Tel Aviv - Beyond Bauhaus

Thought you knew Tel Aviv's streets and architecture like the back of your hand? Think again.

By
August 3, 2009 14:40
Tel aviv -  Gimpel Park

Tel aviv - Gimpel Park. (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)

Introduction
On the night of December 20, 1917, British forces crossed the Yarkon River and conquered Tel Aviv from the ruling Turks. It wasn't easy: At the time the Yarkon was much wider than it is today and boasted a far stronger flow. 
British Gen. Edmund Allenby, who had already seized Beersheba, Jerusalem and Jaffa, thought he needed expert help with the crossing. So he brought in Gen. Hill, just back from India and an expert in the field. Under Hill's command the army got as far as Sarona, home to a colony of German Protestants and the area in which the Kirya (IDF headquarters) stands today. The British tossed the Germans out of their homes, then collected blankets and wine barrels from the empty houses and used them to construct makeshift rafts. Finally, in the dark, and despite a raging storm, British troops crossed the Yarkon. Then, bayonets on their rifles, they fought fiercely with the Turks in hand-to-hand battles. And they won, of course, pushing the Turks further north: By year's end, the British controlled the entire country. 
You can stand at the spot where the British crossed the river by enjoying an unusual two-hour outing to lovely spots and historic 'corners' off Tel Aviv's beaten track.


Givat Hill 
Begin across from Rehov Ussishkin 90, on the banks of the Yarkon, just about where Hill and his troops landed. Now cross the road and ascend the steps between Nos. 88 and 90 to reach Rehov Shimon Hatarsi. Climb the hill (known as Givat Hill - or Hill Hill) into a charming little park complete with waterfall, palms and blue-ish acacia trees. At the top, you will find a marble pillar that probably decorated either Caesarea or Apollonia and was brought here by Hill to mark his conquest of Tel Aviv. The pillar is inscribed in both Hebrew and English with the story of that exciting night. A burial cave you encounter as you descend dates back to the First Temple period. Grain was stored in jars found inside a smaller cave, under the pillar, a thousand or so years later. 


Nice Park
Cross Rehov Horkanos to reach a park that holds several old buildings. Until 1931, when the larger structure was constructed, animals were butchered at an abattoir on the shores of Jaffa Port and the meat was brought to Tel Aviv by mule. There was no cold storage, of course, and this was all highly unhygienic. But after Arabs rioted in Jaffa in 1929, and many of that city's Jews moved to Tel Aviv, the British authorities finally agreed to license a slaughterhouse in the north of the new Hebrew city. 
Hagana leaders immediately seized the opportunity for a centrally located slik (hiding place for illegal Jewish-owned weapons) in the foundations. For several months they dug at night, using their hands so that the authorities wouldn't hear them work. They used the sand and dirt that they removed to landscape the area around the slaughterhouse, and that is the origin of the lovely gardens you see there today. 


Movable Menora
Follow the path through the park, then go around the circle to the left and through a playground to the street. A surprise awaits you on the low hill to your right: a large, movable menora, made by contemporary artist Ya'acov Agam. Famous the world over for his kinetic and optic art, Agam produces interactive works that allow viewers to create their own abstract designs. 
Walk down to the street and head for a strange house that looks like a castle floating in the sky (you can see it from the menora). Turn left, following Horkanos to several streets that were named after biblical prophets. 


Bauhaus architecture
A few years ago, Tel Aviv was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations because of the predominance of Bauhaus architecture (a style also called International) that originated in pre-Nazi Germany. (Tel Aviv has more buildings designed in Bauhaus than any other city in the world.) Some of the houses on the streets along your tour are slightly newer than the original 1930s structures on Sderot Rothschild, Rehov Ahad Ha'am, Rehov Engel or Rehov Melchett. Nevertheless, they were influenced greatly by Bauhaus principles: the use of pure classical architecture without any kind of ornamentation, and the addition of flat roofs, smooth exteriors and geometric shapes. 
Follow Rehov Hagai to Rehov Amos, and Amos to Sokolow. Turn left at Sokolow and move onto Ovadia. As you walk, notice the houses that are built on thick stilts - a Middle Eastern adaptation of the Bauhaus style. When new immigrant architects who had been studying Bauhaus in Europe began designing in this country, they realized that they had to adapt their designs to a new climate and type of soil. 
Tel Aviv was only a mass of sand dunes when established in 1909, and it is difficult to build foundations on sand. So the Bauhaus architects raised them up on thick stilts, which created air flow and left plenty of space for gardens. 
Look for flat roofs, so different from the slanted roofs of Europe but typical of the Bauhaus belief that everything should be functional. Rooftops were meant for the use of everyone in the building below; it was on the roof that residents held their social events and hung their laundry. Balconies, in all kinds of shapes, are located mainly one atop the other - so that each floor can serve as a ceiling to the balcony beneath it. 

