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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tel Aviv Hot Spot: Is Ha Tachanah a Tourist Trap or a Nicety?

I have to write about "HaTachanah" (התחנה- the station) not only because I just visited the finished site for the first time this past week, but also because that same week both Haaretz and the NY Times did a piece covering the newly renovated station.

HaTachana is the old Jaffa railroad station which had fallen into disuse and disrepair.  When I first moved to Tel Aviv in 2007, I didn't even know the thing existed. It was all boarded up and hidden from view.  Little did I know that it was undergoing a massive restoration which the Tel Aviv municipality had approved in their effort to connect Jaffa and Tel Aviv.

Photo from nytimes.com- The old Jaffa Station

The original station was built in 1892 for a line that ran from Jaffa to Jerusalem and operated until the founding of the state in 1948 when it was basically abandoned. It was actually the first railway line built in the area between Turkey and Egypt and the first advanced long-distance transportation method, replacing what had for centuries been the camel!

It's really too bad that the Jaffa-Jerusalem line no longer exists.  Would you believe that the state is still in the process of building a straight rail line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv?1  How long is this gonna take, people!

My whining aside, "Hatachanah" first showed its new face in 2009 as the host of "Wet Paint" or "Fresh Paint" (צבע טרי), the annual Tel Aviv contemporary art fair that features dozens of local galleries and emerging Israeli Artists.  The 2009 exhibit was beautiful and really showcased the vast potential of the new space.

One year later and the Tachanah's restored buildings are filled with bookshops, cafes, restaurants, jewelry stores and boutiques.  There's a chic outdoor Tapas bar called "Viky.Christina", a cute pub called "Shushka Shvili" and a number of what they call "Concept" gift shops with cool Israeli chatchkis that range from arty coasters to designer t-shirts.

On Friday mornings there's an organic market, "Orbanic", from 8:00am till 2:00pm, Thursday evenings feature the cool designer fair, "Unique", with art, crafts and sophisticated design products accompanied by live music and DJs, and each month there is a featured art exhibit that costs only 15 shekels (about 4 dollars)  for admission.

Photo by Doron Saar of the NY Times - Friday Morning Organic Market

Anthony Grant writes in his August 6th Wanderlust NYTimes Magazine column that a visit to "Hatachanah" is "... like being on the fast track to Tel Aviv’s new-school cool." 

He argues that with the  "...upscale jumble of refurbished rail cars, freight terminals and train tracks to nowhere (and how’s a bit of defunct British air base for an extra shot of atmosphere?), HaTachana raises Tel Aviv’s style bar."

But Haaretz.com's Esther Zandberg is not as impressed. She titled her piece on the new station, "Tel Aviv's first tourist trap."  According to Zandberg, the renovated station is a theme-park style, albeit successful, tourist trap engineered to "part tourists from their money".  She uses words like "forgery", "preservation overload" to describe the new Station and seems to view with great spite any form of "commercialization" or "development".

I'm just going to have to go ahead and disagree with her.

To begin with, Tel Aviv has had a number of terrible tourist traps. This is certainly not the first.  The northern port is one of the most notorious with a brightly-lit view of the sea luring unknowing visitors to expensive restaurants that serve American, French and pretty much all non-Israeli cuisine, and shops like Puma and Diesel that aren't much different than what you can find in the states.

HaTachanah is something different.  The boutiques are local, the place is small, and the buildings aren't massive hangars with no character.  The evening fairs are fun, warm and family-oriented.  There is no gaudy clubs or over-done decor.  Everything is surprisingly tasteful. There is something nice and quaint about the restoration, even though Ms. Zandberg writes it off when she laments (using completely improper English grammar) the fact that,  "Marketed as a historic site, what remains are prehistoric background props."

Photo By Doron Saar of the NY Times - Entranceway of Hatachanah

I have to say, I'm all for tourism in Tel Aviv, especially if this is what the traps look like. Although, the way I see it, the new Tachanah is really a trap for Tel Avivians who want a to spend a nice warm summer night strolling with friends or family in an old-train station turned cool hang out.

Ms. Zandberg does have one thing right: this renewal project doesn't exactly fulfill the cities hopes of connecting Jaffa and Tel Aviv. I mean, I don't think that there is one product sold in any of "Hatachanah"'s stores or boutiques, aside from beer and coffee, that I can actually afford to buy. It is an all out Western feel- total Western-chic, and I can't imagine your average Jaffa-dwelling Arab taking his family for a stroll around the area.  However, tt certainly brings northern Tel Avivians south and entices tourists to wander towards Jaffa.  I can't imagine anyone in Jaffa has a problem taking tourists' money, or anyone's money for that matter.

All in all, I think that Zandberg should take the stick out of her butt and start enjoying life.  Hatachanah isn't an "illusion" nor does it have a "synthetic feel".  It's just new and, well, not in poor taste - nor is it falling apart like so many of the run down buildings around town.  I really don't think it's claiming to be anything but a nice, hip outdoor shopping area for families and young folk.  And it does a good job at being just that.

Photo from http://braids-and-bows.blogspot.com On the tracks of Hatachanah
Another beautiful shot by braidsandbows.  Check out their gorgeous blog



  1. I've been there a few times since it opened, as it's between my apartment and the beach :)

    I agree with you that it's not as bad as the Namal (the Port in north TA), but it's still a bit too clean cut and bourgeois for my taste, even compared to the rest of Neve Tzedek. It reminds me of Disneyland, actually.

    Regarding the Yaffo-Tel Aviv connection, I didn't realize there was supposed to be one either. Having some stalls from people or craftsmen from Yaffo could go a long way in fulfilling this goal.

  2. It's only clean cut because its new. I have no problem with that. Disney land? Disney land is way more fun than Hatachanah. Doesn't even compare. When Hatachanah has fried dough stands, then we can talk.

  3. The tachana is a nice place, but it lacks cultural hotspots, originally there was a proposition to move the "Gesher" theater (russian theater) there and some other similar activities but unfortunatley the municipality prefered to reserve all space for commercial use only (more taxes), this is a real pitty since it could have helped define the place as more than a fair, we can only hope that in a few years the propositions will be reconsidered.
    By the way the same thing happened in the templers buildings in kaplan st. this again is a new attraction in TA that lacks any cultural attraction although attempts have been made.
    I say this reluctantly but this is the unfortunate consequence of living in a place (world?) where culture is constantly on the defensive.

  4. Disneyland, totally !
    Fun to see tachanah once, but no desire whatsoever to go back ...
    I agree with you that tachanah is pretty unaffordable and, in that sense, makes it even less of a connecting tool with Arab populations.
    An extension of the shuk hapishpeshim ... that's what may have connected TA and Jaffa;
    Thanks for your blog !

  5. Thanks for the comment Martine!
    Yep, the tachanah is contrived for sure, but special events that go on there can be a pull. Plus, in the summer it's a great place to bring visitors...nice to sit outside and drink a beer or sip on an iced coffee.
    Thanks for reading:)


Let me know what you think!