Holy City’s winter wonderland

Jerusalem has proven it can think out of the ice box when it comes to major tourist attractions.

Ice City 521 (photo credit: Liat Collins)
Ice City 521
(photo credit: Liat Collins)
It’s not so much a moment frozen in time, as a 3,000-year history. This is Jerusalem like you’ve never seen it before, even after this week’s flurry of snow.
Ahead of the official opening on March 6, Real Israel participated in a press tour of Ice City, the country’s first International Ice Festival, where fairy tales and Jerusalem’s story are represented in huge ice sculptures.
“It’s cool,” pronounced my 10-and-a-half-year-old son, a chip off the old block when it comes to wordplay. The description came a few minutes after he slid down a huge reconstruction of the children’s sculpture fondly known by Jerusalemites as Hamifletzet, The Monster.
Nearby, the characters of the Wizard of Oz were sharing some of their magic in what has been designated the fantasy arena. It was here that Snow White looked at home, and my heart melted when I first saw the giant, colorful carousel of ice.
Jerusalem landmarks include the Tower of David, the Montefiore Windmill and his carriage, and various sections of the Old City walls, including Jaffa Gate.
In a section dedicated to children’s stories, other popular characters include the staple of every Hebrew-speaking child in the country: residents of Leah Goldberg’s Dira Lehaskir (Apartment to Rent) and the protagonists of Tiras Ham (Hot Corn) by Miriam Roth.
As we toured, Chinese sculptors from Harbin were still putting the finishing touches on the massive works of art.
The colored lighting creates an added other-worldly feeling.
ICE CITY has been constructed in specially erected facilities in the Old Railway Station compound, at the entrance to the German Colony.
The festival is similar to the famous one in Harbin, but of course, there is the matter of size to consider.
In the northern Chinese city, where the winter temperature hovers around minus 20ºC and land is not in such short supply as in Israel, the internationally famous ice city is constructed outdoors on a different scale – the miniature version of the Great Wall of China, for instance, is itself 5 kilometers long.
The walls of Jerusalem have had to be scaled down drastically to fit into the local Ice City complex, but the effect is still stunning. So is the temperature: minus 10ºC.
After the initial tour, journalists were offered a chance to break the ice, as it were, over a drink of vodka on the rocks. The vodka wasn’t the only thing that was chilled.
The entire bar, stools and shelves, was carved out of ice.
Thirty-two artists from China were brought to Jerusalem to work on the event. Five Jerusalemite sculptors also participated.
Mayor Nir Barkat and Zion Turgeman, CEO of the Ariel Company, claim joint credit for the idea. Much of the funding comes from the Isracard credit card company, whose logo is visible everywhere, from the coats handed out to visitors at the entrance to a sculpted version on an ice panel indoors.
Barkat noted that the event, set to become an annual affair, is just one of the many international festivals that draw visitors to the capital, such as the Opera Festival and the Festival of Lights.
Turgeman pointed out that every such attraction helps a wide range of local businesses, including hotels, restaurants and stores, and not just the entrepreneurs at the site.
Both were also proud that this particular festival was boosting Israeli-Chinese ties. “It’s a classic win-win situation regarding the relations between Israel and Jerusalem and China,” said Barkat.
More than one person has noted the irony that it took more than a decade to develop the Jerusalem Light Rail and bring it to what passes for the operational stage, while this festival was conceived and constructed within a matter of months: Turgeman proposed the plan and received Barkat’s blessing for it at the beginning of November. (At the risk of treading on thin you know what, I suggest that City Hall investigate the Chinese route first when it comes to future transportation projects.) Bai Wei, the general manager of Harbin’s Heilongjiang Provincial Ice and Art Development Co., is obviously enjoying working in Jerusalem.
I asked him about his impressions in my decidedly rusty Chinese and received a rapid answer in which I picked out the words “history,” “culture,” “art” and “exhibition.” A Chinese-English translator filled in the gaps for me, telling me that Bai Wei first made a point of studying Jerusalem’s history – he later told me this includes, for example, reading stories about Noah’s Ark and other biblical stories with which the Chinese are not familiar.
“We are first and foremost artists,” he stressed. “We can’t just work without knowing our subject.”
Creating the wintry dream world was a logistical nightmare.
Some 7,000 blocks of ice (approx. 900 tons) were specially prepared at a factory in Ashdod and transported to the capital in huge freezer trucks.
This is definitely not a one-man show. More than 2,500 emails were exchanged in Hebrew, English and Chinese, and it took some 200 people working together to bring the project to fruition, including erecting the arenas. The main, 1,500-square-meter exhibition hall, about the size of four basketball courts, was imported from Belgium, which also hosts a renowned ice festival.
According to the organizers, the cost of the project, some NIS 15 million, includes the one-off costs of infrastructure that they will continue to use in the future.
The skating rink, sure to be another attraction, was not open at the time of the press tour, so having chilled out in the main exhibition area, we headed directly to one of the warm coffee shops to share experiences and plan a return trip.
Some 250,000 visitors are expected between March 6 and April 30, but according to Turgeman, that exhibition is drawing such interest that it will probably be extended.
Call it the snowball effect. Still, to avoid disappointment, I’d put other plans on ice and figure out when to visit.
To prevent overcrowding, tickets must be purchased in advance and are allocated for set times and dates. (“Tell your readers to dress warmly,” urges Turgeman.) The site is not suitable for children under the age of three, due to the cold.
Prices range from NIS 65 to NIS 35, the lower price includes discounts for group tickets, Jerusalem residents who have a Yerushalmi card, Isracard customers, senior citizens and several other eligible categories.
The show could be just the tip of the iceberg. Barkat and Turgeman are already investigating future possibilities, so this could be the dawn of Jerusalem’s own ice age.
Tickets can be purchased at Bimot: (02) 623-7000 or *6226, or www.bimot.co.il.