Gimpel Park
Now cross into Gimpel Park. To the right there is a pergola, covered with bougainvillea; the park has a lovely little pond and a playground for the kiddies. Built in the 1950s on three levels, it hosted diplomatic receptions and other social events for decades and is now double its original size. 
All of the parks you visit on this route were part of the master plan conceived by Scottish urban planner Sir Patrick Geddes. Tel Aviv had grown faster than anyone could have foreseen; in 1925 the mayor hired Geddes to make order out of the chaos. 
As Tel Aviv was built on the coast, Geddes developed main arteries that not only ran north to south (Hayarkon, Dizengoff and Ben-Yehuda) but streets and boulevards that ran into the sea from east to west and cut into each. Geddes also planned for narrow, connecting footpaths between houses, which were to have spaces between them and gardens both front and back. While only some of these features were realized, Geddes's designs had a huge influence on Tel Aviv as it looks today. 
Exit the park onto Rehov Malachi, and walk as far as Yehezkel. Then cross Max Nordau, named for an influential early Zionist who helped Theodor Herzl found the Zionist movement. From there, move on to Zangwill, honoring another active Zionist whose name is far less familiar: British-born novelist and playwright Israel Zangwill. 
When Herzl suggested Uganda as a possible venue for a Jewish homeland, Zangwill suggested Canada, Honduras, Mexico and Siberia as well. After Herzl's death in 1904, and certain that the need for a haven from anti-Semitism was more important that the Jews' natural desire to return to the Land of Israel, Zangwill continued exploring possible venues. 


Jana Wiener (Sarf) Park
Continue on Zangwill to view the long low building on your right, today a senior citizens' club, but originally a rehearsal hall for the Israeli opera. Turn right on Mandelstam to enter yet another park, only a few meters off Dizengoff and so well hidden that few know of its existence. The most interesting feature of this green space, named Jana Wiener (Sarf) Park, is a statue created by well-known sculptor Bernard Reder, born in Czernowitz, a center of Hassidism. He was sculpting in Prague when the Nazis entered the city, and after fleeing to Paris he finally immigrated to America. Reder's works are found all over the country, with one of his most famous, the bronze Ink Flag, in Eilat. That sculpture immortalizes the moment in which the IDF - after capturing Eilat during the War of Independence - raised a makeshift flag created out of a white sheet and a bottle of ink. 
The beautiful bronze sculpture in this park is called Woman with Ball and Pyramid - the perfect description. It is believed that the woman is supposed to be an angel with wings, although some view her as a fly! Exit on to Rehov Dizengoff, walking south. At No. 240 peer into the area between the houses. Spaces like these were meant, in the beginning, as vegetable gardens. On the corner of Arlosoroff, you will see a photography shop owned by the Faraj family, which made its money by printing pictures overnight. Originally a cinema, the shop opened in 1970 - the first of its kind in the country. 


Bahaus
Turn into Rehov Shlomo Yehuda Rappaport to see a beautifully restored Bauhaus structure that is now a retirement home. Then head left into Ranik and immediately right onto a short path called Yoset. 
Every Bauhaus house had a way of bringing in light. Unlike European houses, that featured large windows, the hot sunny climate of Tel Aviv called for small windows and a different approach. Take a look at some of the results, including long, skinny stairwell windows and portholes. Find, as well, houses with running shutters: They look like round curtains, were made of asbestos and constituted a health hazard (they have since been banned). 
Turn left onto Rehov Ben-Yehuda. I'm not sure why the next byway is named for Ferdinand LaSalle, a German Jewish political agitator who lived mainly in Berlin during the mid-19th century. He was estranged from his Jewish roots, and at one point wrote that he hated the Jews in general. 
Perhaps the honor he received relates to his establishment of the first socialist organization in Europe, the General German Workers' Association in 1863. His life was cut short the next year, when he took part in a duel over a woman. Shot by his opponent, he was mortally wounded.

The A.D. Gordon Schoo
The A.D. Gordon School, a socialist workers' enterprise founded in 1932, was located on LaSalle. Here the children of Tel Aviv's blue-collar workers combined education with work. Two days a week they labored in the garden, and later ate food they had produced themselves. In this school the boys and girls studied both embroidery and carpentry - together! - and once a week one of the classes ran the school instead of studying. Today the building serves as a cultural center and the front lawn is covered with sculptures that seem to be walking to and fro. 
Move on to Rehov Gordon, where the houses are pretty old and run down but still quite interesting: Look for the eclectic boat-shaped structure on the corner of Gordon and Hayarkon. Turn left on Hayarkon. Soon you will reach the Atarim Promenade, an interesting experiment with restaurants and nightclubs that was extraordinarily unsuccessful and is now mostly deserted. Go left on Sderot Ben-Gurion, stopping in at the modest home in which prime minister David Ben-Gurion lived when in Tel Aviv. Everything has remained exactly as it was: Breakfast has even been laid out for his pleasure. 
Backtrack to No. 14, and turn into Arnon. Famous poet Lea Goldberg lived at No. 15 when she was writing the children's novel My Friends from Arnon Street. Number 16 is a stunning example of restored Bauhaus architecture. 
Enter another charming little park, named for Eran Vickselbaum, killed on a reconnaissance mission in Lebanon in 1992. A letter that Eran wrote to his mom on Mother's Day is inscribed on a stone slab. 
Leave Vickselbaum park to the right, and you will end up near the Mediterranean. From here, it is an easy walk back to the Yarkon River and Rehov Ussishkin where you started out. 
Many thanks to tour guide Yona Wiseman, who took us on this very special outing. Yona can be reached at 052-326-7277 or by e-mail at yonawise@013.net.il; her Web site is www.yonawise.net.


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