My Jerusalem trip had nothing to do with religion, even though the majority of Jerusalem tourists go there on pilgrimage for religious reasons. I have nothing whatsoever to do with that. Also, since a large part of my Brazilian family has become more and more intensely involved with the subject and their own religion is now omnipresent. This disturbs me very much and more and more often provides fertile ground for conflicts, because everyone secretly thinks that his faith is the only true one. This is a development that is taking place in many areas in Brazil right now – and sometimes I worry whether this religious mania will not take a turn for the worse at some point. Maybe that’s why the trip to Jerusalem was so intense for me. So first of all: This travelogue Jerusalem is very personal, some may experience it differently – but that is part of traveling.
From Berlin to Tel Aviv: Adventure Israel
My trip was simply not under a good star. I flew from Berlin directly to Tel Aviv and because I probably just wanted to know, I chose the Israeli house airline. Were the security measures there really that different? Indeed. Totally unprepared as always, I found myself just before the check-in counter in an intense interview regarding my travel plans and living conditions in Berlin. The forceful conversation felt so much like interrogation to me that I feared my counterpart would throw me into a secret airport dungeon at any moment and leave me there to rot. Because of whatever. But then he didn’t. Drenched in sweat, I then had to have my luggage subjected to an intensive baggage check, and at some point I was worthy of check-in after all. But my mood was down and I would have loved to go home crying again. Already started well.
I had never thought about Jerusalem before. Actually, only coincidence provided for this trip. So I arrived there early in the morning relatively clueless. Relatively amazed. Jerusalem is THE center of three world religions that, as we know, don’t necessarily always like each other. But I felt this tension all over the city, always. It is curious when you consider that all these religions propagate love and peace.
What not to miss in the old town
Jerusalem’s Old City is peppered with world-famous sights that you must see. You can find the most important ones here, but I also recommend my great Jerusalem Guide. There you will find more sights outside the Old City and many practical tips for your trip to Jerusalem.
#1 The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is hidden almost in the middle of the Old City, and if it weren’t for the vapor trails of thousands of tour groups rushing there to show the way, one would hardly suspect one of the greatest sanctuaries of Christianity behind the inconspicuous facade.
On the spot where the church was later built, Jesus is said to have been crucified. And his grave is said to be here. Because the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is therefore of importance to pretty much every Christian denomination, many interest groups have been bickering about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre since time immemorial. At some point, this led to the keys for the church being passed on within a certain Muslim family – someone then comes with the key in the morning and in the evening and unlocks or locks it. Crazy.
#2 The Wailing Wall
The Wailing Wall with the Temple Mount and the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock is probably one of the most famous postcard motifs of Jerusalem, oh, probably of Israel too. A pilgrimage site of (Orthodox) Judaism, therefore men and women pray here separately. The access is regulated, you must first pass one of the security checks. The scene couldn’t have been more fitting when a youth group suddenly appeared and everyone happily sang Hava Nagila and danced in a circle.
#3 The David’s Citadel
The David’s Citadel next to the Jaffator offers not only an informative museum about the city’s history, but also a great view over the old town. In the evening, there’s also an open-air light show inside the citadel. Sounds like tourist kitsch, but is very impressive against the unique backdrop of the fortress. (Admission prices and opening hours on the museum’s website.)
#4 The labyrinth of alleys in the old town
The Old City of Jerusalem is largely made up of small, narrow streets and at every corner of this labyrinth of alleys, one believes the history of the city – heck, of all mankind! – to be able to experience. If only these massive walls could talk. You can easily spend a whole day in the old town and just drift around. You almost don’t have any other choice, because sooner or later your own sense of direction will leave you in the maze of alleys anyway. What is very nice: If you think that the old town is just a place full of tourist gimmicks, you are wrong. Certainly there are many souvernir stores, with the amount of tourists that stream through Jerusalem’s Old City every day, it’s no wonder. But there is also real, local life going on!
The Jerusalem Syndrome and Me
In fact, during my stay in Jerusalem, I felt more and more uncomfortable by the hour. Rarely has a place irritated me so much. I wonder if it was the overdose of religion. I left in a hurry back home because all I wanted to do was get away. And that, although I would actually have liked to watch more to get a better picture. In fact, I was there on the occasion of an event sponsored by the local tourist office, and therefore rather took us to places that left the overall picture of Jerusalem rather incomplete – I think you know what I mean.
Behind closed doors, I was repeatedly advised to take a look at the Palestinian part, which was completely different. Anyway, I found the mood in Jerusalem so oppressive – or rather my personal mood – that I lasted only a few days in Jerusalem. However, as a colleague who knows Israel later assured me, strong reactions are not uncommon among visitors to Jerusalem.
Some have miraculous apparitions, receive some spiritual messages or just get the crisis from religion, like me. Jerusalem Syndrome actually refers to a mental disorder in which sufferers suffer from religious delusions – sounds amusing, but somehow there is a strange energy emanating from Jerusalem that one is no longer surprised that some people are so strongly attracted to this city.
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