WIDER IMAGE-Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station: a grimy commuter hub with a soul

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TEL AVIV, July 15 (Reuters) - Opened in 1993 with hopes of rejuvenating one of its poorest neighbourhoods, Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station is now commonly referred to as “the Monstrosity”.

An urban development dream gone bad, the seven-storey jumble of grungy corridors was once envisaged as a slick shopping centre serving streams of commuters.

Instead, with many of its store fronts long shuttered, its labyrinth of passageways has given rise to an eclectic mix of commerce and culture.

A Philippine food market serves a large community of carers for the elderly, there’s a makeshift Philippine church, a folksy Yiddish book centre and money changers.

Dancers, musicians and circus artists use its free space to practice and perform, and the homeless are also drawn into its shadows.

The station’s diversity reflects the neighbourhood, where a large foreign migrant population lives in mostly run-down apartment blocks.

Dana Forer, 40, is a member of the Mystorin Theatre Ensemble which has made the building its artistic home.

“The Central Bus Station is a playground for imagination,” she said. “I feel full of joy and creativity when we light up the dark spaces with our performance.”

Tamar Lehman is a 32-year-old social counsellor for young adults who comes to the station to practise dancing and play her accordion.

“I felt this building is just like the people I work with - they may appear totally confused within themselves, not understood, bizarre, but the more you learn about the people and their inner structure you slowly become more familiar with their inner world, with all its craziness, and you see the beauty,” Lehman said.

Merry Christ Palacios, 37, is a carer from the Philippines who shops at the station and worships in its church.

“It’s special because I can find everything we need to buy,” she said, but added visitors need to be “very careful about their bag, cellphone, money and things” as they navigate the station’s hallways.

Stav Pinto, 24, employs her circus talents to teach life skills to special needs children. Pinto and her hula hoop take part in an informal circus group that meets on Monday evenings.

“There’s a magical air to the Central Bus Station that reminds me of a dark urban forest,” she said.

“It’s a place of adventure where you can meet a variety of people and be exposed to different cultures. Every time I walk through it, I can discover a new place that is completely different from the others.”

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Reporting by Corinna Kern; writing by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Jason Neely