German Jerusalem

by Thomas Sparr / translated by Stephen Brown

‘An elegiac, anecdotal study’
Literary Review 

‘Sparr … is an engaging guide, with a fine eye for detail. Ably translated by Stephen Brown, he walks us through apartments, schools and cafes and takes us into the lives of Rehavia’s former luminaries and visitors. German Jerusalem is a sparkling introduction with a dazzling cast.’
Times Literary Supplement

‘This engag­ing­ly writ­ten his­to­ry brings a sig­nif­i­cant neigh­borhood to life as it nar­rates the sto­ry of its res­i­dents, entic­ing those who may not be famil­iar with this part of Jerusalem to fur­ther explore its his­tor­i­cal roots as well as its mod­ern joys.’
Jewish Book Council


‘The greatest Weimar poets, thinkers and creators gathered in a couple of elevated neighbourhoods and dreamed an impossible dream. Thomas Sparr brings it brilliantly to life in this scintillating evocation of an intellectual paradise.’ 
Norman Lebrecht, author of Genius and Anxiety

‘[Sparr’s] tome effectively performs the function of a topographical Gedenkbuch – a memorial book comprised of a dense, spatio-temporal network of names and addresses, recording who settled here and when.’
Nicolas Whybrow, University of Warwick

‘Based on intimate knowledge, careful study and eloquent style, Thomas Sparr takes the reader through Rehavia…’
Menachem Klein, author of Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron

‘I highly recommend this book which brings to life a first-class historical/human story of Rehavia as Jerusalem’s intellectual, cultural and architectural landmark.’
David Kroyanker

‘Lively and poignant, German Jerusalem captures the key personalities and spirit of a remarkable time and place. This book will no doubt contribute to a greater appreciation of vital aspects of Jerusalem’s history that are in danger of being eclipsed from memory.’
Michael Berkowitz

‘Thomas Sparr, an observent literary-historical flâneur, explores the past and present of the district. He sketches cameos, real and imagined, of the thoughts, actions, and interactions of some of its luminaries, such as the philosopher-theologian Martin Buber, the architect Erich Mendelsohn, the poet and dramatist Else Leasker-Schüler, and the kabbalist Gershom Scholem. As we wander with Sparr into their living rooms, libraries, and cafés, peer into their correspondence, and overhear their conversations, a unique milieu of modernist culture emerges into view.’
Bernard Wasserstein, author of On the Eve: The Jew of Europe before the Second World War

‘A compelling chronicle of an oft-overlooked piece of 20th-century European history’
Kirkus Review

‘[Sparr is] like one of those highly-qualified ‘blue’ guides who know so much about London – and can make every detail interesting.’
Kirkus Review

‘Sparr’s intellectual enterprise of reconstitution and research of half-erased traces is eminently seductive.’
History: Reviews of New Books Journal

Planned at the beginning of the 1920s as a garden city on the fringes of Jerusalem, the suburbs of Talbiyeh and Rehavia became a centre of emigration for German Jews from 1933 onwards, acquiring the nickname ‘Grunewald on the Orient’ – a reference to the residential south-western district of Berlin. The neighbourhood became a vibrant German–Jewish microcosm with residents including the poet and playwright Else Lasker-Schüler, the historian Gershom Scholem, and the philosopher and scholar Martin Buber. It was an idyllic setting, but life was also tough and could be unforgiving; the city had long been divided, and the residents of Talbiyeh and Rehavia found themselves caught up in the conflict. After the war, the recent history of the Shoah weighed heavily on the neighbourhood’s inhabitants, but it also became a place of German Israeli rapprochement. German Jerusalem is a story of a culturally distinctive community, and a fascinating biography of those who lived and worked there.

THOMAS SPARR worked at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem’s Leo Baeck Institute from 1986 to 1989. Today he lives in Berlin where he works as an editor-at-large for Suhrkamp and as an independent writer and scholar.

STEPHEN BROWN is a playwright, translator, and cultural critic.

Additional information



Published Date


Read Excerpt