Girishkumar Kumaran

A curious being

The incredible history of Tel Aviv’s largest culinary buzz: Sarona

The Germans were the first in Sarona

History of Sarona from the perspective of Israel is remarkable. So many things happened here. Sarona was buzzing with activity even before Tel Aviv came into existence. Back then from Jaffa until Sarona there was nothing at all except some orange trees.

Sarona was, in fact, a swampy area plagued with diseases such as malaria. No one lived there at that time. It took the ingenuity of the German templers to soak up water and fight diseases.

An Israeli dad and son playing in front of the Sarona market entrance on a Friday morning.
An Israeli dad and son playing in front of the Sarona market entrance on a Friday morning.

The Germans fought malaria & won

As much as 28 templers died of malaria in the first year of their arrival. However, they did not fret. They knew their stuff. The Germans planted eucalyptus trees in the swamp. Eucalyptus is a thirsty tree that can soak up insane amounts of water pretty quickly. The trees helped templers remove the stagnated water in the swampland and thereby fight malaria. Indeed, they survived to tell a story. Sarona is the place in Tel Aviv where the German Templers built their colony.

Who are Templers?

The templers are a group of German Christians who felt compelled to believe that they do not need a mediator – church or priests- between them and God. While in Germany, they were part of a sect called Temple Society.

In 1868, a group of them disowned the Lutheran church and came to Israel hoping that redemption will take place and Jesus Christ will rise.

In the beginning, the settled near the Bahai Gardens in Haifa in a place a now known as the German colony.

How to reach Sarona visitor’s center?

Sarona is located centrally in the buzzing city of Tel Aviv. The place is easily accessible by bus, train, or taxi.

Buses: Sarona is located near to the major bus routes in Tel Aviv. Use the Moovit app to find the best bus to reach here. Also, check out the other must-have apps that will make your travel in Israel easier.

Trains: Sarona market and the visitor’s center are located at a walkable distance from the Tel Aviv Ha-Shalom railway station.

Taxis: DON’T hire random taxis unless you want to haggle and potentially be cheated. Use Moovit carpool or Gett taxi, where you can pay a fixed price.

A street between the German settlers' homes that leads to the Sarona market.
A street between the German settlers’ homes that leads to the Sarona market.

How did they end up near Sarona market?

A year later, half of the Germans in Haifa moved to Jaffa. They bought the houses of the American Christians who lived there. The Americans left the holy land because it was too difficult for them to live here.

A little bird I met on a park bench near Sarona market cautiously watches me as I try to photograph it.
A little bird I met on a park bench near Sarona market cautiously watches me as I try to photograph it.

Later in 1871, the Germans settlers bought about 60 hectors of land in Sarona from a Greek monastery where they built the German-styled homes that we see today near the Kaplan street. Back then from Sarona until Jaffa there was nothing at all except some orange trees.

A parrot feeding on the ripe oranges in Sarona

These houses have a basement, a ground floor, first floor, and an attic. – Most other homes in Israel do not have basements. They used locally available materials such as sandstone to build these houses.

A German cooking stove recovered by archeologists from one of these houses is kept on display at the Sarona Visitor's Center next to Sarona market
A German cooking stove recovered by archeologists from one of these houses is kept on display at the Sarona Visitor’s Center next to Sarona market

Why is this place called Sarona?

When the Germans bought this place they thought that they were in the plains of Sharon near the Yarkon river. In reality, they were a bit north from the plains of Sharon. At any rate, they decided to name to place Sharona, which later became Sarona. Now, the Israelis are still debating whether to call it Sarona or Sharon. How fun!

Balcony of a German home, which is now the Sarona Visitor's Center.
Balcony of a German home, which is now the Sarona Visitor’s Center.

The legacy of Germans in Sarona

The Germans were met with a lot of difficulties. Even though they got it right with using eucalyptus trees to dry up the swamp land, the agricultural practices that they learned from Germany, in general, were not suitable for Israel. Everything including the soil and the weather was different.

Yet, they successfully established the colony. They went on to become the first pioneers of modern agriculture in the Ottoman-ruled Palestine and modern Israel. The successfully cultivated a lot of orange trees, grapes, and potatoes in the area.

The templers did not have any churches. Instead, they built community houses. A renovated German templer community house is the showroom of Adidas now. Why because when the Israeli government took up the preservation of these German homes it was on the premise that the people who are going to preserve them can use it to rent for shops and restaurants.

