I recently spent three days in Tel Aviv, Israel, with a good friend of mine. It was a short, spur-of-the-moment, holiday trip combined with 3 days in Istanbul. I was last in Tel Aviv in 1994 when I was 19 years old. Israel was the first country I ever visited outside my home country, South Africa. I hated it.
I was never keen on going back to Israel and particularly Tel Aviv, as I just remember it being a dusty, dirty old city with run down buildings and possibly the worst architecture I had ever seen. I discovered that the style of architecture is now called “Brutalism” – a word that accurately describes the ugliness of the block-like buildings. Tel Aviv was a brutal place to see from the inexperienced eyes of a 19-year-old boy, who had only seen the best of South Africa during the dark apartheid years.
Nineteen years later and I arrived in a city that was going to be severely criticized by my jaded views and me. I was more than pleasantly surprised of what I found. Tel Aviv is a thriving multi-cultural city with an amazing beach and café culture. The buildings are mostly as I remember them, but having studied and experienced the world in greater detail since my last visit, I appreciated the intricate history of the Bauhaus movement and the move toward the Brutalistic era. I saw people, who are mostly middle class, enjoying a very pedestrian city filled with quaint streets, restaurants and multi-level retail spaces. The sea winds and the large trees that have been imported from Australia nearly 100 years ago cool the epic heat on the streets.
The public transport systems work efficiently but even more satisfying was renting a bicycle and cycling the streets with no fear or apparent danger. It’s a very livable city with a very non-religious feel, which again, surprised me.
The city had certainly changed a fortune in the gap between visits. Or had it?
I’m starting to think that the city today was actually very similar to what it is was twenty years ago. I’m starting to think that what has changed the most, was in fact, myself. Ones outlook on the environment will determine the experience they have and the level they enjoy it. My life has changed radically in the last twenty years and the cities I have visited, in many countries, have changed the way I saw Tel Aviv. It’s no longer a shit hole, but that’s because I was not looking at it in a comparative negative light.