Have an ice day

Chill out next week at Jerusalem’s first Ice City festival.

Exhibit at J'lem's Ice City Festival 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Exhibit at J'lem's Ice City Festival 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
While the almond trees have been blossoming pink for a month and the blood-red anemones are blooming as a harbinger of spring, inside a specially insulated 1,500-square-meter temporary structure adjoining Jerusalem’s Old Train Station the temperature is a constant Siberia-like minus 10 degrees. There, a frozen wonderland of ethereal ice sculptures awaits the public beginning Tuesday (March 6), including Sir Moses Montefiore’s windmill, the Tower of David, Jerusalem lions and of course a vodka ice bar.
Jerusalem’s Ice City festival, which organizers hope to make an annual winter extravaganza like similar events in Harbin, China, and Quebec City, Canada, is the frostbitten joint venture of Mayor Nir Barkat and Meir Turgeman, the CEO of Ariel – a semiprivate company associated with the municipality.
While Turgeman declines to cite the cost of the project, which requires an electrical system larger than Teddy Stadium, or whether Ariel expects to make a profit on the tourism and culture venture, Bai Wei, the general manager of China’s Heilongjiang Provincial Ice and Art Development Co., said similar ice festivals in the US cost approximately $2 million.
Following a press conference Tuesday, Wei’s team of 35 sculptors, designers and lighting technicians were busy wielding chain saws, chisels and hydraulic lifts to carve 650 tons of ice blocks into their wintry wonderland. Not all the frozen sculptures are icy white. In the zoo section, a worker diligently carved a giraffe, that was dyed bright yellow, while Cinderella’s coach is pumpkin- colored.
The 600,000 blocks of ice for the exhibit were manufactured at a plant in Ashdod that was purpose-built for Ice City.
“The hardest part, aside from the logistical side of the project, was thinking of a concept that, on the one hand, would honor our most precious asset, which is Jerusalem, and on the other hand, would appeal to the wide range of populations in Jerusalem, to families and children,” explains Ice City producer Sharon Shalev.
The tradition of creating ice fantasies that melt with the arrival of spring originated in Harbin, a city in sub-Arctic Manchuria where former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s parents Bella and Mordechai found refuge after fleeing persecution in their native Ukraine. Bai Wei explains that in the 1960s his city began hosting an annual winter carnival that has grown into today’s annual Harbin International Ice Lantern Festival and Snow Sculpture Expo that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors who climb up its ice staircases into life-size castles.
“The first idea was to solve the problem of entertainment during the winter, because in the winter, it’s very cold, and there’s no entertainment,” he explains. Winter temperatures in Harbin regularly dip to a bone-chilling minus 30º.
Today five schools in the city of 5.8 million offer degrees in ice sculpting. Teams of artists from Harbin regularly travel around the world creating giant ice exhibitions, Bai Wei continues. Their work is especially appreciated in East Asian countries including the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. Heilongjiang Provincial Ice and Art Development Co. created the world’s largest ever ice sculpture exhibit last year at Macao’s Venetian Hotel.
Bai Wei cautions that some visitors, especially at ice-sculpture exhibitions in the US, break off chunks to take home. “We know they do it because they like it,” he laughs. But he warns those purloined souvenirs rarely survive the ride back home, and the vandals are left with nothing but a puddle in their pocket.
Bai Wei also adds that though the materials, including the ice coloring, are edible, it is not a good idea to lick the sculptures.
Not only can one’s tongue get frozen to the sculpture, but you also never know where other curious visitors have tried to taste the artwork.
Each city where an ice exhibit is created is different, Bai Wei notes. In Jerusalem, the team toured the Old City extensively, “in order to get inspiration,” he says. “Only after understanding the culture here could they begin their artistic creations.” Bai Wei also dismisses critics who complain about the waste of resources needed to create the ice sculptures and maintain their exhibition hall at a constant minus 10º, explaining that despite the electricity use, there was little other waste as the temporary installations simply melt following the end of the show.
While Jerusalem’s haredi (ultra-Orthodox) residents demanded the skating rink have gender-separate hours, Shalev says Ice City will be open to all during all of its operating hours. “This is Jerusalem, so there always is that request, but we won’t honor it.” Just chill, she advises Jerusalemites.
Ice City is open daily from March 6 through April 30. Winter apparel – including down jackets and boots – are provided with admittance. The festival includes an ice-skating rink, coffee shop and bar.