and bakery located on the property. The property was built on five dunams and included a private swimming pool. Above the front door are the words “Eben-Ezer” drawn from the book of Samuel, as well as an inscription (1873) on the entrance. All Templar houses, lining Emek Refaim are easily recognizable by their outstanding architecture.
The original Templars believed in the return of the Chosen People to the Land of Israel and opposed German nationalism. However, when Wilhelm II visited Jerusalem in 1898, the second generation sang the German anthem and, the third generation became Nazi sympathizers and set up a branch of the Nazi movement in the German Colony. One family who settled in the German Colony found a Nazi cache hidden in the attic, belonging to Erich Imberger, third generation Templar. He later served in the German army and was deported to Australia by the British during the war. By the time Israel was declared a state in 1948, none of the German Templars remained.