How can Israeli cities compete with Berlin?

Man cannot live on bread alone, but man cannot live on Zionist sentiment alone, either.

The writer on Berlin’s S-Bahn train (photo credit: PR)
The writer on Berlin’s S-Bahn train
(photo credit: PR)
Many Israelis and Jews get angry when Israelis move to Berlin, for obvious reasons.
Here you have Jews giving up on the Zionist dream for the capital of a country responsible for Jewish genocide. But does it ever occur to Israeli patriots that life has become so difficult in Israel that they could overcome Zionist sentiment to enjoy the easy, peaceful life that has eluded Jews for centuries – even in Berlin? Man cannot live on bread alone, but man cannot live on Zionist sentiment alone, either.
So rather than beat up on Berlin, which allows state authorities to turn a blind eye to Israel’s own faults, why not find out what Israel’s major cities, particularly Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, can learn from Berlin? Here are some facets of city life that many Israelis in Berlin cite as major reasons for loving the former capital of Nazi Germany.
In an informal survey of Israelis on the “Israelis in Berlin” Facebook page, transportation rates high as the most attractive Berlin offering. Here’s why the railway system that once efficiently took Jews do their deaths now efficiently takes Jews to everyday life.
It is fast, frequent, and on-time. Berlin offers so many ways to get around that a car is not only unnecessary, but a drag to own. The S-Bahn (city railway), U-Bahn (underground), the bus, and the tram all run at peak hours, often every few minutes. Digital schedule displays are usually accurate up-to-the-minute. Furthermore, if a railway is being repaired, the city usually provides alternative routes via bus.
Israel has begun to install digital displays at most bus stations, but they are often inaccurate, leaving people waiting and guessing. And while Tel Aviv is building a subway, state authorities have not taken to heart the great congestion caused by its construction nor provided alternative solutions.
The commute time to and from work has more than doubled. Their motto seems to be: tough luck for now. But the ends shouldn’t always justify the means.
One of the best features of Berlin transportation is its honor system. Once you buy a pass, you basically “hop off, hop on.” You need only present the pass when an inspector arrives on board.
While this eliminates the need for turnstiles that slow down foot traffic, it theoretically makes it easy for people to cheat. However, you cannot charm your way out of paying the €60 fine with the mean, strict inspectors. Once you get caught, you’ll never want to get caught again.
Regarding car sharing, the Tel Aviv-based Car2Go car is not the same as the German one. The Israeli Car2Go requires a hefty monthly subscription for cars available at designated stations. The company is also the franchise holder of the new city-run AutoTel program.
But these methods exemplify the municipality’s shortsightedness. Firstly, as residents angrily point out, AutoTel snatches up already sparse parking spaces. The registration fees and costs are higher than in Berlin and other German cities.
Berlin accommodates two German car-share brands: Car2Go and DriveNow. Berlin’s Car2Go’s fleet consists mostly of the ultra-compact, two-seater Smart brand cars, which are available in a free-flowing rather than station-based method that should be imported to Israel’s big cities. Using a friendly app, one can choose a car from virtually any city street and then park it on any legal spot or designated lot.
Berlin’s DriveNow offers more luxurious brands, like BMW and MiniCooper, to suit parties of three or more. Both companies require a modest, on-time registration fee and no monthly subscription. Drivers are charged only by the minute, not distance.
Berlin’s low cost of living has been lauded time and again, but the “Milky” phenomenon is not just the stuff of urban legend. The popular chocolate-flavored pudding in Germany is indeed two-thirds cheaper than Israel’s Milky brand.
The Milky price index also applies to beer, cocktails, restaurants, toiletries and groceries in general, not to mention rent. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem should study how Berlin enables such low prices, especially considering the average Israeli salary is comparable to a Berlin salary.
Berlin’s value for money is tremendous; the only commodity missing is Zionist satisfaction.
In terms of recreational space, in 2008 Berlin’s once-famous Tempelhof Airport was converted by city referendum into Berlin’s largest urban public park, located in the hip neighborhood of Kreuzberg. The people of Berlin decided it should not be used for housing. Imagine such a decision about land in Israel’s big cities.
The interests of real-estate groups seem to dominate the landscape of urban Israel. Zionists tend to praise the number of cranes dominating the skylines of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but where do the children play? What new parks are being built alongside these skyscrapers and high-rises (which, in the case of the Holyland complex in Jerusalem, was the result of municipal corruption).
Tel Aviv is fast turning into a New York-style metropolis, but without the infrastructure and amenities – public transportation, parking spaces, green spaces – that ensure the pleasantness of residents. Take a chapter from Berlin’s playbook to keep the cities green. Sorry, but Hayarkon and Sacher parks are not Manhattan’s Central Park.
Berlin is not known to have a city center, even though Alexanderplatz with its famous TV Tower is the de facto one. No matter where one goes in Berlin, small businesses line many residential streets, peacefully blending in with the surroundings.
Residents rarely have to walk more than a 200-meter radius for basic necessities, amenities and recreational activities. This lack of centralization makes it easier for small businesses to succeed in a variety of locations; they don’t need to seek out expensive storefronts in commercial centers like Ibn Gabirol in Tel Aviv or Ben-Yehuda in Jerusalem.
Then there is the benefit of quiet – not the political kind but the literal. Berlin residents tend to preserve quiet and personal space and treat each other well. They politely make sure people exit elevators and public vehicles before pushing themselves in. Berliners also tend to avoid unnecessary honking and, most of all, in mundane disputes, talk instead of yell.
Economically, there is a sense in Israel that state authorities, businesses and companies ask: What’s the most we could charge for this? In Berlin there’s a sense that they ask: How could we make the cost-value ratio reasonable?
As the only Jewish state in the world, Israel is the kind of monopoly that need not fear competition, but perhaps it could learn some lessons from the German capital.