Thursday, November 30, 2000
Templars, tourists and a roof with a view
The restoration of the main street of the colony has already been completed. The project, which was designed by the landscape architects' firm of Greenstein and Har-Gil, includes the appropriation of land for public use, resettling tenants and changing the structure and design of the street. In keeping with the plan, the street has been made narrower and several traffic circles built along it. The sidewalks were widened and paved with stone and streetlights, benches and pergolas installed - all of them elegant and made of high-quality materials such as solid wood and cast iron.
The new design has vastly improved the appearance of the street, but did not recreate the intimacy, simplicity and organizational genius (a main street for traffic and two pedestrian malls on either side, flanked by two rows of dense trees) of the Templar street one sees in old photographs. A return to the original street is impossible in a big city, but the contemporary alternative is not completely persuasive. Maybe it will improve when the young magnolias grow a bit and soften the heaviness of the stone, and when the empty sidewalks fill up with pedestrians.
Haifa has great hopes for the link between the German Colony, the new Baha'i Gardens on the upper end of the main street, and the passenger port at its lower end. The gardens will be opened in May; the port is expected to open soon to the general public, and to form the main tourist attraction in the lower part of the city.
The developers of the German Colony restoration project are impatiently waiting for the crowds to stroll up and down the street, between the mountain and the sea (like the name of the first exhibition in the new municipal museum). But the Baha'i Gardens and the German Colony will be separated by a pneumatically-operated iron gate that will close, as if to purposely annoy people, at 5 P.M., around the time when tourist areas like this are just beginning to wake up. The plan to open the port to the public has been making its way through the city's bureaucratic channels for years now and has become a local joke.
You can't trust Haifa residents, either; instead of discovering the German Colony, they have recently discovered busy Moriah Boulevard on the Carmel, which was not redesigned and has not received even a penny of municipal or state development budgets and nevertheless - how annoying - is filled with people enjoying themselves. The current security situation apparently hasn't helped the colony, which is in the mixed Jewish-Arab heart of the lower city. Just a few days ago a storm erupted after a Palestinian flag was flown from a "yuppie Arab" restaurant, as the locals call it.
Ambitious building plans are being bandied about for the main street of the German Colony and the surrounding areas (which once were Templar farms): underground parking garages, plazas, walking tour routes and massive construction of office buildings, hotels and commercial centers. Mosheli, who is helping to prepare the master plan for the area, says there are no plans to build new residences or restore existing ones. They might have revived the area better than stone paving and fancy streetlights.
More than a few Haifa residents are concerned about the new construction on the street. It isn't the size that concerns them but rather the style, which the guidelines defined as "in keeping with the original style." It was in this style, or more accurately in some third- and fourth-hand styles, which are in keeping with absolutely nothing, that the new City Center of shops and offices was built. It is hard to decide whether to worry, laugh or cry.
There's no need to wait until all the big plans are executed in order to visit the museum. In the main exhibition space is an interesting photography exhibition, "Between the Mountain and the Sea," curated by Yehudit Matzqel, as "a tribute to Haifa as reflected in the medium of photography." In the room across from it, there is a collection of nostalgic postcards from various periods of the city, along with objects from the original Beit Ha'am and documentation related to the preservation of the structure - which should be an integral part of the permanent exhibition and the computerized archive in such a museum.
Those who are disappointed by the uninspired design of the ground-floor exhibition space (which is not faithful to the original, hides every hint of authentic history and offers no compensation in terms of its own quality) will undoubtedly take comfort from the view from the northern balcony on the top floor of the museum. It is one of those thrilling Israeli landscapes: the stunningly beautiful Dagon granary, the huge port cranes and the sea. People travel great distances for such views.
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