Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station: A Grimy Commuter Hub With a Soul

From foreign food markets to circus artists, Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station is 'a playground for imagination'

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Lior Avshalem, 42, and Rotem Cohen, 41, actors from the Mystorin Theatre Ensemble, perform in the group's show "Seven," a site-specific act that uses all seven floors of the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2019.
Lior Avshalem, 42, and Rotem Cohen, 41, actors from the Mystorin Theatre Ensemble, perform in the group's show "Seven," a site-specific act that uses all seven floors of the Central Bus Station in TelCredit: Corinna Kern / REUTERS
Reuters
Reuters

Opened in 1993 with hopes of rejuvenating one of its poorest neighbourhoods, Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station is now commonly referred to as "the Monstrosity."

Girls from Eritrea play in an open area opposite to the Central Bus Station.
Girls from Eritrea play in an open area opposite to the Central Bus Station.Credit: Corinna Kern / REUTERS

An urban development dream gone bad, the seven-storey jumble of grungy corridors was once envisaged as a slick shopping centre serving streams of commuters.

Instead, with many of its store fronts long shuttered, its labyrinth of passageways has given rise to an eclectic mix of commerce and culture.

People eat food purchased from a nearby Filipino food market inside the Central Bus Station.
People eat food purchased from a nearby Filipino food market inside the Central Bus Station.Credit: Corinna Kern / REUTERS

A Philippine food market serves a large community of carers for the elderly, there's a makeshift Philippine church, a folksy Yiddish book centre and money changers.

Dancers, musicians and circus artists use its free space to practice and perform, and the homeless are also drawn into its shadows.

Dana Forer performs in the group's show "Seven."
Dana Forer performs in the group's show "Seven."Credit: Corinna Kern / REUTERS

The station's diversity reflects the neighbourhood, where a large foreign migrant population lives in mostly run-down apartment blocks.

Dana Forer, 40, is a member of the Mystorin Theatre Ensemble which has made the building its artistic home.

"The Central Bus Station is a playground for imagination," she said. "I feel full of joy and creativity when we light up the dark spaces with our performance."

Lehman plays an accordion next to books placed inside a cultural center used by "Yung Yidish," a non-profit organisation aiming to preserve Yiddish culture, at the Central Bus Station.
Lehman plays an accordion next to books placed inside a cultural center used by "Yung Yidish," a non-profit organisation aiming to preserve Yiddish culture, at the Central Bus Station.Credit: Corinna Kern / REUTERS

Tamar Lehman is a 32-year-old social counsellor for young adults who comes to the station to practise dancing and play her accordion.

"I felt this building is just like the people I work with - they may appear totally confused within themselves, not understood, bizarre, but the more you learn about the people and their inner structure you slowly become more familiar with their inner world, with all its craziness, and you see the beauty," Lehman said.

Merry Christ Palacios prays during a church service held at the Central Bus Station.
Merry Christ Palacios prays during a church service held at the Central Bus Station.Credit: Corinna Kern / REUTERS

Merry Christ Palacios, 37, is a carer from the Philippines who shops at the station and worships in its church.

"It's special because I can find everything we need to buy," she said, but added visitors need to be "very careful about their bag, cellphone, money and things" as they navigate the station's hallways.

Pinto practices her acrobatics skills during a weekly informal circus community meeting at the Central Bus Station.
Pinto practices her acrobatics skills during a weekly informal circus community meeting at the Central Bus Station.Credit: Corinna Kern / REUTERS

Stav Pinto, 24, employs her circus talents to teach life skills to special needs children. Pinto and her hula hoop take part in an informal circus group that meets on Monday evenings.

"There's a magical air to the Central Bus Station that reminds me of a dark urban forest," Pinto said.

"It's a place of adventure where you can meet a variety of people and be exposed to different cultures. Every time I walk through it, I can discover a new place that is completely different from the others."

A child sleeps on a couch inside a cultural center used by "Yung Yidish," a non-profit organisation aiming to preserve Yiddish culture, at the Central Bus Station.
A child sleeps on a couch inside a cultural center used by "Yung Yidish," a non-profit organisation aiming to preserve Yiddish culture, at the Central Bus Station.Credit: Corinna Kern / REUTERS

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