Many of us received our first impression of Israel at the airport in Germany. If you fly with the Israeli airline el al – as did most of our eight-person travel group – then you run into strict security measures before you even leave Germany. Before you check in, you have to answer questions from security staff. And unlike for other flights, there are multiple security checks before you finally take your seat in the plane. This procedure was repeated upon our arrival at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.
Security is a recurring topic in the official speeches that open up the Tel Aviv University (TAU) Innovation Conference. A podium discussion included the U.S. ambassador as well as ambassadors from Australia, Hungary, Peru, and the deputy ambassador from Canada. And everyone wants to make it clear why Israeli start-ups absolutely must come to their country.
But there’s more to talk about than just security, which is often what news reports about Israel tend to focus on. When you first walk through Tel Aviv, the first thing you notice is the diversity. It’s an unbelievably colorful city, in the most literal meaning of the phrase: the streets are still decorated with rainbow flags from last weekend’s Tel Aviv Pride Parade, one of the largest events of its kind in the world. The city also seems to have terrific vitality. Life happens outside in the full streets, with their innumerable cafes, restaurants, and street vendors, or in traffic, on traffic-clogged streets with horns honking in encouragement, annoyance, greeting, or to offer up a parking space. And there is the beach, like an oasis in the urban jungle. A classic city beach that suddenly peeks out between the buildings. Many people who live and work in Tel Aviv take advantage of the beach to relax or take a break – and some Tel Avivians enjoy the beach until the wee hours.
The beach and the city also show Israel’s second peculiarity: it is a country of contrasts. Some of the members of our group arrived before us and spent a couple of days exploring the country. Surely there are only a few countries in which there are such contrasting landscapes in such a small space; after all, Israel is only a bit larger than the German state of Hesse. From the Mediterranean coast and the green, flat north, to densely wooded hills and mountains, to the barren desert of stone and sand in the south. The contrasts are equally striking in the cities too. One Israeli saying that you hear again and again in Tel Aviv goes: “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, and Tel Aviv plays.”
Things were not entirely so at the opening of the TAU Innovation Conference. Even if the overall ambience invites celebration, it’s an occasion to make new contacts and create networks. Our three start-ups from the Uni Potsdam have probably never pitched their ideas as spontaneously as they did tonight. And that was just the beginning. At the same time we experienced Israel’s third characteristic: openness and helpfulness. The idea that a person excited by someone else’s business idea grabs his telephone to call someone right away because he knows the right contact for a team – this rarely happens at similar events in Germany.
So today we work ... and we play.
Text: Wulf Bickenbach
Published online by: Daniela Großmann
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