The local saying goes that Tel Aviv is the city where people never sleep, while Jerusalem is the city of praying (with Haifa working for both of them) but times had changed and so did the old city. With an entrepreneur mayor and a generation of new creative people it is impossible to hold on the old division. Having the chance to live here like a local for a month gave me a different perspective on the state of things. What I’m just saying is that that there are many changes taking place and you only have to stay a bit more and live there to seize it…
You can start your journey from the lobby of the 1001 Night ambiance of the American Colony Hotel. Built at the beginning of the 20th century around a stone-paved courtyard, dotted with grenery and housing a central fountain, it become one of the favourite gatherings places for Western diplomats, statesmen, journalists and VIPs, among which Sir. Winston Churchill, M. Gorbatchov or Giorgio Armani. Although I am definitely the big fan of the nearby King David Hotel, I like to come here once in a while, for the green landscape and the view from the top of the tower, easily seen from many standpoints in Jerusalem.
After walking a bit more you will find the Teddy Kolek park, a oasis of quietness on the edges of the old city, named after the mayor of reunited Jerusalem. The water game of the fountain brings a fresh view over old things. Everything is changing but some things still stay the same.
‘Jerusalem stone is the only stone that feels pain. It has a network of nerves’, said Yehuda Amichai in his Poems of Jerusalem. A visit in the old city cannot avoid a visit to the Wall, but for every visitor, the walls and the ancient cobblestones are telling a different story.
Behind the old doors there are so many stories of happiness and hope and maybe bitter memories too. I remember that some years ago, I started a chit-chat with an old lady at a burger shop within the old city, to discover at the end of the meal that she witnessed most of the big events of the last 4 decades, as a permanent resident within the walls. Talking with the people in Israel is much more easy than, let’s say in Germany, and if you love story, you will have for sure your good slice of it.
After so much history, one may need a break and one of the best places to do so is at the Liberty Bell Park, with its replica of the famous bell. It was designed by the Israeli-born Danish sculptor Ulrik Plesner who designed another more joyful piece, Jerry the Dragon. From there, one can decide to spend more time in the bubbling Rehavia – if you love sushi, Rehavia Sushi is highly recommended – with its young life of restaurants, bookstores and interesting concerts taking place round the week.
But sometimes, you don’t have to go too far away to meet the unexpected. Behind the old courtyards of Machane Yehuda, there are many things going on some of them with a special artisty touch.
Dare to go on and you will find enough street art to delight you eyes. And no, you are not by mistake in East Berlin or in the Florentin area of Tel Aviv…
As I said, things changed a lot in Jerusalem in the last years and don’t be surprised to find out co-working offices for rent in the middle of the border to the tradtional quarters. The startup-up nation means more than Tel Aviv and the Google offices in Haifa.
True is that you don’t have here the sea and the beach that invites you to a pleasant life, but believe me, many locals in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem don’t hang out at the beach every single afternoon, because they have a lot of work to do. But everywhere, a glass of fresh smoothy is always welcomed and that you can find in Jerusalem too.
As for the cultural and night life, things changed since the opening of the Tahana Rishona as a place of events and gatherings. Established in 1892, part of the Jaffa-Jerusalem line, near the German Colony, it still keeps the old setting and part of the rails, but was turned into a meeting point for young Jerusalemites. When the station was inaugurated, it was an occasion for Eliezer ben Yehuda, the creator of modern Hebrew, to write a song of praise and create the Hebrew work for train: rakevet. Nowadays, you wonder where the food, wine, jazz and other kind of festivals can be found in the old city, there is only one answer. And especially this time of the year, it seems that the list of attractions is getting pretty busy.
Jerusalem does not have the fancy Dizengoff, but has enough malls – including the Mamilla which is elegant enough for someone used with the high standards of Tel Aviv built in an area that was a no man’s land back in the times when the city was divided – and small stores to fill your bags and empty your cards. If you are looking for some vintage, check the Agrippa Street flea market, with its special nostalgic items. Every time I go there I am sure will find some old time object from my aunts’ kitchens in the old country.
Biking as it is no tomorrow, East Berlin style, is something relatively new in Israel, but especially in Tel Aviv, is done in fancy style, with expensive electric bikes. Bike rentals are something fresh new in Jerusalem too, but biking is less adventurous.
Many probably don’t know that Jerusalem hosts one of the centers for creative designers and book illustrators in the region, Bezalel Academy of Arts. The works created by the young graduates can be seen not only at the flea markets in Berlin, but also in the small design shops and pop-stores from Emek Refaim.
Nachlaot is usually considered rather part of the religious areas, but without noticing, at least the faces of the buildings are changing too. With more and English speakers relocated here, it will take not too much time till you will see some new things popping up. If you want to have a respectful look at a different world, paying a short visit to Mea Shearim area – the dress code matters, but when you are invited to a sophisticated party you also try not to go on hot pants and swimming suite, isnt’t it – can be interesting. Some of the pastry shops in the Bukharian area are too tasty and cheap to be true.
The fact that Jerusalem is slowly changing too, is also this huge piece of red street art, near Machane Yehuda, which is chaging in the wind like the dress of a dancing tomato (My imagination is not always that creative, you know). A couple of streets away, from any rooftop of the builldings of King David Street, one can look eastwards and westwards and see where and how everything changed and is about to change.
What I hope will never change, are the recipes of these sweets pastry. They are perfect and should stay like that. For ever.