Tag Archives: Berlin

Ich bin ein Berliner – Maybe

18 Apr

Berlin is the second most-visited destination by Israelis.  So last week, my wife, twin daughters and I bolstered this statistic by spending almost a week in the German capital.  The decision to go wasn’t easy.  My father is a holocaust survivor.  Growing up, I heard his firsthand accounts of his captivity at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  Seventy years later, he has yet to set foot in Germany.  It’s a sore subject.  At 87, he’s done well for himself, married, raised a family, and has 7 grandchildren.

My daugthers inside the maze of the Holocaust Memorial - Berlin

My daugthers inside the maze of the Holocaust Memorial – Berlin

So what made me go against the grain and travel to Berlin, the underbelly of tyranny?  Could it be that time did its thing?  Could it be that Germany today is not the Germany of yesteryear?  I went to find out.

Cafe scene in Berlin

Cafe scene in Berlin

Berlin’s neither pretty nor romantic; it’s not Budapest; it’s not Paris.  There’s only a handful of neoclassical buildings.  Berlin “owes” its look of 1950s and 1960s square, unflattering residential blocks to the British and the Americans.  During WWII, the allies bombed and leveled 80% of the city.  So communist East Berlin and democratic West Berlin built itself out of the rubble and into present day.

We started out on a 3-hour walking tour of the city with an English guide who’s doing his PhD in German history.  The Berlin wall, the Holocaust Memorial, the Brandenburg Gate where Hitler delivered his speeches, are all mobbed by tourists.  Young students are everywhere. Cafes are full. Boutiques and storefronts are blocked by curious onlookers.  Double-decker sightseeing buses swallow and vomit tourists at regular intervals.  The city vibe is palpable.  People appear to be relaxed, smiles all around.  So I asked our guide to explain this unbound energy.  Not all is rosy, he explains.  Berlin is financially broke.  The German government pours billions to prop it up, to eventually make it worthy of the title “capital city.”  Berlin’s mayor was quoted as saying: “Berlin’s poor but sexy.”  The reunification of East and West Berlin was costly.  Many companies fled to Munich and Frankfurt.  Every year, there’s a negative migration of five to ten thousand.  But you wouldn’t know it by the revelers in the streets, in the malls, in the parks, on the bicycle paths.  “Poor” in German is relative.

Enjoying a spring day in Berlin

Enjoying a spring day in Berlin

The guide escorts our group to an open square.  It was the place of book-burning rallies before the War.  He then speaks of Germany’s economic miracle.  Germany’s the 4th largest economy in the world, and the strongest in Europe, the envy of all.  It reached this pinnacle because of one important reason ignored by the British, the French, the Hungarians, the Poles.  Germany is dealing with its past.  The Holocaust memorial is next door to the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament.  Hate-crimes are punished at the source.  Tolerance is key to any education program in school.  During last summer’s Soccer World Cup, the Germans won the title.  The were champions.  The national anthem was played in the streets, yet few knew the lyrics.  They’re uneasy with any sign of nationalism, content to raise a team flag or a jug of beer, instead.

I don’t buy this remarkable transformation, not all of it.  After the War, the German courts handed light sentences to Nazis.  In East Berlin it was different.  The communists rounded them up and sent them to gulags.  But still, I couldn’t help but notice that Israelis flock to Berlin by the thousands, to live, to study, to invest – and they are welcomed.

Berlin Street Art

Berlin Street Art

What a difference seventy years make.  I can’t adopt President Kennedy’s words of 1963 just yet. This week was Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Dark memories still haunt us.  Man is capable of unspeakable atrocities.  One man, Willy Brandt, West Germany’s former chancellor, Berlin’s mayor, and Noble Peace Prize winner made a difference.  He fought tirelessly to bring Germany back into the family of nations, fought communism and brutality everywhere.  In 1988 he said: “My real success was having contributed to the fact that in the world in which we live, the name of our country [Germany] and the concept of peace can be mentioned in the same breath.”

It’s a good start.

Dad, I went to Berlin to see, to learn.  I wish you well.

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

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Stop the Train – I want to get off!