Household utensils recovered from the German homes in Sarona kept on display in Sarona Visitor's Center near Sarona Market
Household utensils recovered from the German homes in Sarona kept on display in Sarona Visitor’s Center near Sarona Market

The British arrive in Sarona

Most of the time, the Germans had good relations with the Jews and the Arabs. The British came to Israel in 1917 and they saw Germans here. They decided to put the Germans in detention camps in Egypt. They were allowed to come back only later in 1920-21.

A radio from the time of Germans in Sarona.
A radio from the time of Germans in Sarona.

When they came back to Sarona the Germans saw that everything has changed. The British soldiers used and destroyed their houses. Household equipment and tools were stolen. So they had to reconstruct the colony in Sarona again.

The Nazis come to power in Germany

Everything was good until the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933. As time passed, the templers as a whole became less religious. More and more templers adopted Nazi ideology, especially the youngsters.  The young templers went to high school in Germany. They came back to Sarona stuffed up with Nazi ideologies. They even started a branch of the Nazi party in Sarona. Finally, the Nazis were really here in Israel.

Bowling pin from the time of German templers

The second world war begins

In 1939, the second world war started. The British decided to arrest all the Germans in Sarona again. As world war progressed and Germany started to control more and more regions in the world, the British decided to expel a few of the templers. But they did not expel them to Egypt as they did last time. The British expelled them to the far end of the globe, Australia.

At the end of the second world war, there were a few templers left in Israel and they tried to put pressure on the British government to reconstruct their houses. But the Jews did not want any more Germans in here. To make matters serious, the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah in 1946 assassinated one of the leaders of German templers. After the establishment of the State of Israel, a few remaining templers left the place to countries such as  Australia, Germany, and Cyprus.

Sarona becomes the British police camp

After the templers left in 1941, Sarona became a British police camp. In 1947, the British put forward the partition plan. The Arabs declined the plan and clashes between Jews and Arabs started. In 1941, the British were still here in Israel. The relations between the Jews and the British were complicated. The British at the beginning had promised the Jews that they will declare a state for the Jews but they rolled back later. It was the time when the Jewish military underground movements such as Haganah took a raise.

The night at the police station

One of the most landmark operations that the underground Jewish military movement Haganah executed is known as the “night at the police station.” The plan was to attack four police stations at one night. They executed three of them as planned but they were late at Sarona. The British could resist and, in the end, four members of the Haganah were killed by the British.

We have laptops and mobile phones, they had a typewriter and a landline.

The operation did not go as planned but something spectacular happened afterward. A huge number of people, almost 50000 people, attended their funeral of the dead members of the Haganah disregarding bad weather. BBC covered it and the support the members of the Haganah received from the Jewish community shocked the British government.

Establishment of the State of Israel

The same day when the British left David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel. He decided that the new Government will start functioning from Sarona. After the independence war, most of the government offices moved to Jerusalem. The first president of Israel moved to Sarona in 1949 and only after in 1952 when he died the Office of the President was moved to Jerusalem. The first President of the State of Israel worked from Sarona, and not from Jerusalem.

Replica of the office of the first president of the state of Israel.

Army moves into Sarona

Once all the government offices were moved to Jerusalem, the Israel government decided to move the headquarters of the army to Sarona. Certain offices of the army are still functioning at the northern part of Sarona.

A signboard that indicates photography is prohibited in the military zone.

First aircrafts were assembled in the templer winery

When the British left, they had some aircrafts that they decided to put up for auction. The young Israeli state needed aircrafts. The British really did not think that the Israelis would use that aircraft due to their terrible conditions.

Part of the underground tunnel connecting the two German templer wineries.

They moved the parts of aircrafts to the winery of the templers in Sarona. There are two wineries that interconnected by an underground tunnel. Out of 20 aircrafts they got, they successfully assembled 15 of them. Those were small aircraft that were used to bring supply to isolated places or to collect some injured persons etc. Israelis also used it for attacks, although they were not supposed to be used for attacks.

Sandstone-layered underground tunnel connecting the two wineries of German templers.
Quick tips

To prepare for your travel to Israel

To find the lowest airfares: Search Skyscanner first. They search almost all booking websites real-time to find you the best prices. Nine out ten times I book through Skyscanner. Momondo is another flight search engine that sometimes provides cheaper rates than Skyscanner.

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