Avihai Beker has 36 different tours of Berlin on offer. When guiding tourists from Israel around the German capital he also takes their particular wishes and preferences into account. He takes young people on excursions through the art and creative scene showing them, for example, the many small galleries in the Scheunenviertel, in the city’s Mitte district. With families he likes to make a detour to the Buchwald cake shop, which has existed for 160 years and whose speciality is Baumkuchen. He takes architects to the residential areas of modernist Berlin which caused such a sensation in the 1920s because of their innovative designs and colour concepts and which today are part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage.
“Formerly, the Israelis who came to Germany mainly had family roots here,” says Beker. So needless to say, his tours also include sites related to Germany’s turbulent history, which is clearly visible in Berlin. “At the moment, is it incredibly popular to fly to Germany, it’s become a bit trendy!” Avihai Beker actually lives in Tel Aviv. For several years now, however, the journalist has spent a total of four to five months every year in the German capital offering his special, individually-designed city tours for tourists from Israel. “I’m always fully booked,” he says. “Berlin has become a kind of ‘must’ for Israeli tourists.” Besides, Germany is currently a more popular destination for international tourists than ever before. Big sporting and cultural events, or tourist highlights like the Oktoberfest in Munich, attract visitors from all over the world and help to enhance the country’s image. Among Israelis, Germany is one of the favourite travel destinations in Europe – fourth on the list after France, Italy and Greece. The number of overnight stays by Israeli visitors rose by a remarkable 91.6% between 2002 and 2011. Berlin is first among the “must-sees”, but Munich, Frankfurt am Main, Dusseldorf and Cologne are also gaining in popularity among the guests from Israel. “We are kept very well informed about the travel habits of Israelis thanks to our office in Tel Aviv and also studies like World Travel Monitor and IPK Internationale,” says Petra Hedorfer, chair of the German National Tourist Board. According to the studies, almost 70% of the Israeli visitors in 2010 were tourists; 20% were in Germany for business reasons and 11% were visiting friends and relatives. The majority of the guests from Israel, about 66%, stayed overnight in hotels; the average time spent in Germany was a week.
In 2012 in particular, city-guide Chaim Eytan claims that the interest of Israeli visitors in his adopted hometown of Munich was huge. “The many festivals in Munich, the Hofbräuhaus, the English Garden, but the numerous businesses in the region as well, are attracting more and more people from Israel to the city.” Eytan has been taking Israeli groups on tours around the Bavarian capital for many years.
“Needless to say, the former concentration camp in Dachau is an important place for Jewish visitors,” he emphasizes. Many want to go and see the historical National Socialist sites, the places that testify to the destruction of Jewish life, like the location of the former main synagogue at Karlstor. But part of his city tours also focuses on current Jewish life here, such as the new community centre on Jakobsplatz, with its synagogue, museum and kosher restaurant. With Munich as a base, there is much to be discovered in the surrounding region: the Upper Bavarian Lake District and the fairytale castles of Ludwig II attract Israeli tourists as much as the Romantic Route or a daytrip to neighbouring Austria, to Salzburg or Innsbruck. “Young Israelis in particular are fascinated by skiing,” Eytan says. “During the winter months many come to Germany, rent a car in Munich, drive into the mountains, and then finish up with a week’s city tour.”