Everyone has heard and seen Dubai- in countless documentaries about the future. Indeed, many people have already visited Dubai already, as the city is practically right in the center of the world, making it a travel hub from West to East and vice versa.
The landscape of Dubai consists almost purely of superlatives.
It’s as if someone huddled a group of crazy Sci-Fi authors together and told them: look, you have this much money and you have this particular place in the world. GO CRAZY! Until today, people are fantasizing about making the rest of the universe habitable for humans. But we never stop to consider what’s happening right here, on earth, only a six hour flight away from Berlin: this was once a desert, now transformed into an architectural centerpiece of the world.
The highest towers, the craziest buildings, the most absurd structures are all here.
But it’s not just the actual, tangible stuff which is intriguing. Someone had to have the vision and the courage to realize these exorbitant projects. First, we build facilities to filter the salt out of the ocean; then we lay pipes everywhere to get the fresh water flowing; we grow plants; we build streets; we construct a new, urban reality from scratch and get it to working in about 40 years.
We build new islands in the shapes of palms, we build underways, more high rises, hotels, marinas, fun parks, anything we can think of: we build it.
All of that is hard to ignore when you cruise through the city and over the broad highways. Dubai is not as romantically charming as other, historically laden cities, but it’s an incredible project of collective work and stamina. I can’t even get 5 people in a group project at school to finish a lousy Power Point presentation in time; how do you come to build ALL OF THIS?
If you’ve ever asked yourself: what’s the future like? Then a visit will definitely give you some answers.
A Short History of Dubai
The UAE was founded in the early 50s; they’d found oil, and the Sheiks of the bedouin tribes came together to form the United Arabic Emirates (but only reached independence from the British in the 70s – okay, just read about it on Wiki). They knew that the oil wasn’t going to last forever, especially not in Dubai. From the beginning on, they were planning on substituting their income by something else when that point inevitably came.
After the oil, Dubai would be a tourism hub to offset the fading income (that, til today, supports healthcare, infrastructure and proper education systems where there once weren’t any).
That plan was a full success, not just because of the cities artificial new landscape, but also because the geography is perfect: it’s hot most of the time, it’s in the center of the world and thereby close to almost everyone but Americans, and oh, did I forget to mention that glorious beaches? Do people know that there’s an amazing coast around Dubai? And just a couple of meters further off, you’ll get to the desert.
I’m not sure if I would recommend a backpacking tour around Dubai. This city isn’t made for spontaneous discovery or in fact for any urban interaction. That’s a big downside to anyone who’s ever liked to travel.
On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter what you’re looking for in consumption: art, fine dining, shopping, sports or beach life? Everything is available in Dubai. I’m not judging: sometimes that’s all you want to do on a vacation.
Authentic Experience in Dubai?
Most people think authenticity equals something like cultural history. I understand this notion, but Dubai isn’t inauthentic, it’s merely very young. The individual, specific urban culture of Dubai is still growing up.
Ask any Emirati (a rare breed in Dubai): they will tell you that everything is exactly the way it should be. There are no Bedouins anymore in the UAE. Anybody who still dresses like that is doing it as part of a play, meaning going on a Desert Safari equals going to Disneyland. It’s still fun, despite not being real. Emiratis don’t really hang out in the desert to breed falcons and ride their camels (although some do).
If you get the chance, attach yourself to a local. Locals are not expats or workers residing in Dubai. Only ethnic Emiratis are considered “locals”. As I mentioned before, they are indeed a rare breed. They only make up 12% of the population, but to this day I’ve never met more entertaining, hospitable and open-minded people. They love their traditions, but they also embrace modernity. They love to own 2 phones and they are crazy about non-alcoholic fruit cocktails.
But yeah, let’s be real: you’re probably going to be much closer to the “real” Emirates in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the country. But maybe that’s not why people come to this place.
I’m not going to dispute the fact that Dubai is strange. When it was raining, it was gloomy and dark and looked like Gotham City: construction sites everywhere, intimidating high rises and perverse highways. I personally find that to be extraordinarily attractive. And sometimes Dubai makes you feel like you’re being trapped in a JG Ballard novel.
Getting to Dubai will take about six hours on an Emirates flight, and a short stay can be very well advised while you’re on a stopover to the Far East.