- Das Deutsche Johanniter-Hospiz in Jerusalem by Jakob Eisler
Jakob Eisler documents a place of great importance to generations of German pilgrims, missionaries, and scholars of the Middle East. The Guesthouse of the German Order of Saint John (Johanniter) was much more than its name suggests. The Johanniter are well known in Germany for their hospitals, emergency healthcare services, and charitable work. Resurrected in 1853 by Prussia’s King Frederick William IV, the Knightly Order of Saint John (of the Balley of Brandenburg) claimed the crusading Hospitalers as its lineage. The Order continues today as a Protestant institution, and its Herrenmeisteren (Lord Masters) still come from the Hohenzollern family: Oscar Prinz von Preussen currently serves as Herrenmeister. The term guesthouse or Hospiz can also be misleading. The Johanniter Hospiz in Jerusalem served as a hotel for European dignitaries and scholars, a hostel for German pilgrims and journeymen, and a hospital for all in times of conflict.
As an institutional history for the Order of Saint John, Eisler’s study details the religious and charitable impulses that weave through the story of western incursion in the Middle East. Eisler points out that Jerusalem was a focal point of intensive European missionary efforts in the nineteenth century. Combining romanticized nationalism and Christianity with heated competition for global markets and world power, European enclaves in the city expanded dramatically. Eisler describes the creation of the original Prussian Guesthouse (1851–58), its transition to the Johanniter in 1858, its vigorous expansion under the Ottoman Empire (1858–1914/18), its unfortunate downfall from World War I to 1963, and the re-establishment of the Hospiz since 1964.
By the late-nineteenth century, the Johanniter Hospiz had become a center of an expanding network of German missionary work. Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife, Auguste Victoria, visited Jerusalem in 1898, which heralded greater German influence in local affairs. German groups erected churches, chapels, and several monuments; expanded postal services through the region; and funded charitable projects through the Auguste Victoria Foundation. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, however, the Hospiz fell on hard times. By the end of World War II, the German community in Jerusalem was either deported or interned. Part of the guesthouse converted to a polyclinic; the other became a private residence. In 1964, however, the Johanniter were able to return and resume health-care services.
Western missionary imperialism is given its human face in this type of institutional history. As Eisler’s research shows, several generations of German Protestants [End Page 161] particularly became aware of poverty in Jerusalem while learning the city’s history through Johanniter publications. Supporters of the Hospiz helped educate local children, build and maintain orphanages, and provide community hunger relief. Thus, the history of the Johanniter Hospiz demonstrates how German nationalism, imperialism, missionary work, and even Middle Eastern scholarship intersected in one locale.