★★★★ Palm Beach Hotel

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The first shock for anyone who has not visited Lebanon for a while is Beirut international airport. It’s huge, clean and cool and the processing of passports (visas can be bought on the spot) surprisingly swift. Okay, this is a old notice I recently found in a unknown diary of Summer 2004.

The first shock for anyone who has not visited Lebanon for a while is Beirut international airport. It’s out of order. Dress Code: unknown.

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Netherless I found the Palm Beach Hotel. It is located in Ain El Mreiseh, in the west of Beirut, and overlooks the mediterranean. I ve beeen in the Sky Bar several times. The bar is trendy and very popular with a youngish crowd, it has magnificent views across the sea and plays good music. Dress code: smart/smart casual, as is the case in most Lebanese nightclubs and bars.

People always compare Tel Aviv with New York. Are they so similar? Even though I’ve never visited Beirut before and based on what I’ve been told it seems that the city which most resembles Tel Aviv is Beirut. Both are large cities that combine nightlife and beach life, business and art, and especially a sense of joie de vivre. At any rate, whenever I return from abroad – whether it be New York, London or any other city – I always feel a sense of relief when I land in Tel Aviv.

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Joachim Helfer: Viel zu wenig wird über das Problem Daniel Kehlmann gesprochen. Der Alexander Humboldt-Apologet unseres Zeitalters ist eine wirkliche Gefahr. Mir ist in Beirut aufgefallen, dass sich Nicolas Borns Figur Laschen zurückgemeldet hat – mit einem flüchtigen Bild auf der Stadtautobahn. Er war nur kurz fort, knappe 27 Jahre. Die Bilder haben sich ein wenig verändert. Laschen erkennt die Schmauchspuren auf den verbrauchten Bildern von damals. In der Sky Bar ruft er mir jede Nacht zu: Die Achse des Guten zerbricht vor den Augen der Welt; immer noch sind es jene “schmutzigen Bilder schön in sauberen Wohnstuben anzuschauen.” buckycomfort.jpg

Immer hin spricht besagtes Foto-Fundstück von einer BILDSTAUGEFAHR jenseits des neuen Modebegriffs HISBOLLYWOOD. Es trägt die Spur von Nicolas Born; es ist Fälschung und hier zugleich schmerzhaft, drastisch und klar: Alarmsignal und Traumprokoll im etwas zynischen Gewand Dolce & Gabbanas. Remodelling Reality.

Gilad: The city centre has been entirely rebuilt in golden sandstone and pink marble – just as it used to be before the war erupted in April 1975, complete with cobbled streets, pavement cafes, wrought-iron railings, Ottoman arches and terracotta roofs. The terrace outside Casper & Gambini is an excellent place to eat a generous salad and watch the passing parade – and it looks across an excavated Roman crossroads. These days, the visitor has to look hard to find the detritus of civil war – the odd wall or house pitted with bullet holes still awaits demolition. In summer – especially July and August – the Lebanese diaspora return to have fun. That means parading in their finest, cruising around in Ferraris and Porsches, bar-hopping and clubbing until dawn breaks behind Mount Lebanon. Because the country is tiny, it can be crossed in a morning or afternoon. It really is possible – in March or April – to ski in the morning (at Faraya winter resort) and swim in the sea in the afternoon. The cedars – the national symbol – grow in the mountains of north Lebanon and are said to date back to King Solomon. At one stage in the civil war, these magnificent trees appeared to be dying of disease and neglect. No longer.

Carol: To see village life as it has always been, unaffected by war or western materialism, visit the glorious hamlet of Hasroun in the north, or tiny Tannourine perched in the clouds only a 40-minute drive from the sea. On the way, stop off at the ancient port of Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic), swim, tour the Etruscan, Phoenician, Greek, Roman and Crusader ruins, recover with a lunch of sultan brahim (red mullet) dipped in taratour (a sauce of crushed sesame seeds, garlic, oil and lemon) accompanied by a salad of rocket and onion and all washed down with a bottle or two of chilled Ksara blanc de blanc. Or head to the Shouf mountains, stronghold of the Druze community, southeast of Beirut, and the old palace at Beiteddine. In Beirut, most people speak some English at least, and they are usually friendly, hospitable to a fault, and helpful. Crime is low. The atmosphere is tolerant. The only slightly unnerving aspect of any visit is the fact that people stare. They stare at one another, too. It’s a constant sizing up process, an integral aspect of flirtation. My advice: ignore it or, if you enjoy the attention, make eye contact and stare right back, but don’t be surprised by any propositions you receive. Evening entertainment usually starts around 9pm with a visit to a bar or pub. You can still eat a magnificent Lebanese meal for $10-$20 a head – try the Coq Rouge behind the mountain resort of Broumana for its northern specialities and its great view of a monastery and vineyards – but midsummer in downtown Beirut, expect to pay London prices for food and drink.

Gilad: I tried to find my favorite Beirut timecode.

Carol: Me too, maybe it’s time to open another gate.

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