After Dark: Beachcombing on The Danube Canal
Celebrating Vienna’s sister-city on the Mediterranean, a chilled out new hot-spot for the ‘jeunesse dorée’
This year it’s not Summer Stage, or Hermann’s Strandbar; the newest hit on the Vienna outdoor summer scene is the "Tel-Aviv Beach" bar that opened May 1st on the Danube Canal at Herminengasse – just on the edge of the old Jewish Quarter in the 2nd District of Leopoldstadt. With its white plastic chairs and tables ankle deep in beach-sand and Vienna’s jeunesse dorée in casual chic lolling to the sounds of Israeli chill-out pop blending with the aroma of Shishas spiraling up from ornate waterpipes, this could almost be Tel-Aviv, I thought. Sipping on my "Limonana" (fresh lemon with water and smashed mint leaves) I thought back to my summer holidays, when I was relaxing on the real thing….
Tel-Aviv is a great destination for young travelers. It’s an oriental life-style with western advantages, in a way that is unique in the world. This is a city that has really "got it all:" The history, architecture, art, music, the sophistication and the stunning vistas and of course, the nightlife. Nothing special you might say; many great cities boast these things. But Tel-Aviv’s setting on the Mediterranean coast is exactly what makes it so special: Big-time urbanity mixed with the laid-back attitude of a resort.
On hot Israeli summer days, everybody soaks in the breathtaking coastline and the soft curves of white sand with an extraordinary view of Tel Aviv’s skyline. A typical Tel-Aviv beach bar is not so different from ours: plastic chairs stuck in the sand, modern-oriental music in the background, water pipes and their odor, the cool summer breeze and amazing Mediterranean food such as falafel, fries, hummus, pita, and all kinds of salads.
Back at the Viennese version, that feel is recreated in the massive airplane-shaped sky-blue backdrop along the canal wall with a sun-blanched silhouette of the Tel-Aviv skyline. Sand spills out across the embankment and the sun-seekers sprawl out once the noonday rays radiate the scene.
Walking around barefoot, letting the sand seep between your toes, you feel invited to mingle. Three friends, an Austrian couple and a visitor from Switzerland, were sitting at a table on the deck that also held the bar.
The Austrian woman, a teacher, had heard about the Tel Aviv Beach on the radio – "I think it was Radio Wien," she woman said, tossing her mane of curls, as if to shake her memory clear. Her companion knitted his brows. No, he had seen a report on television... They thought this would be a fun outing to bring their visitor.
"It’s something different," he said. Summer Stage, the Strandbar, the Badeschiff – they’d tried them all. "This is really pleasant, really chilled out," he concluded.
"We don’t have anything like this in Zurich," their Swiss guest confirmed wryly. "Zurich is dead."
"That’s why Vienna has moved up to No. 1," quipped another woman standing nearby, referencing a recent survey that found Vienna has the best quality of life in Europe. Everybody laughed. No introductions needed. Conversation was easy.
The opening of the bar commemorates the 100th anniversary of the founding of Tel-Aviv and is intended to introduce visitors to its perhaps lesser-known attractions. Thus the rear wall shares factoids such as "24% of Israelis have a university degree" and "In 1950 it snowed in Tel-Aviv."
Tel-Aviv beaches like this one will be opened up around the world in cities like Istanbul, New York and Paris, often accompanied by Israeli movies, newspapers, menus written in Hebrew, Arabic, English and German. Even the chairs, tables and sand were originally flown in from Tel-Aviv. And the very authentic food and beverages.
Farther along the beach, an older couple were sitting in reclining chairs under an umbrella, laughing at some shared joke, a world unto themselves.
"What’s better than this?" the woman remarked said. "Reflections in the water, sand in your toes, easy mood…
"Drinks are ok, too," the man interrupted.
"Sure, and the service is terrible!" she giggled. Neither one of them seemed to care in the slightest. Not surprising: It was well after 11 p.m. and the beach was still packed, no free chair in sight. So people took up spots along the edge of the walkway, and sat in a row together their feet hanging over the water. Others sat on the steps and ramps that led at intervals down to the launching docks at the water line. ‘People have taken on the soul of the city in a whole new way,’ I thought. It was a beautiful sight.
Toward the farther end of the beach was perhaps the strangest sight of all: a four poster with furled curtains surrounding twin mattresses made up like a bridal bed. A handsome couple, fully clothed, were stretched out full length, propped up on an elbow or two sipping something fruity and gazing out at the water. Reservations required?
"Oh no," the man assured me. "purely first come first served." Any competition? "I think they’re afraid to ask!" he said grinning.
"We basically decided that there is a very big Israeli secret that no one is talking about," said Guy Feldman, the initiator of Tel-Aviv Beach and deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Israel in Austria, in an interview with wienerinternational.at.
"Everybody is talking about the Middle East conflict or anti-Semitism but no one talks about normal life in Israel, education, fun, beaches, science..."
He was clearly on the mark in Vienna. Whether right-wing or left-wing, in Austria, not many know much about daily life of and in Israel. The conflict with the Palestinians shapes many people’s views, I realized, and their fear blinds them to Tel-Aviv’s enchantments. Many Europeans in recent years have seen Israel as a threat, as a 2003 Gallop poll funded by the European Commission reported. Most recently, the EU parliamentary election elicited the completely illogical FPÖ slogan "Against EU-membership for Turkey and Israel" (while there even wasn’t any serious negotiations for Israel to join the EU).
Sadly there is a danger that through these manipulating strategies Hans-Christian Strache is increasing feelings of ignorance and anti-Semitism.
Thus popularity of the "Tel-Aviv Beach" in Vienna can only be a positive sign, a lovely promenade on the Donaukanal reframing world politics. For those who have been to Tel-Aviv, it will evoke a trace of nostalgia. Of course instead when you lift your eyes from the sand, your lover or your drink, you’ll see not the vast romance of the Mediterranean but the flowing waters of Danube Canal, and above that, the angry grey walls of graffiti on the other side.
Still, there’s something about it that is also true and very charming, an authentic taste of the magic of Tel-Aviv.