Israelis becoming big fans of Berlin
By Katharina Hoeftmann Apr 1, 2010, 7:21 GMT
Tel Aviv - 'As a German, you can't go anywhere in Tel Aviv without somebody in the next moment asking you about Berlin.'
Georg Blochmann, head of the German cultural centre Goethe- Institut in Tel Aviv, is describing what is almost a daily experience about the Berlin euphoria that many Israelis have.
'Virtually everybody will then tell you that their girlfriend is right now in Berlin, or that they had once been there and would soon like to return there soon.'
Latest data from the Berlin-Brandenburg regional statistics office confirm his impression: The number of Israeli tourists visiting the German capital has more than tripled since 2000. A likely record of 47,321 Israelis visited the German capital last year, making them the largest non-European group of visitors after those from the United States. This is remarkable for a country of just 7.5 million inhabitants.
In Tel Aviv itself one can feel the Berlin fever at every corner. Some shops even name themselves after the city on the Spree River, such as the 'Salon Berlin' in the heart of Tel Aviv which sells second-hand clothes in an atmosphere reminiscent of Kreuzberg, an alternative lifestyle district of Berlin.
Beyond this, almost every week a new Berlin DJ is visiting Israel's gleaming city by the seaside. Berlin offers Tel Aviv's young people 'just as much life, dynamism and colour as their own home city - and is cheaper on top of it,' comments Blochmann in explaining Israelis' enthusiasm for Berlin.
In fact, the two cities have a number of similarities: Berlin is, like Tel Aviv, a kind of island which lives pretty independently from the rest of the country. Both stylish metropolises are shaped by young people and have a strong gay scene.
Avi Efroni-Levi, an Israeli who had lived in the German city of Hanover, got bored there and moved in 1994 to Berlin and immediately fell in love with the city, also sees many parallels.
'Berlin is self-starting, open, unstructured, relatively un- German and more like Tel Aviv. Socialism left its stamp on both cities, and with it came the art of improvisation and a spirit of togetherness.'
In the meantime, like every Berliner of the digital bohemian scene, he sits in his regular cafe in Berlin's central Mitte district and works at an internet portal. With 'Der Berliton' he has created a platform for his compatriots in Berlin where they can trade ideas, apartment tips and other information.
For Efroni-Levi, the growing passion of Israelis for Berlin is also part of a healing process. It is not about making amends or poking around in old wounds, but rather about learning about the other side. For many years, the Germans were the perpetrators and the Jews the victims. But now young Israelis are a new generation with a changed perception who want to find out who 'these Germans' are.
So this love affair with Berlin is a kind of therapy for both sides. But for all the enthusiasm, the path to Germany is not easy for many Israelis. Many are descendants of Holocaust survivors and most of them associate the German language with the hatred-filled tirades of Adolf Hitler.
German shouting still echoes in many peoples' heads and such German words as 'raus' (get out) or 'Achtung' (attention) are directly associated with Nazi crimes for many.
So Goethe Institut director Blochmann is all the more thrilled at the fact that German language courses are becoming increasingly popular in Tel Aviv. And most of the Israelis have signed up for courses with one goal in mind: they want to go to Berlin.