A weekend with the creative scene in this rapidly developing seaside city involves a good mix of sunshine, culture and arak
Say you plan a long weekend by the Mediterranean Sea and the bets will be on Barcelona, the French Riviera or even somewhere in Croatia. Israel might not seem the natural choice for an urban, stylish and most of all relaxed weekend but there are rumors quickly infiltrating Western Europe regarding the upcoming design lifestyle of Israel.
While Tel Aviv borrows much from European influences, the city's 1909 inception was based on the modern revival of Hebrew culture and the city still remains the hub of traditional literature, poetry, playwriting, and journalism.
Under a new manager, the Israel Ballet has grand plans for the company's future. Tel Aviv's derelict Hamerkaz movie theater once screening Euro-American masterpieces, is about to be turned into a desirable living quarter for the city’s young population. Meanwhile the Julliard-graduate contrabassist Henry Grimes - one of the leading figures of the 1960s New York City jazz rage – who was thought dead for 35 years resurfaced for the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival. Early this year, French pianist Helene Grimaud was hosted by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to tour Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem.
So is Tel Aviv really undeterred and enthusiastic in upping their cultural and design identity into the international playgrounds? Media reports aside, I booked a flight out of Berlin to see for myself. Upon arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport, I have to pass the multiple rapid-fire assaults of seemingly irrelevant questions from various security and military personnel but my patience is rewarded as I step out to balmy air, palm trees, crisp blue skies, and a light breeze tinged with sea salt.
A short drive leads to a 140 square metre loft hidden in the Florentin district of central Tel Aviv that serves as my base for a four-day experience in the design and culture of the city. I need not travel far as the loft is the office of local architects Avital Gourary and Natanel Elfassy who partner under the name AN+. Their work is a dialogue of Japanese minimalism with French philosophy and computational algorithms. In a city that might be comparable to a Berlin of two decades past, Tel Aviv is vamping its identity with an open willingness to experiment, a thrown down gauntlet to designers flocking in from East and West.
The result is a city of incredible architectural diversity ranging from Bauhaus to Israeli Brutalism, Post-Modern glass and concrete monsters, to low scale historical residences. One of the projects of AN+, a 600sm modern style building renovation in the Neve Tsedek district and now just a few weeks away from completion, is an elegant and seemingly simple solution to a complex puzzle of three apartments and two studio-shops. The intent was to create "a transparent building where both interior and exterior spaces coexist and where the boundaries between private and public are questioned."
In one residence, a steel spiral staircase leads up to the immense penthouse with sliding glass walls on three sides, visually expanding the space to the horizon, allowing for natural sea breeze ventilation and views to the water and the old city of Jaffa.
Such vibrant seaside living conditions attract a young and diverse crowd. Rest assured for Wifi-demanding iPad-toting cafe hipsters, the scene is one of the best I've seen and I've found the local cuisine to be more than respectable. The shakshuka breakfast involving eggs, tomatoes, onions, and aubergines, all with a heavy dose of herbs and spices, is a satisfying creation to dig into after a lengthy evening of sampling local vintages of Cabernet Franc cuvées. My local friends explain that the cafe culture of Tel Aviv is a languid experience where the minutes flow into hours. Not much pretense, just understated elegance and a comfortable chicness that seems to combine the best of Paris and Williamsburg with the weather of Los Angeles.
After a shot of espresso, we head to an entirely different atmosphere of the street markets; a stream of endless shoppers and a cacophony of deals being struck over tomatoes, cheeses, olive oils, wines, greens, fish, and all produce imaginable. And the supreme quality of the fresh produce is simply astounding; I dare to say that it rivals the best Marchés Parisiens. Puaa Cafe in the old district of Jaffa is a deliciously eclectic spot to relax for brunch or an afternoon coffee. From the same owners of Hotel Montefiore comes the newly opened Delicatessen 79/81. The lunch menu is perpetually fresh and the food served here are under constant daily changes as per the seasonal flavors. If you care for a Parisian flair, the Nina Hotel and Cafe, much like the 3éme's infamous Cafe Charlot, is perfect for an early evening aperitif. Try the local classic called Arak, an Israeli version of Pastis with a slight raisin-like sweetness. In the evenings, Rothschild 12, yet another coffee spot by day flips into a cozy nightlife scene attracting all crowds where you might drop in to find the likes of Riff Cohen singing from the stage.
Which gives me an opportunity to discuss cinema in Israel with Associate Producer Alexandra Schinasi working at Bedlam Productions, who confirms that Eran Riklis's (Lemon tree, winner of Berlin Audience Award) new film Zaytoun starts shooting all over Israel in just two weeks time. It is a U.K.-French-Israeli co-production, produced by Gareth Unwin (The King's Speech) and starring Stephen Dorff who plays an Israeli fighter pilot shot down over Beirut in 1982. Interestingly, this is the first film to take advantage of a new co-production treaty between the UK and Israel, setting a milestone in an extensive and importantly international cultural cooperation.
The news channels will no doubt keep you informed about Tel Aviv but in the meantime, the photographers, cinematographers, designers, architects, and potentially the future elite of the cultural force, bored with Western stagnation, are drawn here under a warm sun, turning their dreams into reality. If this seems like your new hot spot, book a flight! The Mediterranean Sea stretches into the horizon along with the possibilities.