When Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, heard that Kaiser Wilhelm II planned to visit Jerusalem, he purchased a ticket of his own. True, the Kaiser, Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia, wasn’t in the least interested in creating a home for the Jews in the land of Israel. But Herzl hoped that if they met on the soil of the Holy Land, he might be able to win him over.
Herzl docked at Jaffa port on October 28, 1898 and traveled by train to Jerusalem. While he spent the next few days biting his nails in anticipation of his meeting, Wilhelm gallivanted around the city. In fact, within the space of a week, the Emperor managed to visit every German institution in Jerusalem, along with the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the Mount of Olives.
Wilhem began a tour of the Old City tour on October 29. That day, Wilhelm, his wife, and an enormous entourage began making their way through the streets of Jerusalem by horse and by carriage. They proceeded along HaNevi’im Street as far as today’s Davidka Square on Jaffa Road.
Three spectacular gates had been prepared for Wilhelm’s pleasure along that main road. Jewish Gate, the most elaborate and impressive of all three, boasted silk curtains embroidered with silver and gold. Greeting the Kaiser at the gate were the two chief rabbis and dignitaries from the local Jewish community.
Jewish Gate stretched from Davidka Square across Jaffa Road to the Alliance Israelite Universelle, founded in 1882 as one of the only two modern educational facilities in the city. Staff at the school included Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who took the position on condition that classes would be held in Hebrew.
City Council Gate was probably situated next to Gan Daniel, adjacent to City Hall and Jerusalem’s oldest public garden. Also known as Gan Ha’ir (City Garden), it was far larger when established in 1892 than it is today.
Gan Daniel garden is named for Daniel Auster, who served as Jerusalem’s first Jewish mayor after the establishment of the State of Israel. In its early years the garden hosted colorful outdoor concerts. Conducted by a Russian Jew, they were performed by a Turkish orchestra in striking regalia.
Before entering the Old City, Wilhelm passed through yet another gate, named for Sultan Abdel Hamid. It was a marvelously ornate structure brought over from Constantinople and boasting two red and white minarets crowned with golden crescents.
Wilhelm was to enter the Old City through Jaffa Gate. But aware that Wilhelm and his extensive entourage would never make it through such a small opening, the Turks breached a gap in the wall that connected the gate with the Citadel, plugged up the adjacent moat and created a second and wider point of access — today the vehicular entrance to the Old City.
After advancing into the Old City, Wilhelm dismounted, and Empress Augusta Victoria alighted from her carriage, next to the Tower of David. They descended the steps on David Street and turned into Christian Street. At St. Helena Street they headed right to reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and subsequent resurrection.
Of some 300 churches erected under the Byzantines, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built in 335, was the largest, the most extravagant and the most important. Little remains of this wondrous original basilica, which was destroyed by the Persian invaders in 614. What stands today is the Romanesque church constructed by the Crusaders over a 50-year period and inaugurated in 1149. It is far smaller and much less ornate than the original Byzantine basilica but still most impressive to behold!
In 1869, Turkish sultan Abed el-Aziz granted German Crown Prince Frederich the gift of land near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on which to build a German Lutheran church. The plot came complete with a pile of ruins — remains from a medieval sanctuary called the Church of St. Maria Latina.
Once a magnificent structure, St. Maria Latina was renovated by the Crusaders in the middle of the 12th century. The German Church of the Redeemer was designed to follow St. Maria Latina’s lines as closely as possible, and the architect even incorporated the ancient decorative entrance into an external wall.
Crown Prince Frederich, who died of cancer only 99 days after taking the throne in 1888, did not live to see the church completed. Thus it was his son Wilhelm II who dedicated the sanctuary to the Redeemer on this, his first visit to the Holy Land.
Each night Wilhelm and his followers adjourned to a vacant lot on HaNevi’im Street, filled with imperial tents.
On November 2, 1898, Herzl met with the Emperor on this historic site – today the Jerusalem Ort Oleiski College — to discuss Zionist issues.
But, in the event, Wilhelm hemmed and hawed and remained annoyingly neutral.
Indeed, Herzl wrote in his journal that “he didn’t say ‘yes’ and he didn’t say ‘no’.”
Who knows what might have happened had Wilhelm given his wholehearted support to Herzl’s cause.
Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel.
Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.
I’ll tell you the truth: Life here in Israel isn’t always easy. But it's full of beauty and meaning.
I'm proud to work at The Times of Israel alongside colleagues who pour their hearts into their work day in, day out, to capture the complexity of this extraordinary place.
I believe our reporting sets an important tone of honesty and decency that's essential to understand what's really happening in Israel. It takes a lot of time, commitment and hard work from our team to get this right.
Your support, through membership in The Times of Israel Community, enables us to continue our work. Would you join our Community today?
Sarah Tuttle Singer, New Media Editor
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we come to work every day - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.