Oh Jerusalem, you made it hard for me to like you all around. So much excitement in the air with you. Charged like before a storm. The suicide bombing the day before did the rest. Nevertheless I got – at least for one day. That I do not feel 100% comfortable is not surprising, is it??
Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is the "Holy City" for 3 of the world's 5 religions. Christianity, Judaism and Islam, for each of them Jerusalem houses significant sanctuaries. Unfortunately it has never been peaceful. For more than 3000 years it has been fiercely contested. As a focal point in the Middle East conflict, claimed as a capital by both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, the conflicts continue to this day. Hotly disputed is also the continuing settlement construction by the Jewish majority of the inhabitants on Palestinian territories.
I had come to Israel for a trekking tour through the Negev desert. It occupies about 60% of Israel's total area and is an arid desert. The incredible landscape crisscrossed by erosion craters around the most famous, the Maktesch Ramon crater, attracted me like magic. The modern metropolis of Tel Aviv served as my starting point (My top 6 tips for Tel Aviv). Jerusalem I visited as a day trip. Buses from Tel Aviv leave about every 20 minutes. The journey takes about an hour.
VISIT THE MAHANE YEHUDA MARKET
I arrived at the bus station in Jerusalem. I had left early from Tel Aviv. As first stop I had chosen the Mahane Yehuda market. It was still quiet when I reached it by the Jerusalem Light Rail Transit, streetcar line 1. I had been too lazy to walk the one kilometer down Jaffa (Yafo) Street.
But even the use of streetcar line 1 I could see as a highlight. Because it is the only streetcar that connects a city and divides a whole country. If you want to know more about the streetcar line 1, I recommend the reading piece " With the streetcar through the Holy City ".
The Mahane Yehuda market, which stretches through large and small alleys between Jaffa and Agripas Streets, is a typical oriental market selling everything from fish, meat, spices, fruits and clothing. And I? I wanted to have breakfast and that was Shashuka, the Israeli national dish.
THE OLD CITY OF JERUSALEM
For the three more kilometers in the direction of the old town, I again ventured into the streetcar line 1. Passing the new and huge Mamilla shopping mall, I walked to the Jaffa Gate. It is one of the eight gates in the city wall to the Old City and located on the west side.
The Old City of Jerusalem is only one square kilometer in size and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1980s. Since the Middle Ages it has been divided into four quarters: the Christian quarter in the northwest, the Muslim quarter in the northeast, the Armenian quarter in the southwest, and the Jewish quarter in the southwest.
No sooner had I passed through the Jaffa Gate, visited the Tourist Info for a map and info, than a sign for a Free-Guided Walking Tour caught my attention: Tour start in five minutes. Sure, I joined there.
Tour start in the Armenian quarter
Passing the Citadel of David, we immediately head for the Armenian Quarter, the quietest and most touristically undeveloped area. Since then, I know that Kim Kardashian is of Armenian descent and traveled to the Armenian quarter for the baptism of at least one of her children, in order to have them baptized in St. Mary's Church. St. James Cathedral to celebrate. (Useless knowledge remains of course.) While the inner courtyard is open to all, the cathedral can only be visited in the course of a church service.
Through narrow alleys into the Jewish quarter
Continue through narrow streets to the Jewish quarter, passing the excavation site Cardo maximus and the newly built Hurva Synagogue. While the group pauses, I hand my tip to the guide and say goodbye to the free guided walking tour. I want to continue my tour alone. I am going too slow and from the tourist information I know: the visit of the Temple Mount is possible today. I want to take the chance. Because the Temple Mount can be visited only four days a week (Sunday to Thursday) from 7:30 to 10:00 and 12:30 to 13:30. If the tension in the city is too high, it is closed for visits.
At the Temple Mount near the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque
Through the alleys I move towards the Wailing Wall, where nearby on the right side (at the Dung Gate) is the way over a wooden bridge to the Temple Mount. I pass the first security check on the way to the Wailing Wall, which I leave to the left for the time being and I join the queue for the security check to enter the Temple Mount. In a few minutes it has doubled in length. It is a very precise security check and it takes time. Also the passport must be shown.
Slowly, step by step, we approach the most controversial, considered holy place in the world. I walk over the wooden bridge and through the stone entrance gate. The Temple Mount is an artificial plateau. Immediately to my right is the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most important mosque in Islam.
In the center of the plateau is the Dome of the Rock, which attracts attention: the golden dome, shining brightly in the sun, is easily visible from every vantage point. Once across the plateau I walk. I round the dome of the rock. As a non-Muslim I am not allowed to enter the buildings. I am surprised that I do not have to cover my hair at the area.
Via Dolorosa and Austrian Hospice
Via another gate I leave the Temple Mount and stand in the Muslim quarter. At the corner of Via Dolorosa and the corner of El Wad Street I discover the Austrian Hospice. The view from the roof was recommended to me from several sides. Looking for the entrance.
