Sunday, April 3, 2011

Emek Refaim Neigborhood

To know Jerusalem well, you must get to know its neighborhoods. When I first arrived in Israel in November, I couldn't tell you the difference between French Hill, the German Colony, Har Homa, Nachlaot, Rehavia, Talpiot and Katamon, just to name a few. It was all one big "balagan" (or, the English translation = disaster) in my head. I figured I would never really get to know the neighborhoods intimately. Fast forward 5 months however (wow, have I already been here that long?!) and I would have to say that I finally know the layout of Jerusalem and its neighborhoods well enough to give a pretty good driving tour of the city. One of the most cherished and prized neighborhoods in Jerusalem is that of Emek Refaim, or in other words, the German Colony of Jerusalem. 





Emek Refaim actually directly translates as "valley of ghosts" and is located just a short 5-minute car ride (or 20 minute walk by foot) from the city center. The history of the area dates back to the 1800s when German settlers arrived in the vicinity. Together, they built a garden suburb near the city center replete with luxurious houses in the same style as the one-story and two-story houses they had left behind back home. Fruit trees and vegetable gardens were planted between houses, and also, large leafy trees were planted for shade alongside the length of all the streets, creating a visually pleasing village-type atmosphere that had held up until even today's time.  The first thing that comes to mind when I think of "Emek", as it is referred to by locals, are the quiet, lived-in streets lined with leafy trees and adorable homes where you might see young mothers pushing strollers, high school students chattering together in groups, and dog owners walking their four-legged friends. Well, okay, the first thing I really think of is the main drag with all the enticing shops and eateries, but you get the idea.





In recent years, the German Colony has expanded to become one of the more desirable socializing areas of the city, with the streets dotted by restaurants, boutiques, hair salons, cafes and small businesses. So unique is the character of the area that local residents have joined together to  ban the development of residential high rises and hotels in hopes of maintaining the historic character of the neighborhood. New places that do pop up in the area are along the lines of boutique movie theaters, an arts and culture center, a local farmer's market, and small museums.  As per the character of the area, the neighborhood streets are all named after Zionists such as Lloyd George, Henry Patterson and Emile Zola.





It's impossible to stroll through Emek Refaim's alluring streets and not be enticed into a local restaurant. So, as is a common thing to do in the area, I met up with a friend to dine and to chat. We ended up at Caffit at 35 Emek Refaim St. (which, by the way, has huge portions as you can see in the images below). If you're curious to see a menu, click here. Since they are a famous for a trademark salad called "The Oreganatto", I had to try it. Although it didn't look too enticing to the eyes, it sure tasted delicious. My guest feasted on a dessert item (pictured below). Our waitress swore that this was the most amazing dessert of all time, but really it's just a big waffle with ice cream and fruit...we could have made it at home. Regardless, the ambiance of the restaurant was fantastic and our wonderful waitress gifted us with a free appetizer.


As you might remember from a previous post, I was thrilled to discover the boutique theater Lev Smadar in the German Colony area a few months back (see previous post here). This place is packed on weekends and is quite the gathering spot for movie-goers who want to enjoy a nice meal or cup of coffee before or after a cinema viewing. I've always loved indie-type of theaters, and so, this popular spot tops my list of things to do in the city.


Emek Refaim, or the German Colony, is a darling neighborhood in Jerusalem and is a very desirable area to live in. Of course, it's tough to grasp the feel of a place via words and pictures, but for the most part I hope you get the gist. I look forward to introducing you to other neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem in the near future.