I arrived at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station at 5:34 a.m. on the rainiest day of the year. The concrete building was just yawning open; shopkeepers placed bourekas onto particleboard pallets and dressed mannequins in discount winter coats as they prepared for the 60,000-plus passengers who would pass through the station that day.
But unlike the travelers who were now slowly trickling into the building, I wasn’t going anywhere.
I spent a total of 18 hours and six minutes in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station that day. I had been intrigued by the building — a dime-store megamall housed inside the second-largest bus station in the world — since I first stepped inside on a reporting trip to Israel three years ago. I didn’t know at the time that the station is perhaps the most reviled place in the country, seen by most Israelis as a hub of prostitution and crime in Neve Sha’anan, a working class south Tel Aviv neighborhood.
Two nights before my reporting project, an acquaintance warned me against so much as walking near the station after nightfall. I didn’t tell her that I planned to spend an entire day there.
The station was, in fact, first conceived as the salvation of South Tel Aviv. It was proposed by a businessman named Arieh Filtz, son of a famous Israeli baker, as an alternative to the neighborhood’s old and overcrowded station. One of the first examples of a public utility in Israel built by a private entrepreneur, Filtz’s new bus station was quickly approved by the Tel Aviv municipality after the 1967 war.
The station was to be the biggest in the world, a harebrained ambition given the fact that fewer than 3 million people were living in Israel at the time. Filtz commissioned the Israeli architect Ram Karmi, a practitioner of the brutalist style of architecture — known for fortress-like, concrete structures — to create a building in which travelers would become so disoriented that they would get lost among the shops and spend money. Karmi envisioned the station as a “city under a roof,” said Yonatan Mishal, a Tel Aviv artist who gives tours of the bus station. “He wanted to make these huge, disgusting places on purpose.”>Share
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