I do not have to escape from a bustle on the street. In fact it is very quiet in the Old City. In January is off-season. Few tourists are in the city. On the day of my visit the weather is ok, the temperatures mild, only an icy wind blows constantly.
I enjoy the view and continue briefly at the Via Dolorosa. The Via Dolorosa is the path that Jesus had to walk on the way to his crucifixion. The cross he had to carry mostly himself. Famous is the place where he is said to have supported himself with his hand on the wall.
Food at Abu Shukri
By chance I stop in front of the most secret, not secret insider tip of locals: the Abu Shukri. It is said to be the best hummus store in town. In the meantime, the small restaurant has also made it to an entry in one of the most famous travel books in the world, the Lonely Planet.
I am hungry and willingly took a break for the allegedly best hummus in town. My impression of the Abu Shukri – delicious, but full of tourists. I see two locals, without counting the local staff and the guides of the tour groups.
Through the covered bazaars in the Muslim quarter and further on through the Christian quarter, we now walk crisscross and without a plan through the narrow alleys of the old city. Finally I return to the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall.
The Wailing Wall
The left area of the Wailing Wall is reserved for men, the right one for women. Before I venture to the wall, I watch fascinated the believing women praying seemingly in a trance. Mostly propped up against the wall with one hand, they rock their upper body back and forth as if gently banging their head against the wall (maybe they do). Their eyes partially closed. The lips move.
I feel out of place, like an intruder in a place where I should not be. Quickly I catch the note with my heart's desire and thanks prepared during the meal from the trouser pocket and look for a free piece of wall, in order to touch this once and to place the note in a small crack between the stones. "If it doesn't help, it doesn't hurt", that's my thought. Already I retreat and leave room for the people who have come to pray in peace.
VIEWING PLATFORM ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
Via the Dung Gate I leave the Old City and turn towards the Mount of Olives. Bus connection, where are you?, I ask myself and go anyway. Stairs at the roadside lead through a kind of valley. Some significant graves lie in the ditch below the Jewish Cemetery. Whether it was a shortcut or not, from the Church of Nations (on the right in the picture) I follow the course of the street.
Hoping for a shortcut across the Jewish Cemetery, which occupies the entire southern slope of the Mount of Olives, to the viewing plateau I get lost. Desperately I stand in the middle of the graves and want only one thing: to get out of there.
CITY OF DAVID AND TOMB OF DAVID
Going back the same way I came. I do without a further ascent to the viewing plateau. I am already tired. Nevertheless I get up to go past the excavations of the City of David. I do not see much. It is late and the excavation site is closing. Tours are no longer offered at this time.
Last and least, I walk up Mount Zion to the tomb of David. Separated by gender, the tomb, which is an important sanctuary of Judaism, can be visited. Out of respect, women, not just men, are also asked to cover their hair.
On the upper floor of the same building is the Upper Room, where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper on the eve of his crucifixion.
A crazy or helpful man wants to take care of me and show me around. But I don't want to anymore. I just want to go to the bus station and back to Tel Aviv, I am exhausted.
CHAMBER OF THE HOLOCAUST AND OSKAR SCHINDLER'S GRAVESITE
On the side facing away from the Old City, I leave the buildings of the Tomb of David. The Chamber of the Holocaust, the small and first museum about the Holocaust in Israel, is located behind it.
And Oskar Schindler's grave is at the Catholic (Franciscan) cemetery very close by. He was buried on Mount Zion by request. He became known to the general public through the movie "Schindler's List", which is based on a true story about the rescue of about 1200 Jews during World War II. To honor him, many visitors lay a stone on his grave.
"Hach, there is too much to see here", I think, forego a visit and go in search of the bus stop. Already in the dark we take the bus back to Tel Aviv.
Unvisited remains furthermore:
- the Yad Vashem, the most important Holocaust memorial in the world at the Mount of Remembrance (just off Herzl Mountain) outside the city center (I really would have liked to see it) and
- the "First Station", Jerusalem's old train station, which was built in Ottoman times and recently renovated as a cultural, event, culinary center enjoying increasing popularity.
At first I did not want to write about Jerusalem. The Middle East conflict has gone deep under my skin there. And many questions arose for me, such as "What was that again about the founding of Israel?", "Who believes that which country belongs to whom or vice versa?" and why? Can Palestinian residents travel? What they are allowed to do and what not? How about Hamas in the Gaza Strip? What is the difference between Jewish and ultra/strictly orthodox Jewish beliefs?? Was the jewish man on the bus got up when I sat down next to him because he didn't want to sit next to a woman? – there were many questions to which I was looking for an answer. After my return from Israel I was caught in the topic for a long time. It seemed to me that I had not understood the conflict as a whole and its implications. And I probably do not until today.
But what I wish since then: Please, make peace, not war!