We discovered a separate, absurd world within the seven-floor chimera, the Tel-Aviv Central Bus Station.
Catastrophe tourism may not be the first thing one would associate with when it comes to the burgeoning, sunny all-year-round metropolis of Tel-Aviv, at least it wasn’t the case for us when we first arrived at this dazzling yet stylistic ‘white city’ from the southern desert region of Negev. However, similar to all sprawling urban spaces, there are always unfrequented and less glamorous corners hidden from plain sight. Tel-Aviv Central Bus Station can be counted as one, but it was like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
Locating the ‘urban bat-hole’
The mega-structure that was once the pride of Tel-Aviv, is located in Neve Sha’ana, a shade more rundown quarter to the east of the central beach districts barely within walking distance.
Looking at it from a block away, the brutalistic building does not give away easily its outline, partly because of the grayed-out color from decades of neglect blends in with the neighborhood. With traffic ways for buses extending onto every level of the multi-story building through entangling exchange circles, it seemed like a camouflaged organism jointed to the city. The main bus platforms are however absurdly placed around the top floor of the seven-floor chimera, an apparently unintuitive design from both an aesthetic and a physical standpoint.
Entering the building on foot however can only be done through the basement, through a small entrance hidden under the crisscrossing flyovers.
The insular world within the Tel-Aviv Central Bus Station
After a brief security check through security scanner by apparently armed guards, which is common in major public venues in Israel, you will find yourself inside the otherworldly building of the Tel-Aviv Central Bus Station, an ecosystem all on its own.
Grotesque children’s wear stores, bizarre barbershops, polyglot ticket booking agents and clusters of exotic snack stalls, it is a self-contained steam-punk city hidden from sunlight. The eccentrically fashioned shops serve every needs of a community of exceedingly diverse background within the station, it even has a dentist’s office, and all this action takes place in a traffic hub which connects with while insulates from the world outside. This is the place where many freshly arrived migrant workers first see Tel-Aviv, and one could easily think many of them never actually managed to get out.
Further down, a separate reality…
It is said that the station/mall was deliberately designed in a way that confuses visitors, so they would not find their way way out and thus trapped in shopping. This myth was confirmed for us after a while of wandering. We couldn’t figure out which floor we were on as it seemed to change from part to part, the staircases sometimes even seemed optical illusion, coupled with the then modernistic ceilings and motifs, it was genuinely mind boggling.
As we ventured deeper inside the maze, the clamor started to dissipate as more derelict quarters crept up, all until parts where you find yourself alone in an empty, dimly lighted corridor, where there were only abandoned stores and distantly reverberated clattering. Some places were abandoned in such an eerily way that it reminds you of typical horror movie scenes.
The building which was planned in the sixties, is also designed to serve as a public shelter in scenario of war. We could see ‘shelter’ signs at every other turn. After we reached a point where there were nothing left that reminds you of the function of this structure, our curiosity led us to start to trace the shelter itself, the core of the uncanny vibe, which appeared to be in the understructure of the building, its basement floor.
We got down from again fan abandoned parking lot stairs. The enormous basement meant for nuclear war was in a deplorable state, and supposedly only used for some shady trades. We didn’t see anyone down there, only occasional thudding from afar and constant squeaking rats in the ventilation could be heard. We did find a few apparently unused nuclear shelter doors.
Shelter for nuclear war and graffiti art alike
After the depression we experienced in the basement floor, we decided to go up, all the way to the top, the additionally constructed seventh floor, the terminal floor. This floor gives out a contrasting vibe of vitality on top of decay, almost every wall is saturated with exaggerated lines and vibrant colors. The plentiful but not excessive lighting the top floor receives creates a gallery like sensation for some of the most stunning and poignant street art pieces we’ve ever seen.