If you don’t happen to live in or around Atlanta, visiting the Coca-Cola factory and visitors’ center in the United States is quite a trek. One of the advantages of being in Israel is that a visit to the nearest Coca-Cola factory – one of a handful around the world open to visitors – is never more than a couple hours’ away.
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Driving on the generally congested Route 4, you can’t miss it – the famous red-and-white logo of one of the world’s best-known brands looming over the Givat Shmuel junction. There’s probably not a kid out there who doesn’t like Coca-Cola, so most are likely to jump at the opportunity to see how the world’s most popular soft drink is made.
The Coca-Cola factory has been on our to-do list for a while now, ever since our oldest came back from a summer day camp trip to the factory more than 10 years ago and announced it was the best trip he had ever taken in his life. (Just for the record, this was before he visited Disney World.)
What exactly could be so wonderful about a trip to a beverage factory? Finally, we decided to find out ourselves, accompanied by two younger members of the clan.
Let’s start with the bad news: Forget about finally discovering the secret of the famous Coca-Cola formula on this trip. Only a handful of people in the world are privy to this most classified information, which has remained under wraps since the company was established 126 years ago. Although there is still lots to do and see at the visitor’s center, consider yourselves warned: Most of it has little to do with the actual production of Coca-Cola.
The guided tour takes about an hour and a half, and reservations are needed in advance (it can take a few weeks to book a tour). English tours are available on request.
The first stop on the tour is a reconstructed old-fashioned soda shop where visitors learn about the history of Coca-Cola and about a time when getting a cold drink entailed a trip outside the house. As hard as it is to believe, at one point, bottled and canned beverages simply did not exist. While there, you’ll be introduced to Dr. John Pemberton, the man who walked into a pharmacy in downtown Atlanta in 1886 with the syrup he had concocted and proceeded to mix with carbonated water. With that one drink, he helped launch an international empire that today produces more than 500 different products.
We then moved on to an area called the “international space” where we participated in a trivia game testing our knowledge of different world cultures. The connection to Coca-Cola wasn't exactly clear, other than it’s a drink that happens to be consumed around the world. The same room contains a huge display of hundreds Coca-Cola cans from around the world, donated by Ronen Lipsky, an Israeli who began his unusual collection when he was 11-years-old.
From there we proceeded to the “music studio,” which featured an assortment of weird-looking instruments inspired by Coca-Cola products and which the kids had lots of fun banging away on. At our next station, the “activity park,” we rode stationary bikes while watching a video of fit-looking folks biking and drinking Coca-Cola, sending a clear message that consuming this beverage leads to a healthy lifestyle (its creators have obviously not seen the latest medical studies that blame rising obesity in America on soft-drink consumption).
At the “bubble hall,” we were seated in little round capsules that moved up and down and, with the help of audio-visual effects, simulated the experience of being a bubble in a glass of Coca-Cola.
The last 10 minutes of the tour were spent on the actual factory floor, where we watched thousands of bottles being filled with Sprite, Coca-Cola's clear-colored, lemon-lime-flavored cousin (a bit disappointing, since we had counted on seeing Coca-Cola). We learned that at the Israeli Coca-Cola factory – which opened in 1968 and is one of approximately 1,800 around the world – more than 1.5 million bottles and cans leave the assembly line every day. Before we left, we were handed bottles of coke with our photographs on the labels as souvenirs.
So, was it all it was cracked up to be? I asked the kids on our way out. “Definitely,” they responded. I wasn’t as convinced, but why argue with a successful formula?
Address: 129 Kahaneman St., B’nei Brak
Telephone for information and reservations: 03-6712226
Hours: Open Sunday through Thursday, 09:00-19:00 Cost: NIS 20.
Getting there: Any bus that stops on Route 4 near the Givat Shmuel junction will get you close. It's about a 50-minute drive from Jerusalem and a 20-minute drive from central Tel Aviv, but there’s not much parking available in the vicinity so public transportation is preferable.