6 Jul

The summer’s hot in Israel and I’m not talking about the weather.  Last month, three young Jewish boys in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) were kidnapped by Arab terrorists.  The terrorists murdered the boys and dumped them in a field.  Last week, an Arab teenage boy was kidnapped, his body burned.  Was it murder committed by Arabs?  Was an act of revenge committed by Jews for the three boys’ killing? The police is investigating.  Update: The Israeli police and secret service have made arrests; they believe it was a group of Jewish boys who’d killed the Arab boy.

Jerusalem Light Rail Map

Jerusalem Light Rail Map

Jews and Arabs relate to loss of life differently.  There’s no sugar-coating this difference.  The entire State of Israel was in mourning following the death of the three boys.  Whether you are on the left or on the right, every single Israeli felt as he had lost a son, a collective tragedy.  I don’t doubt the Arab boy’s mother is grieving.  But not the surrounding Arab community.

Jerusalem train during better days

Jerusalem train during better days

Instead, they took to the streets, hurled stones at Jews and security forces, burned tires, blocked streets, destroyed portions of the Jerusalem Light Rail that runs through their neighborhoods. To repair the trains will take months and cost millions.

Arab and Jewish passengers on train

Arab and Jewish passengers on train

To think that Arabs and Jews could live together; it’s naiveté that borders on stupidity.  Take the city of Jerusalem, for example.  Its eastern flank has been “united” with western Jerusalem since the Six Day War in 1967.  For decades, steps were taken to unite the city.  Israel’s tourist office, the city mayor, the media – they all speak of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. Yet few advertise the fact that almost 40% of its population is Arab.

How would London, Paris, Washington, Tokyo be able to operate if 4 out of 10 of its residents were hostile or uncooperative?

Yet Jerusalem hides this fact.  It hopes against hope that “we can all get along.”  Arabs migrate from surrounding villages and towns to East Jerusalem.  There they intermarry, prosper and multiply.  Jews, in return, add more Jewish neighborhoods on hillsides in a game of one-upmanship.

Arabs vandalize Jerusalem train station

Arabs vandalize Jerusalem train station

The Jerusalem Light Rail, open for business since 2011, is the flagship of public transportation. It was to be the experiment to unite both sides of Jerusalem.  At 9 miles long, the slick, electric train makes its way through Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.  Each day, 130,000 passengers cross town.

Be careful of what you wish for.

Suddenly, for the past three years, Arabs who were confined to their homes could step out their front doors, hop on a modern train, and minutes later find themselves in fashionable shopping promenades, markets, city hall, university, and much more.  Now sitting inches apart on board the train, Muslim women wearing Hijabs to cover their faces stare at Orthodox Jewish men wearing shtreimel and tzitzit.

Arabs burn rubber and steel train tracks

Arabs burn rubber and steel train tracks

But if the Light Rail can be likened to an artery that meanders through the body, the blood cells (Jews and Arabs) are sick of each other.  They want to flow in separate bodies, in separate veins.

Poor Englishmen and poor Englishwomen board trains in East London to London’s West End and there’s no war at the end of the day.  The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and there was no war.  There were Germans on both sides of the wall. During the Los Angeles Riots of  1992 Blacks burned down their own liquor stores, markets, gas stations to protest against years of neglect by the Whites on the Westside.  But at the end of the day, when the dust and smoke settled, there was a truce, rebuilding, hope.

Arabs demonstrating

Arabs demonstrating

Arabs and Jews share no common future.  The events of the last few weeks prove that.  The road to heaven is paved with good intentions, and although Jerusalem is in God’s backyard, heaven is a long way off.  The Arabs’ carnage of the Light Rail and other violent demonstrations are evidence that we’re different peoples.  We should disengage from each other.

My station is coming up.  I’m getting off.

What about you?

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel – the Land of High-Priced Milk… and Honey

18 Jan

From my rooftop balcony in Kfar Tavor, Galilee, I see the smoke stacks of Tnuva Industries.  It’s the largest dairy plant in the Middle East.  Every day, hundreds of trucks bring in the raw milk for processing.Food2

For most Israelis, lunch is the heavy meal of the day.  It includes chicken or beef, and rarely fish although the Mediterranean is a stone throw away.  Dinner is the “light” meal of the day: typically scrambled eggs, dices tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, and lots and lots of dairy products: milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese, yogurt.

One of the reasons for leaving Los Angeles was the belief that the cost of living is lower in Israel, that food prices are cheaper.

