Wednesday. 1/1/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Time for reflection

Given my part-Austrian background, you might take this with a pinch of salt but there really are few better places to spend New Year’s Eve than in Vienna. At the stroke of midnight, you will find the Viennese – literally – waltzing in the streets (together with tourists who can get free lessons on one of the central squares earlier in the day) to the sound of “The Blue Danube”. It’s a rather wondrous moment that will take you back to a forgotten time of glamour and tradition.

If you weren’t able to make it this year, might I recommend that you awaken from your late-morning slumber (and probable hangover) to a new-year concert at the Vienna Philharmonic, an annual tradition that you need special connections to see in person but is watched by millions around the world every year. It starts, helpfully, at 11.15 Vienna time; I still only usually make it for the second half. It’s a soothing background for your reflections on the year gone by and resolutions for the one to come.

Whatever your traditions for New Year’s Day, we could all use a bit of soothing reflection after a tumultuous and divisive 2019. I’m sure we can all agree that politicians and citizens on both sides of the aisle should resolve to step back from the brink and explore ways to put some civility back into politics.

Over the next three days, we’ll be giving you a snapshot of some of the most pressing problems and opportunities facing Europe, Asia and the Americas. We’ll be back to our normal routine on Monday when we hope you’ll check in for another year of Monocle Minutes to brighten up your morning routine. In the meantime, frohes neues Jahr!

Politics / UK

Starting afresh

European businesses will no doubt be happy to see the back of 2019, a year in which many were forced into emergency operations to guard against a no-deal Brexit. As it turns out, the haste was unnecessary: the UK and EU live to negotiate another day. Even if the UK formally leaves the EU at the end of this month, an 11-month transition period keeps everything the same for the time being. But it’s still a troubling situation: with Brexit on the cards, uncertainty will still be the name of the game in 2020. Will London and Brussels be able to hammer out an ambitious deal to govern their future trading relationship by the end of the year? Or will it all come crashing down once again and see the UK end the transition with no real deal at the start of 2021? Here’s hoping that the holidays have given both sides time to reset and consider a more constructive way forward.

Science / Europe

The space race continues

Later this year the European Space Agency (ESA) will attempt its most ambitious planetary mission since its inception. The Exomars project – which is expected to travel to the red planet in the summer – hopes to provide scientists with a clear indication as to whether there was once life on Mars. The mission marks a milestone in international co-operation between ESA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos – but its success appears to rest on whether the rover’s parachutes behave as they are supposed to. “The mission is touch and go,” says journalist and astrophysicist Dr David Whitehouse. “Everything needs to be perfect for the rover to land – but it would be a huge feather in the ESA’s cap.” Indeed, with China and India attempting to muscle in on the exploration of Mars, it’s important for Europe that the agency gets this right.

Transport / Spain

Your carriage awaits

Will 2020 be the year of the train? With the threat of global warming looming large, offering affordable alternatives to budget flights has never been more important – or profitable. In Spain, tickets go on sale this month for Avlo, a new low-cost, high-speed train service running between Madrid and Barcelona (via Zaragoza), set to be launched in April. Avlo aims to make high-speed rail an inclusive, competitive and sustainable travel option. It follows other low-cost European projects such as Ouigo (dubbed “Ryanair on wheels”) and FlixTrain in Germany, as well as upgrades to traditional train operators such as Deutsche Bahn and Austria’s ÖBB that also offer a more premium service. “Trains are no longer a product focussed on business trips but open to families and young people,” says José Luis Ábalos, Spain’s minister of public works. Be sure to grab a good book for a relaxing rail journey in the new year.

Culture / Ireland & Croatia

Much to celebrate

As the UK’s Brexit Remainers have long observed, the bonds of the EU run deeper than the economic and political. Its annual European Capital of Culture title is a glittering example of the cultural exchange that the Union has done much to foster. This year, the soft-power accolade has been awarded to two cities: Galway (pictured) in the Republic of Ireland and Rijeka in Croatia. Each will programme a series of events to run across the year, showcasing the best in its artistic endeavours and achievements. At the heart of the Capital of Culture programme, which started in 1985, is the desire to reinforce communities while building ties with the rest of Europe. In today’s era of isolationism and national navel-gazing, projects like this feel more important than ever.

M24 / Meet The Writers

The best of Meet The Writers: Damian Barr

We look back at some of the year’s best episodes of ‘Meet The Writers’. On this episode, Georgina Godwin talks to Damian Barr. His novel ‘Maggie and Me’ was named ‘The Sunday Times’ memoir of the year and his latest novel, ‘You Will Be Safe Here’, has already received high praise.

Monocle Films / Australia

Sydney Residence: Harry and Penelope Seidler House

Far removed from the skyscrapers and residential towers for which architect Harry Seidler became known, the house he designed with his wife is governed by Bauhaus aesthetics that are just as forward-thinking today as they were in the 1960s. Monocle Films visits Penelope Seidler in her dream home.

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