It's Old and Cold and Settled in Its Ways: Why Tel Aviv Trumps Berlin

The German capital lures Israelis. But if you stay too long, you'll find cheap housing is far from the city center, the nightlife gets stale and the chill of the winter will have you miss the Israeli heat waves.

Cheap apartments, beer for half the price and a cosmopolitan atmosphere – well, that’s what they say about Berlin. But when you touch down you’ll find a gap between reality and what the tour guides, television shows and websites are going on about.

At first glance Berlin really is attractive to the Israeli tourist. It’s a vibrant city that offers a fascinating mix of Eastern and Western Europe - capitalism mixed in with the legacy of communism and even a bit of Nazism. It’s a home (or haven) for a variety of nomads from around the world who see the city as a station on the road to happiness.

But within a few days or weeks you’ll be all the wiser. If you thought you could find an inexpensive, large and attractive apartment in the gentrified Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg neighborhoods, the type that overlooks Alexanderplatz or the Brandenburg Gate, forget it. You’ll find that you have to move a few kilometers out (a subway ride) to find a pleasant place at a reasonable price – even in inexpensive Berlin.

Those escaping Ramat Gan will find themselves in Neukolln or Wedding - migrants’ neighborhoods that have become popular among Israelis but as far from the center of Berlin as Givatayim is from Tel Aviv. You’ll have to replace the Florentin street parties, Rothschild Boulevard rambles and Jaffa farmer’s market for beer in a café or in most cases at home. Berlin in October is already getting cold and rainy – forget the shorts and flip-flops.

Israelis have a reputation for being a bit rude or hotheaded, but you might start missing them when you meet the chilly, unpleasant and perplexing Germans. If you ask a young German how to get to Rosenthalerstrasse you’ll be met with a smile, but if you ask a bus driver which stop to get off at to reach Potsdamer Platz, you’ll probably get some road rage and a mumble in a Berlin accent.

And what about vibrant Berlin, the city of those great parties, the hub of Europe? Well, it’s not easy to find a pub or restaurant open late at night, even on weekends. The winter darkness, the cold and the legacy of communism cloud the party. If you’re not into wild nightclubs, you’ll probably return home disappointed. Without a doubt, Tel Aviv offers far more varied and vibrant nightlife options.

And another thing: You might really start missing the sun - the same sun that you cursed in August. After a week or two of living in the gloom, in a city where the sun sets in the afternoon, you might miss sweating. Life without sunlight can depress the cheeriest bon vivant. That’s how life in Berlin looks for many months of the year.

And what about the language? Do you really think you can overcome the bureaucracy and strict rules in this city if you don’t know German? Just try asking a postal clerk to help you fill out a form in any language other than Goethe’s.

If you only know Hebrew and English, try understanding what you signed in your apartment lease and what you have to pay the building’s management company. And when you realize that the heating isn’t working right, go explain to Heinz that you’re cold, sad and lonely at night. Tell him how you miss Tel Aviv.

Carmel Spivak Divon
Carmel Spivak Divon
Bloomberg