Stories from the Holy Land: Tel Aviv, oh, Tel Aviv

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Last week I was interviewed by a German radio station about my relationship to Tel Aviv – and I have to admit that choosing the term ‚relationship‘ is simply spot on. Tel Aviv and me, that’s like a big love story with occasional outbursts of anger. It wasn’t without reason that I left the city for almost three years. Anyhow, it was not love it first sight either way.

In contrast to many of my friends who came to visit us over the past years, I didn’t fall in love with Tel Aviv straight away. One of the main reasons is that, for me, Tel Aviv was – above all – utterly ugly. And anything but charming.

In summer, it is too hot and humidity turns the whole city in some kind of open-air steam-sauna. In winter, the streets are flooded and people have to jump from one side to the other like kangaroos. The other seasons are mainly dominated by noise. Tel Aviv is great at that. Busses sigh, cars honk, air conditions rattle, cats meow and dogs bark constantly.

And I haven’t even mentioned the alarms that always go off somewhere near.

And still: Tel Aviv is the best place in the world. For example when I pick up my son from kindergarten and we pop down to the beach for a while. Or when I detect another amazing restaurant that serves the kind of tasty and real food you can only find here. Or when you go to the market and vendors call you ‘motek’ (translates to ‘sweety’). And of course when I stand on my roof top terrace and watch the sun go down and the Azrieli towers are bathed in golden light.

Sunset in Tel Aviv (Credit: Katharina Höftmann)
Sunset in Tel Aviv (Credit: Katharina Höftmann)

Tel Aviv doesn’t seek to please and I started to appreciate that. This moment on Friday afternoons, just before Shabbat, when the city turns silent and busses, cars and all the other noise polluters take a break, that’s the moment when Tel Aviv is even more perfect.

My favourite places in Tel Aviv:

The beach: Somebody once wrote: as the beach so the country – and I fully agree. At Tel Aviv’s beaches everybody finds their place. In Yafo you’ll see people with headscarves, in the north, gay people are right next to a beach for religious people with kippa while next to it, Mizizim beach is famous for its dressed-as-little-as-possible beach beauties. I personally love the northern part of Gordon beach that comes with the entertainment program of first time stand up board paddlers.

The restaurant ‘La Shuk’: It’s true, most of the uber hip restaurants are located in the south of the city. However, ‘La Shuk’ on Dizengoff Square invites guests to enjoy the beautiful view to the ‘fire and water’ fountain by Yaakov Agam and serves wonderful Tel Avivian food (for example ceviche with dates and chick peas) that makes you want to stay forever.

The Central Bus Station: Okay, I have to admit, it doesn’t rank among Tel Aviv’s first sightseeing places for tourists but the most surreal place in this city is certainly unique among other big cities. Way too large and ugly as hell – this colossus is home to a universe of parallel worlds: from little Philippines to Arab transvestites, Break Dance performances by Eritrean refugees and  a small but sophisticated Jiddish museum – if it exists, you’ll find it somewhere inside the Central Bus Station.

Text: Katharina Höftmann

English: Jennifer Bligh



Middle East correspondent who is passionate about writing human interest stories. Published with: Spiegel Online, Bento, Welt, Welt am Sonntag, Zeit Online, Focus Online, Berliner Zeitung, dpa and others

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