The Berwald panel, with his picture and the sketch of the cooperation’s buildings in his handwriting.

Alexander Berwald, the Cooperation architect

During their first year in Merchavia, the settlers lived in dismal huts left behind by Arab workers in Fulla, the small tenant farmers village on the hill where the crusader fortress La Feve once stood. These mud huts, roofed by rotten straw and paved with earth and old manure, were scalding in summer and freezing in winter and filled with rats, bed bugs, dirt and countless viruses. The open windows drew in malaria mosquitoes and the members became sick one after the other.

In order to improve living conditions, some shacks were built on the hill. The Turks did not allow it but the farmers found the perfect solution: according to Turkish law, a roofed house must not be destroyed. When the settlers built the first shack, a Turkish officer arrived and demanded to see the building license. The settlers welcomed him, offered him food and drink and friendly chatted with him on everything they could think of –politics, crops, the weather, his family and so forth. This conversation lasted until daybreak (while the rest of the members worked all night). When morning came, the officer went out to check the location– and returned to Nazareth with a legal confirmation that he found an appropriate roofed house.

(Guards standing near the barn with the first shack in the background)

The Great Courtyard was built in Merchavia in 1912, according to the plans of the renowned Jewish –German architect Alexander Berwald at the request of his good friend, Frantz Oppenheimer. Berwald, who is considered the father of modern Israeli architecture, was born in Berlin in 1887, studied architecture there and became very famous upon winning professional prizes. When World War I ended (He served as an officer in the German navy and was appointed submarine commander, an eminent position no other Jew has ever reached before him), he immigrated to Israel, founded the Architecture faculty in Haifa’s Technion and taught there. In his works, Berwald attempted to combine European style with oriental motifs, planned and supervised the construction of many public buildings in Israel (among them the old Technion, “Anglo – Palestine bank”, Haifa’s center, “Emek” hospital in Yizreel Valley and others. Berwald died in 1930 and was buried in Jerusalem.

(Alexander Berwald’s panel)

The Great Courtyard was planned according to the pattern of fortified farms in 19th century Germany, with oriental motifs of stylized arches: a square courtyard of 100x100 meters with the farm buildings (stables, dairy, storage places) on its north, living quarters on its east and workshops (carpentry, locksmith, bakery, dining room, kitchen) on its west. The south, a steep slope, was left open for future expansion. A high water tower was erected in the courtyard’s center.

(The great Courtyard model)

The living quarters and barn were made of strong Galilee stone while the farm building was built using cement bricks. Stonemasons were brought from Jerusalem and Pekii’n in the Galilee, which was the only Jewish settlement in Israel whose inhabitants were not exiled and maintained a continuous Jewish existence in the Galilee from Second Temple era until today.

(The stonemasons from Jerusalem while building the houses)

The water tower in the courtyard center was the first Israeli cement pillar-supported construction (a ground-level cement construction was built before it in Petach Tikvah), and many visitors came to see how such a heavy big water reservoir stands on pillars which were built using a nearly unfamiliar technique.

(The water tower during its construction)

In order to coordinate your visit the Great Courtyard, please call Shlomo Sdeur and inform him of the date and hour you will be coming. Mr. Sdeur’s cell phone number: 052/3638156.