False!

It’s not even a contest.  Consider that Israelis, on average,  earn 1/2 of their American counterparts and the food price comparison becomes obscene.food1

Take a quart of milk, for example.  In Israel it costs $1.85 a quart or $7.50 per gallon.  And since you’re making half, it’s as if it cost $15 in the U.S.

If this were to happen in the U.S., there would be blood, I mean, milk in the streets.

But here, people complain and groan and continue to drink.  Why?  Tnuva Industries is a monopoly, controlling 85% of the dairy market.  Which is why it can charge the U.S. equivalent of $3.50 for a small container of cottage cheese, and $9.50 for 10 ounces of “Swiss” cheese.

I love beer.  But at $12.85 for a six-pack of Goldstar (think double, remember? $25.70), I measure my consumption of the lovely beverage.

The price of bread is outrageous.  A sliced loaf will cost you $5.00 (think $10).

Apples?  $2.10 per pound (think $4.20/pound).

A bag of frozen peas?  $3.80/pound (think $7.60).  Why so much? Are there little people with little fingers counting those little green pease before they put them in the little bag?  Or is the cost of ice?

How about some cereal with your expensive milk?  Then empty your wallet of $6.50 ($13).Food3

Want lunch with chicken breast?  $3.75/pound (think $7.50)

Even fruits and vegetables, the main staple of the Israeli diet, is not within the reach of many.  What’s irritating is that top-quality produce is flown daily to grocery stores in Berlin, London, Amsterdam, yet here, in Israel, second-grade produce costs more.

That’s a lot of fertilizer on your face.

Elite-Strauss is a giant food cartel.  They monopolize everything on the supermarket shelf, from chocolate to coffee, to snacks, to cheeses, to ice cream.  Osem Industries, another food powerhouse, control pastas, rice, sugar, flour. Telma controls cereals, soups, canned goods.

Unlike countries in Europe, Israel imports less food.  There’s no competition.  And if there are imports to be had, guess who the European exporters partner with?  You got it: Osem, Elite and Tnuva.  They have s small army of lawyers who are able to decipher the red tape, the cost, the paperwork, the crazy documentation needed to import food into Israel.Food4

What’s absurd is that Israeli-grown food costs double here than it does in England.  Raisins cost double in Tel Aviv than in London.  Same for dried apples. Walnuts costs more.  And the list goes on.

A recent survey found Israeli food to be 30% more expensive than European.  Germans and French earn more, so do the math.

There are multiple reasons for the high prices but none are convincing.  The giant food companies say that the Israeli market is too small, fewer consumers, therefore, it has more operating costs, hence the higher price.  Belgium and Portugal have similar population size as Israel’s and their prices are much lower.

Kosher laws add to cost, food producers explain.  It’s not a reason, but an excuse to raise prices, to pin it on the “fall guy.”

To keep their market share, these big companies control the supermarkets.  They dictate the prices, give incentives for displaying their products on the shelves, and penalize them for introducing a competitor.

Supermarkets are tacit allies.  They can’t afford not to cooperate.  Products will be pulled off.  A small importer wanted to introduce the famous Cadbury chocolate.  Suggested retail price?  Half.  Elite squashed them.

So how do we get by?fruit

We buy imported beer when they’re on sale.  We stock up.  We gave up milk for health reasons; we use just a little to splash our morning coffee.  Instead, we grind almonds, throw in soft dates, and hit “blend.”  The result? A refreshing light almond milk drink.

We hardly eat cheeses.

Bread?  My wife bakes, instead.  Or we buy great tasting whole-wheat pita bread from the Arab villages.

In 2011, thousands of Israelis flocked to the streets in protest.  A grassroots movement came into being.  Tents were pitched on fashionable Rothchild Blvd in Tel-Aviv.  Television crews came and went.  Debates were held on TV and radio.  It was called the “Cottage Cheese Protest.”

The Big Companies said they’re listening to their consumers.  They promised change.  In time, prices came down. Very little.

The tents in Rothchild folded.  People went home.beer

It’s back to business as usual.

I’m going to take a break now.  Pour myself a frothy beer.  Watch the golden color.  Sip.  Then dip our homemade bread in olive oil, and watch the world turn.

The Big Guys get all the breaks.

Cheers!

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi