Tel Aviv is basking in the sunlight during the day and glowing in colorful neon lights at night as dozens of Eurovision-related events are keeping the city, its residents and visitors busy around the clock.
There’s no escaping the Eurovision Song Contest this week.
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Eurovision-themed accouterments are everywhere.
The parking lot signs now read VCNT instead of panui (which means “vacant” in Hebrew). There are blue stickers lining the city’s sidewalks and beachfront promenade pointing in the direction of the Eurovision Village or Expo venue. Big oversize chairs with the Dare to Dream logo beckon selfie-takers at the beach. Big billboards announcing Eurovision hover over the streets. Rainbow heart stickers are on the windows of local businesses (a sign of Eurovision and gay-friendly establishments).
A Eurovision banner outside the municipality lights up with the flags of countries participating in the song contest.
There also seem to be more electric-scooters in the city – and visitors speaking an array of languages are riding on them.
Visitors are frequent to Tel Aviv. It is common to overhear English or other languages at landmarks throughout the city. And this is always a city with a lot going on. But this week, even us locals, have noticed a difference.
There are many more foreign-language speakers about. The roster of what-to-do’s is unlike any other week.
Tonight Tel Aviv hosts the annual White Night festival. All week it has felt like the all-night arts and culture festival is underway.
The biggest gathering is at the Eurovision Village. Every night, tens of thousands of people flock to the fenced off area overlooking the beach. The vibe is fun, exciting and happy.
The song contest’s sponsors have set up selfie spots for fans to take photos as if they are Eurovision Song Contest stars. You can be Netta, Kobi Marimi and Dana International.
“We’re from Spain,” three friends, in their 30s, told this reporter while waiting for a chance to pose with Dana International’s signature feathers. “We saw Kobi at a rehearsal and we cried. He was so tender.”
Some visitors don’t need a mannequin-like setup to look like their
idols. Eurovision fans are known to take this contest seriously and often deck out in extravagant shiny costumes of their own. A visit to the Village is thus a people-watching paradise.
And, of course, there’s Israeli artist Nirit Levav Packer’s enormous approximately four-meter-high sculpture of Eurovision 2018 winner Netta Barzilay, made – aptly – out of recycled toys collected from kindergartens around Tel Aviv. Netta, of course, won last year’s contest with the crazy song, Toy.
The Israel Ministry of Tourism, which launched a video clip in Europe called Douze Points showing Israel as a tourist destination, announced that it has logged more than 50 million views.
“We see Eurovision as an opportunity to promote Israel throughout the year as a culture and lifestyle destination and we will continue to feature Eurovision in our marketing materials in the coming months. We are in a period of record incoming tourism, with about 400,000 tourists arriving every month to enjoy Israel’s pleasant year-round climate, its beaches, culture, lifestyle and, in particular, the unique atmosphere of Israel,” said Tourism Minister Director-General Amir Halevi.
Tel Aviv is also brimming with security that is more noticeable this week. Around the Expo venue, you can find army and police inspection booths. The country is said to have pumped over $5.6 million into security to keep the contest and its fans safe. Reports say tens of thousands of police are on patrol in Tel Aviv.
The Eurovision shows continue tonight with the second of two semifinals (May 16), with the winners set to join the 10 nations chosen during Tuesday’s first semifinal, for a sing-off in Saturday’s final.
Madonna, who is meant to perform on Saturday night at the Eurovision final, landed in Israel on Tuesday evening. Although some called for her to boycott Eurovision, she was quoted as saying that she will “never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda.”
Until Saturday’s final and Madonna concert rolls around, Tel Aviv will play host to various events from art exhibitions to DJ sets, from rooftop bar lounging to tech-savvy all-night happenings.
The Eurovision vibe is all-day, all-night in Tel Aviv.
Viva Sarah Press is a journalist and speaker. She writes and talks about the creativity and innovation taking place in Israel and beyond. www.vivaspress.com