Historic German Bakery in Old Tel Aviv to Get Academic Makeover

A Tel Aviv building that served as a German community center over a hundred years ago is being renovated and filled with classrooms for architecture students.

The building on 18 David Elazar Street in the heart of the Templer colony of Sarona, now next to the Kirya in Tel Aviv, was a café and bakery during the first half of the 20th century. It was run by the Gunther family, which came to Palestine at the end of the 19th century. Willy Gunther and his wife Erica used recipes they brought with them from Germany to prepare special items, like strudel and cream.

In the yard of the two-story building, there was a small dancing area, where an old gramophone played pleasant music every evening. Surrounded by greenery, the area was paved with black and white ceramic tiles and lit up with globular lights. During the summers, people stopped by to enjoy their coffee and cake in the shade of the eucalyptus tree, which still stands there to this day.

“Many Tel Aviv residents used to come by and purchase Gunther’s special buns, as well as enjoying a sandwich while sitting at one of the tables. The place was bustling with activity,” wrote Yonatan Mamluk, the son of the Germany Colony’s pharmacist, who spent his childhood among the Templers, a German Protestant sect. In his memoirs, Mamluk, who died last year, described the special German-style buns that were baked on the premises. These included a round Kaiser bun with a cross-shaped wedge in the middle and a long, folded over bun known as a "salt" or "caraway seed" bun.

The Gunther family came to Palestine in the 1870s, settling in an orange grove near Jaffa. The oldest son, Emmanuel, was born in Palestine and died in Germany during World War II. His son Willy Gunther opened the legendary café in 1934 in the Sarona building, which the family built as a house before World War I.

Elegant advertisements for the café adorned the newspapers of the period. Alcoholic beverages were also served there, a fact Gunther made sure to publicize in the Palestine Post on October 31, 1938. “I, Willy Gunther, announce that I have petitioned the local council for an extension until 1939 of my permit to sell alcoholic drinks at my café and bar in Sharona,” the advertisement read.

The special atmosphere drew British, German and Jewish clients to spend time at the café. Children would come with their parents to taste the ice cream on offer there.

The Templers, some of whom supported the Nazis, were harassed, arrested and expelled by the British during the second world war. The building where Gunther's café operated until 1944 was occupied by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and later by the rehabilitation branch of the Defense Ministry and the management of the Military Industries.

Now, as part of the conversion of the Sarona Colony into a shopping, cultural and entertainment complex, the building has been converted into classrooms for the Technion – Institute of Technology's Tel Aviv campus. When its renovation is complete, it will serve students of preservation, architecture and entrepreneurship. Sunday will see the inauguration of the transformed building, along with other public buildings that are managed by the Tel Aviv-Jaffo municipal company Ahuzat Hahof.

Next to the former cafe stand two more reconstructed buildings that will also serve as part of the Technion campus. They contain beautiful frescoes that were restored by the experts at the Tchelet Studio, managed by Shai Farkash and Eli Shaltiel.

In one of the buildings, located on 20 David Elazar Street, lived the Pflugfelder family, among the founders of the Sarona colony. Christian Pflugfelder operated an olive oil press there. The building later hosted the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Another building nearby housed the owner of the largest dairy and orange groves in Sarona. After 1948, it was occupied by different government offices.

Moti Milrod