The opener - Issue 141 - Magazine | Monocle

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Out of one’s shell

Plenty of ambassadors choose a dog as their official companion, but the French embassy in Nairobi has opted instead for some slow diplomacy of the animal variety.

Meet Tortue, the 48-year old resident tortoise, who seems rather content with his diplomatic duties and comfortable surroundings.

Read more about our visit to the embassy here.


woodchip and pin

Paying with plastic will soon be a thing of the past if Munish Chanana has anything to do with it. The professor at eth Zürich has partnered with some academic colleagues to create the first timber credit card. Their company, Swiss Wood Solutions, compresses oak and spruce to create a thin layer of wood with the durability for atm use. Banking microchips can then be added to the card. When it expires it can simply be composted, making it good for the planet and your security too.

Electric shock

From the back section

Being an underwear model surely involves some level of self-confidence. Naturally, then, we were surprised when we came across the portfolio of a handsome Japanese clotheshorse that included a shot of him in some obviously padded underwear. This wasn’t a pair of socks stuffed down his Y-fronts but rather a cushioned rear. We rummaged deeper and found them to be electronic massage pants made by Panasonic (see page 184). We’re told that they “make your bum feel wonderful” – and anyone you wear them around extremely uncomfortable.

Gift of tongues


Latin music is popular in Israel. You’ll find singles from Static & Ben El (pictured), which wouldn’t be out of place at a reggaeton party, at the top of the charts. It’s not as surprising as you might think: there is a connection between Hebrew and Spanish, encapsulated by Ladino, a language that combines Old Spanish and Hebrew. It’s spoken by about 150,000 people and bolstered by publications for Ladino speakers. Those learning a new language can help to ensure Ladino’s survival by studying it. But if hitting the books isn’t for you, shimmy along to “Shake Ya Boom Boom” by Static & Ben El instead. 

correspondent’s view from...


by Kimberly Bradley

In the nearly 20 years I’ve been in the German capital, conversation at any dinner party was dominated by the topic of real estate. Back in the old days, when dinner parties were big pots of pasta and bottles of very average wine, it was often about how insanely cheap and large your flat was. Then talk turned to hot new neighbourhoods. From about 2010 my friends started buying apartments and lamented the overdevelopment of tourist spots. Gentrification talk – like gentrification itself – reached fever pitch and didn’t let up for years.

Until now. Before lockdowns, Berlin was reversing a few bad post-Wall decisions, with the city buying back properties it had sold years before and implementing strict limits on Airbnb properties. A rent cap came into effect in November 2020 but for many this news was anti-climactic.

Some time ago I had some German journalist friends over. We ordered a delicious Italian takeaway in my leafy west Berlin district and opened a bottle of sancerre. Sure enough, talk turned to housing; now, however, the speculation seems less about whether our property values will continue to go up and more about Berlin’s future in the larger sense.

We all noticed a new sense of community developing. Berliners are founding collectives and supporting nearby businesses but also more urban farming and other forms of co-operative business and housing. This is closer to the Berlin I moved to, rather than the churn it had more recently become. But – oh, joy – paired with much better beverages.

Ones that got away

Banned banners

Jonas von Lenthe’s new book Rejected Designs for the European Flag showcases more than 150 banners that were sketched by a diverse range of artists for the original Council of Europe. The circle-of-stars that was chosen in 1955 went on to be adopted as the EU’s emblem and the rest ended up on the cutting-room floor. Here are three designs that failed to be run up the flagpole – we can’t imagine why.


Salvador de Madariaga, a former chair of the League of Nations, designed this flag, where every star marks a capital city on the postwar map of Europe. They also look worryingly like gunshots.


As the seat of the European Council and a symbol of reconciliation, the Franco-German city of Strasbourg saw its red-striped crest feature in many submissions. Pretty good as a T-shirt.


Perhaps the designer of this flag was hinting at Europe coming roaring back. But the continent is home to far less exotic creatures, so it’s perhaps strange to choose a tiger to represent it.

Cream of the crop

by Megan Gibson

As monocle’s foreign editor, I’m appreciative of any gift that an ambassador sends my way. Over the years I’ve had mouth-blown glass ornaments from the Czech ambassador; Taiwanese white tea from the country’s London representative; and a fine bottle of sancerre from the French embassy. But I was slightly taken aback when I opened a recent gift from the South Korean embassy to find two tubes of luxurious anti-wrinkle eye cream. Oof. Had I really looked that tired the last time I met the ambassador? Yet I’m delighted with the gift. Just because this can be a tiring job, it needn’t look like it. After all, when it comes to skincare, nothing really compares to South Korean products.


pastures even newer

House hunters are eschewing city pads and sniffing around suburbs with new zeal. But not all are equal, says Ellen Dunham-Jones, co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia, and a recent guest on The Urbanist on Monocle 24. 

Urburbs: Israeli-coined phrase used for suburbs that have an urban vibe.

Technoburbs: First used in 1987 by professor Robert Fishman, this kind of neighbourhood incorporates corporate campuses and shiny office buildings.

Ethnoburbs: A term developed in 1997 by academic Wei Li. Pushed out of cities by high prices, immigrant communities formed sprawling ethnic enclaves on their fringes.

Metroburbs: A term pioneered by Ralph Zucker of New Jersey-based Somerset Development. It describes the repurposing of defunct corporate campuses into mixed-use development.

correspondent’s view from...

Rio de Janeiro

by Lucinda Elliott

There are two flights of stairs to go until we reach the top and I’m holding the corner of a washing machine in sticky 30c heat. Until now my neighbour and I have only ever conversed from a safe distance across our balconies. But with the scrap-metal dealer parked outside the apartment building, we’ve made an exception to get this machine. A kaleidoscopic range of disused finds is strapped to the roof of his van with dubiously thin cords.

Brazilians are accustomed to door-to-door salesmen but, during the pandemic, the reliance on them has reached a different level in Rio de Janeiro. With markets closed, customers such as my middle-aged neighbour are reluctant to barter in the usual way. Kitchen knife sharpeners, vegetable growers, broom vendors and even fishmongers have instead jostled for deals by calling out from their characteristic Volkswagen Kombi camper vans or knocking on doors. To tempt potential buyers (or bring a smile to the face of a passerby) hawkers chant in the hope of securing a sale: “Three reais, three reais… your mother-in-law will thank you at just three reais.” They’re now part of the fabric of confinement in Rio. Local produce for local people, with an inherent tendency to recycle and upscale.

Some might question why, with mobile technology and delivery services, anyone would bother exchanging a washing machine with these merchants, only to have to carry it up stairs. But there’s an undeniable benefit to spontaneity when it comes to shopping. Walking back one afternoon from the supermarket a crowd had gathered around a Kombi where live crabs were being pulled from ice water. I bartered – and bought my best dinner-for-one in lockdown. 

illustrator: Satoshi Hahsimoto, Francesca Rizzato. Photographer: Khadija Farah. Images:  Council of Europe, Getty Images

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