Religion, history, tension: Jerusalem

When you travel to Israel you definitely will also come and visit Jerusalem. It is the capital of the country and definitely worth a stop. Never before I saw so much history and religion on such a small spot. Nevertheless I also was warned about the ongoing tensions which still exist and a person, who lived long enough in Israel to know better told me I should visit the important spots, but be careful, and rather invest my time in also exploring the nature of the country (an advice I followed and was very happy about it). Many guides recommend 4 days and up  – I stayed two nights, did a 2/3 day trip on one of the days and still think I saw the most important places.

I arrived in Jerusalem after the lazy day in Tiberius, and the whole atmosphere of the overwhelmed me in the moment I climbed out of the sherut. Already when we drove downtown through the different borrows of the newer part of the town I realized, that this city is different from what I saw before.

I jumped off at the central bus station and needed some minutes to find the right tram to my hostel, the Abraham hostel, which is located perfectly in the new part of the city, just a ~15 min walk away from the old town. It’s close to the tram station and to a lively big street, where you can get everything from food to drinks and postcards, clothes and shoes. I loved the atmosphere there, the people were mixed in concerns of age, origin and gender. The staff was welcoming, the rooms clean, the bar huge, the rooftop (incl. activities such as rooftop cinema) cosy and breakfast had all you need. They organise great tours too, but I will talk about the tour I took in another post.

Since I realized that the atmosphere in Jerusalem was way more influenced by religion and I also wanted to visit some religous areas, I changed my shorts and tank top to leggings and longshirt as well as I took a scarf with me before I started my city walk. I entered the old town at Jaffa Gate and grabbed one of the free maps at the tourist info. But actually the whole city was signed with direction marks so well that you hardly need a map. At the most important spots there are lots of tourists, but in between in the little streets you can enjoy getting lost between the mix of people. I found it fascinating that so many people still work and live on such a small area and in those old buildings.

As usual I just let go and let all the impressions come up to me. I strolled around in the streets between the shops, had some juice, watched the life. You will find historical and religious traces everywhere.  Of course I visited all the famous places inlcuding the church of holy sepulchre and the big western wall. The church is currently under heavy construction and you can’t see all the parts of it, but after a bit of waiting I was allowed to get into the chamber. It was pretty busy at the wall, including army girls taking selfies directly while praying. But it was impressive to stand there and see all the little letters that are stuck between the rocks. The atmosphere is definitely powerful and you feel all the emotions. I still wear the red band the gave to me for my little donations before entering the area and it reminds me of the moments there.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit the temple mountain with the dome of rocks on that afternoon, so I came back two days later before leaving Jerusalem, very early in the morning. I really wanted to visit the holiest place for three religions (jews, muslims, christs). Be prepared: as a lady, wear decent clothes, bring your passport and stay calm, when they start to check you. Sometimes even then you are unlucky and are not allowed to go up. I was, but when a police officer shouted at me if I was jewish or a tourist, an old lady from a jewish group told them I was with them – which was the worst thing to do for me. Because since an attack by jewish people on muslims, Jews are no longer allowed to go up to the dome itself. They are supervised by police officers and temple security staff (in my case 11 men, three of them with rifles, helmets and bulletproof vests). Every step was filmed. I was very intimidated to be honest, in the middle of a group where I couldn’t understand a word, not really knowing what happens next. Luckily, a lady who spoke English very well explained the whole situation to me. And I was a bit disappointed to be refused to go up to the level where the dome is located.

On the way home to the hostel, a friendly shop owner with fluent German and English invited me to a cup of tea, because I helped him translating a little placard for his shop. We talked a while about the world and it was once again very interesting to see how strongly the mix of cultures, your origin and history influences viewpoints. As usual I refused to talk about politics and religions too much,since this can start getting dangerous very quickly. But listening to the lifetime stories of people all over the world is always impressive.

Which was also the reason why the evenings at Abraham’s were so amazing – I met so many great people with interesting stories while having the one or the other beer. I also got to now a fabulous German girl from my room on the trip on the next day. With her, I spent a great evenening having dinner at Mahane Yehuda and we took a walk through the busy orthodox quarter Mea Sharim together. I defintely wouldn’t have done that without her – which would have been a pity, because it was impressive to see this part of the city too (of course with suiting clothes and respect).

From my point of view, it is a must to go to Jerusalem, otherwise you really can’t understand the country or the history of Israel. There is a special atmosphere and as long as you don’t keep your eyes stuck in the travel guide and open them for all the things that happen there, you will discover great things around every corner. Yes, the mentality is different and might definitely harder to understand as in onther places. But isn’t that the same when you compare New York with the rest of the US? As great as Tel Avis is, it is only one part of Israel and you should soak up all kinds of views to understand a culture.

I was often asked if it was dangerous – I personally can say I never felt like there was a dangerous situation. No guys harrassing me, trying to steal, getting aggressive like in the horror stories you hear.I think this also came from my personal attitude not to be hysterical and distrusting.But keep an eye on travel warnings – it seems like as if there could be some difficult topics in the near future. And the security warning was always higher than in the rest of the country. I just used my brain to avoid tricky situations. Be open, respectful and calm,

And if you want to hear a personal recommendation from me: also visit the old town very early in the morning. It is amazing to see the lonely streets without the open shops and get an impression of how life could have been hundreads of years ago.

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