EDGES OF EUROPEANNESS | TEL AVIV
TEXT - Julia Muller
PHOTOS - Loïc Kreyden
Tel Aviv, Israel
The Bubble. The Non-Stop-City. The White City. These are just some of Tel Aviv’s nicknames.
With just over a hundred years of history, it might be one of the youngest cities in the world. Yet, Tel Aviv has become a lively hub, with a diverse population in terms of ethnicity, religion, culture and sexual orientation.
Despite its relatively small number of inhabitants - not even half a million people - the city arrogantly behaves like a baby sister to the world’s largest metropoles: careless and spoiled. And although many Israelis have disregarded The Bubble and its citizens as being too snobby, Europeans seem to be drawn to Tel Aviv like wasps swarming around lemonade on a hot summer’s day.
Facing the Mediterranean, Tel Aviv appears to be longing for Europe too. City beaches resembling those of Barcelona, a party scene more extravagant than Berlin, prices almost exceeding Parisian standards and a gay-scene that makes you forget about Amsterdam; in a city where a pita falafel is half the price of a glass of beer, you never know what’s around the next corner.
Despite having turned its architectural back to Jerusalem and the political issues that come with being an Israeli city, Tel Aviv remains a gateway to the Middle East. The result is a specific blend of east and west. Exotic, yet familiar. Traditional and innovative. Religious, but also a secular sanctuary for many.
In Tel Aviv, cultural tectonic plates rub against each other and the resulting friction functions as a bridge between Europe and the non-European world. Some cities seem to become a no-man’s-land, where different rules apply and a cultural vacuum is created. Indeed, a sort of bubble. While generations of Jews have settled here, specifically looking for refuge from all the trauma Europe caused them, Tel Aviv has not rejected its Europeanness.
It is called The White City because of its German Bauhaus architecture. Whereas tourist leaflets show elegant, curved buildings, painted freshly white, in reality ‘The Slightly Brown City’ would be a more fitting name. Walking through the off-white streets, you hear English, German and French spoken more frequently than Hebrew or Arabic. Americans who have made Aliyah (permanent settlement of Jews with foreign backgrounds in Israel) gather in French boulangeries, eating brunch and loudly proclaiming why they came to Israel.
In short, Tel Aviv feels familiar. It is easy to blend in: at the beach, in the central market, on the streets. Yet, it is these places themselves that are foreign to us Europeans. Beaches where thousands of extremely fit half-naked bodies spend their every free minute tanning, surfing and playing Matket (a game involving two rackets and a tiny ball). There is The Shuk, where piles of pomegranates, fake Marlboro cigarettes and pita bread line up and merchants try to trick you into buying their goods. And finally, the streets where electronic bikes race across the sidewalks, dogs shit everywhere and no one knows how to properly queue.
Europe as a cultural entity has been redrawing its borders. The outline of Europe is being smudged gradually, and is slowly incorporating some of its neighboring regions. Politically, many European states have turned their back on Israel’s disputed and continuous occupation of Palestine. Culturally, however, it seems we are willing to learn from our eastern neighbors. Tel Avivians’ ability to take everything with a pinch of salt, while adding a handful of fun to everything they do, appeals greatly to us earthbound Europeans. The Bubble is a safe way to enter this - to us - foreign world, without going completely cold turkey on everything we know. The city’s overlapping character, a vacuum in which everyone can move around freely, enables cultural exchanges to take place without interfering with any political sensitivities or ‘serious stuff’. In Tel Aviv, differences between people are swept away by the common objectives of dancing, drinking, drugs and doing ‘it’.
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