On the night of December 20, 1917, British forces crossed the Yarkon River and conquered Tel Aviv from the ruling Turks. It hadn’t been easy: at the time the Yarkon was much wider than it is today and boasted a far stronger flow.
British General Edmund Allenby, who had already seized Beersheba, Jerusalem and Jaffa, thought he needed expert help with the crossing. So he brought in General John Hill, just back from India and an expert in the field. Under General Hill’s command the army got as far as Sarona, home to a colony of German Templers.
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 River. Bayonets in their hands, they fought fiercely with the Turks in face to face battles. And they won, of course, pushing the Turks farther north: by year’s end, the British controlled the entire country.
The spot where the British crossed the river is only one of a dozen hidden “corners” and stunning buildings off Tel Aviv’s beaten track south of the Yarkon. Those we present here begin across the road from 90 Ussishkin Street, where the Brits crossed onto the banks, move onto Shimon Hatarsi, and eventually end on Ben Gurion Road.
Farthest north is a charming little park that stands, complete with waterfall, palms and bluish acacia trees, on Givat Hill (translated as “Hill Hill”). It is topped by a marble pillar that probably decorated either Caesarea or Apollonia and that was brought here by General Hill to mark his conquest of Tel Aviv.
A bit farther south another park has an interesting history. Until 1931, 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 right here, in the north of the new Hebrew city.
Haganah 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 at 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 found there today.
Nearby, Brender Park, on the other side of Hyrcanus Street, features a large, movable menorah created by contemporary artist Yaakov Agam. Famous the world over for his kinetic and optic art, Agam produces interactive works that allow viewers to create their own abstract designs.
Then, continuing on, streets are named for biblical figures – mainly prophets. Here, one enters the world of Bauhaus.
In 2003, Tel Aviv was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations because of the predominance of Bauhaus architecture (a 1930’s style also called International) that originated in pre-Nazi Germany. Turns out that Tel Aviv has more buildings designed in Bauhaus than any other city in the world.
Some of the houses on the streets here are slightly newer than the original 1930’s structures on Rothschild Boulevard, Ahad HaAm, Engel and Melchett streets in Tel Aviv. 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.
Others are completely eclectic: one, on the corner of Yehashua Ben Nun and Simon HaTarshi, features an unusual turret.
Among the structures on Hagai, Amos and Ovadia streets are houses built on thick stilts – a Middle Eastern adaptation of the Bauhaus style. For 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 land.
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.
The flat roofs, so different from the slanted roofs of Europe, are 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.
A park only a few meters off Dizengoff is so well hidden that few know of its existence. The most interesting feature of this park is a statue created by well-known sculptor Bernard Reder, born in the Chernowitz Hassidic Center. He was sculpting in Prague when the Nazis entered the city, and after fleeing to Paris he finally immigrated to America.
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.
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. This resulted in long, skinny stairwell windows (sometimes called thermometers) and portholes.
Also found are houses with running shutters: they look like round curtains, were made of asbestos and constituted a health hazard (they have since been banned). Good examples are found on Ranak and Yehoshua Ben Nun streets.
A byway off Ben Yehuda Street 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 with his opponent’s pistol, he was mortally wounded.
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 that 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.
The last stop on this fascinating route is located between Arnon and Kerem streets, and named for Eran Vickselbaum. Vickselbaum, born in Israel but raised in America, received tempting and lucrative offers of work after completing his university studies in New York, where he majored in mathematics and physics. Yet he insisted on returning to Israel, where he volunteered for the elite Sayeret MatKal commando unit. On November 5, 1992, he and four comrades were killed in a training accident.
Five pillars, each with a wavy bronze plaque, carry the names of the fallen; a letter that Eran wrote to his mom on Mother’s Day is inscribed on a stone slab.
Our thanks to retired tour guide and long-time Tel Avivian Yona Wiseman for showing us Tel Aviv’s hidden corners.
Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel.
Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.
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