Mr. Fallenberg found a real estate agent and looked at 20 places in the Old City, Acre’s ancient neighborhood of winding streets and narrow, often dilapidated homes. He found a four-room home still under the ownership of a family whose great-grandfather had come to Acre from Turkey. Three years later, after many months of restoration and renovation, Mr. Fallenberg is calling his new home Arabesque, with its motif taken from the stenciled signature on a home just down the block that is owned by the grandfather of Suha Arafat, the widow of Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
It took time to turn a rundown apartment of original Crusader stones and Turkish elements into a livable space. Mr. Fallenberg was determined to do a proper renovation and restoration in his new home, a project that cost far more than he had originally intended. In fact, he has ended up turning his home into a writers’ retreat as a way of offsetting the costs of the renovation, and fulfilling a long-held dream of offering a place that would help Israeli artists work on their own projects.
“We did everything according to the book,” said Mr. Fallenberg, who hired a stonemason and his team to do the first portion of work, which involved “peeling” back the walls to discover the original stones underneath.
“I had him walk around the house to understand the stones,” said Mr. Fallenberg. “When I saw what they were doing, I understood there’s no other way to work on this kind of stone.”
Part of a wall in one bedroom was built with Crusader-era stones, while another bedroom included an ancient passageway constructed with three arches from the Crusader period. That was made into a unique en-suite bathroom. There were windows in unusual locations in the bedrooms, sometimes between two rooms or high up on the walls for ventilation purposes. The original floors were not in usable condition to be restored to their original stones, and Mr. Fallenberg had them paved with a colorful Persian tile pattern mimicking the Turkish period, with touches of the cerulean blue found throughout Acre.
The rooms were unusual for their great height and ceiling design, with arches that meet at the center. Mr. Fallenberg said he was loath to cover any of the original stones in whitewash, but his architect, an expert in local restoration, convinced him that there could be such a thing as too much stonework.
The home is now entered from the street, like all of his neighbors’ homes, into the bright living-dining room that also houses the kitchen, and then exits into a traditional internal courtyard lined with a fountain and miniature orange trees planted in stone urns. Three spacious bedrooms are entered from the courtyard, each with its own touches of the ancient stonework and character, as well as a stack of Mr. Fallenberg’s favorite novels in each one.
But the most promising part of the Acre home is the connections Mr. Fallenberg made with local Acre residents. When he first moved in, it was his Muslim next-door neighbors, whose house shares a wall with Mr. Fallenberg’s, who immediately welcomed Mr. Fallenberg and his son, Micha, a partner in the house project.
The neighboring family of two parents and adult children immediately became involved in Arabesque, helping out with the renovation work, bringing food, inviting the Fallenbergs for meals and generally making them feel welcome. “I couldn’t have succeeded if they weren’t there, doing a lot of small things,” Mr. Fallenberg said. “Maybe the biggest thing is that he broadcast to the neighborhood that this guy is O.K., these people are O.K., let’s trust them.”
Mr. Fallenberg isn’t the only Israeli to purchase property in Acre’s Old City. There are others, including the restaurateur Uri Jeremias, who first brought Israelis back to Acre 22 years ago with his seafood restaurant Uri Buri. Mr. Jeremias also introduced a much larger project, restoring two Ottoman-era palaces into a luxurious 12-room boutique hotel called the Efendi, located around the corner from Mr. Fallenberg’s Arabesque.
“People see Acre real estate as an investment, but it’s different for me, because this is the only home I own,” Mr. Fallenberg said. At an opening party to which he invited locals and friends, an older woman dressed in traditional clothing entered and sang a welcome song in Arabic, something that would normally be done only at a family party, another neighbor explained.
“ ‘This is your acceptance to the neighborhood,’ ” Mr. Fallenberg said he was told. “I never guessed that anyone would do that for me.”
For Mr. Fallenberg, living in Acre feels like a different existence, after his 30 years in Israel.
And as he makes plans for Arabesque artists’ residency, which, once it is officially up and running, will include an Arabic immersion course, he realizes it will be suitable only for people who appreciate the particular character of Arabesque, with its ancient rooms and courtyard, with neighbors hanging their laundry and chatting as they do so.
“I don’t want to ruin the conversation of the women taking down their laundry up above,” said Mr. Fallenberg. “That’s the caveat for those who come. You are living in someone’s space, and I have to live here, and you have to be considerate of my neighbors.”