Homes Steeped in Jewish Heritage
Property prices are rising in some of the old Jewish quarters in Europe, spurred by home buyers drawn to the character and culture of these neighborhoods.
In the fall, Lane Auten, an American real-estate developer who lives in Barcelona, began marketing 10 condominiums in an early 19th-century building he restored in the Call, Barcelona’s medieval Jewish quarter.
Next door is a Jewish museum that opened in 2002 on the site of a medieval synagogue. So far, half of the apartments have sold for between $650,000 and $1.35 million, said Mr. Lane, managing partner of ARC Properties, a Barcelona-based real-estate developer.
The existence of a developer that would make Jewish heritage part of a marketing plan is a big change, said Adi Mahler, co-founder of Barcelona Dreaming, a tour company that specializes in the city’s Jewish history. “There was no awareness whatsoever about Jewish heritage” for many years, said Mr. Mahler, who noted that Barcelona’s Jewish history was largely erased after 1391, when Jews were massacred or forced to convert to Christianity.
Mr. Auten’s condos are one example of a new appreciation for traditionally Jewish neighborhoods in parts of Europe. Haunted by harsh conditions for Jews over the centuries and the specter of the Holocaust, these areas are now being embraced by both Jewish home buyers and non-Jews who value their unique character. Tourists are drawn by museums, guided tours and cultural events that explore Jewish history, and cafes, bars and restaurants have opened to cater to them.
In Rome, Andrea Colavita, 34, with the help of his father, Enrico Colavita, 71, purchased a $2.1 million, three-bedroom apartment in the Jewish quarter in November. The apartment overlooks the area’s main square and synagogue. The elder Mr. Colavita lives with his wife just down the street in an apartment he bought seven years ago.
Although the family isn’t Jewish, that aspect of the neighborhood was a draw for them. “I am interested in their traditions,” said Enrico Colavita, president of Colavita, an olive-oil producer. “They live in a way I used to live with my grandparents.”
Jews arrived in Rome in 161 B.C., said Yael Calò, a historian and guide at the Jewish Museum of Rome. While welcome in Roman and Italian society in different periods, Jews were required from 1555 to 1870 to live within the overcrowded and disease-ridden quarter. In October of 1943, many Jews of the quarter were sent to death camps, Ms. Calò said.
The area began gentrifying in the early 2000s amid the renovation of the Jewish Museum. Foreign tourists visited in search of Jewish history and culture, fueling the popularity of restaurants serving Judeo-Roman food, said Ms. Calò.
A 1,000-square-foot apartment in need of renovation might sell today for about $500,000, while a nicely designed penthouse could sell for about twice that, said Diletta Giorgolo Spinola, head of sales for Rome and Tuscany Sotheby’s International Realty.
In Berlin, the Scheunenviertel neighborhood dates to the 17th century and was home to several synagogues and Jewish institutions. Before World War II, the area was poor and rundown, making it affordable for Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, said Yoav Sapir, a guide with Berlin Jewish Tours who is an expert in German-Jewish history.
Most of the neighborhood’s Jewish residents who were still there when World War II began were killed. After the war, the division of the city put Scheunenviertel under East German control. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, many vacant buildings were gutted and rebuilt. Artists were eventually commissioned to construct public works commemorating the Jewish experience, said Mr. Sapir, who takes clients on guided tours of the area.
In the past three years, Berlin’s startup tech scene has drawn a global expat crowd, boosting property prices in Scheunenviertel, said Sebastian Fischer, managing director of Engel & Völkers Berlin. Today, renovated one-bedroom apartments cost, on average, about $630,000; larger penthouses typically range from $2 million to $3 million, Mr. Fischer said.
In Poland, the turnaround in Krakow’s Kazimierz neighborhood was sparked in 1993, said Jonathan Ornstein, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Krakow. That year, film director Steven Spielberg shot the movie “Schindler’s List” in the neighborhood, which helped kick-start interest in the Jewish Quarter’s lost heritage, Mr. Ornstein said.
Sydney Sadowski, a Polish-American from Portland, Ore., bought an apartment in Kazimierz in 2013. Before embarking on her search, Ms. Sadowski, a 47-year-old academic theologian, assumed Kazimierz would be a quiet, inexpensive neighborhood. Its history—devastation in the Holocaust followed by neglect in the Communist era—insulated it from development for decades.
Instead, “it had become a place to party,” she said. “There’s a young community and they have an incredible Jewish festival,” Ms. Sadwoski said. She bought a two-bedroom, 2½-bathroom apartment with 12-foot ceilings for roughly $323,000 within walking distance of the neighborhood. Last year, she moved back to the U.S. full time, although she still plans to visit Poland often. Her apartment is listed for $340,000.
Developer Ron Ben Shahar, co-owner of Angel Poland, completed construction of Angel Wawel in Krakow last year. The building, which sits on the border of Kazimierz, has 235 luxury units with amenities that include a pool, spa and wine cellar and is fully sold out, Mr. Ben Shahar said. Prices range from roughly $120,000 for an unfinished studio to just under $2 million for large penthouses with luxury finishings, said Grzegorz Ryzio, an agent for Hamilton May Real Estate Co.
Last month, Ken Goto and Anna Raus, of Emerald Hills, Calif., bought a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Angel Wawel for $330,000. Ms. Raus, a 41-year-old sales manager for a technology company, is originally from Poland; Mr. Goto, her husband, is a 48-year-old tech entrepreneur. Though they are not Jewish, being near Kazimierz and having access to its Jewish heritage—and restaurants—is a bonus, the couple said.
“What we liked about it is that it has its own flavor,” said Ms. Raus.