Tuesday. 21/1/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Changing its tune

The World Economic Forum gets underway in earnest today but last night there was a concert, “An International Call for Unity and Joy”, led by the noted conductor Marin Alsop (pictured). The concert brought together a mix of musicians – from veterans to youth orchestras and tenors to sopranos – from countries including Brazil, Japan and South Africa for a new rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

Alsop, who is conducting a special series of concerts across six continents this year in honour of the composer’s 250th anniversary, says that her goal is to show that unity and tolerance are not lost concepts in 2020. That might sound like idealistic claptrap – the world seems far from unified in 2020, particularly with Donald Trump on his way to Davos again this year – but Alsop had some rather nuanced views of the forum when we spoke to her for the special Davos-themed issue of our Winter Weekly newspaper series.

Alsop admits that Davos might be an “exponential gathering of wealth” but it’s also “a reflection of what’s happening in the world” and, as such, is adaptable. Take diversity. When the conductor was first invited back in 2005, she found herself “surprisingly inspired” by the focus on philanthropy and came away energised, despite the fact that women were barely represented. “If I went to the 2005 event today, I would be offended – that’s how much the world has changed,” she says. It’s a good thing, then, that Davos has changed with it. Whereas the 2005 forum had a lone breakfast event to discuss gender, equality is a key focus this year, along with climate, sustainability and polarisation. Yes, diversity “remains a struggle,” says Alsop but an increased openness should be welcomed. It’s better to work with the world’s richest in order to tackle the world’s biggest problems than for them to ignore the thorny issues.

Mexico / Politics

Stopping the rot?

It’s been little more than a year since Mexico’s populist (and still very popular) president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (pictured), swept to power largely on a platform of promising to stamp out corruption – and this week his progress will be put to the test. Since coming to power he’s had to deal with several high-profile cases that haven’t done much for the country’s brand. They include the accusations that the former Mexican security chief Genaro García Luna took bribes from the drugs cartel run by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán; García Luna is due back in court in New York today. Obrador points to the opening of more than 600 investigations and also says that former Chihuahua governor César Duarte Jáquez will soon be extradited from the US for misappropriating public funds. But not everyone is happy: Coparmex (the Mexican employers’ association), a regular critic of the government, claims that corruption has been “weaponised” against Obrador’s opponents. It might be wise to leave the overall verdict to Transparency International, an investigative NGO that publishes its new Corruption Perceptions Index on Thursday.

History / Berlin

Addressing the past

Berlin is perhaps better than any other city in facing up to and memorialising the darker parts of its history to serve as reminders for its current and future inhabitants. Now the German capital plans to confront a less-publicised historical story: its colonial past. This month, Berlin’s City Museum launched a five-year project called “Postcolonial Remembrance in the City” with the help of several NGOs. The scheme’s goal is to develop exhibitions and cultural festivals marking decolonisation.

One aspect of the project will be to change street names that honour leaders of the Reich’s imperial expansion. Petersallee in the Wedding district, for example, which takes its name from Carl Peters, the founder of the German East Africa Company, is to become Anna-Mungunda-Allee after a Namibian independence campaigner. Why the five-year timeline? The project’s organisers don’t want to rush the job. “For now this is about putting the structures in place,” says Berlin City Museum’s Judith Kuhn. “Concrete measures will begin next year.”

Hospitality / Japan

Game changer

Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, is famous for its historic temples and gardens but it is also home to a number of hi-tech companies, including games giant Nintendo. Until it moved to new premises in 1959, the company – originally founded as a playing cards maker in 1889 – had its headquarters in a four-storey structure that was completed in 1930. Now the building will be turned into a hotel by architect Tadao Ando and hospitality company Plan Do See. It’s an example of a shift in mentality. Old houses and offices were once routinely torn down in Kyoto but authorities now see the value in preserving the townscape. A 213-room Ace Hotel is opening in Kyoto this spring in the historic Shinpukan building, formerly the Kyoto Central Telephone Office; the renovation of the 1926 building is being overseen by another famous Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma. As tourism to Kyoto has skyrocketed in recent years, new hotels – and preserved traditions – are much in demand.

Transport / Denmark

Building bridges

Denmark’s ministry for transport unveiled its latest blueprint for an ambitious link between the Jutland peninsula and the large island of Zealand on Sunday – and included a surprise change: a railway line. The initial proposal, for which a feasibility study was approved in 2018, consisted of two bridges spanning the Kattegat Sea with an estimated cost of DKK58bn (€7.7bn). Adding a railway service more than doubles that to DKK136bn (€18bn). But with an increased focus on public transport, it might be a worthwhile investment: according to the government, the link would reduce travel time between Denmark’s two largest cities, Aarhus and Copenhagen, by as much as 90 minutes. It’s their hope that, with train times as fast as this, there’ll be one less reason to hop on a plane.

M24 / Tall Stories

Nonbei Yokocho, Tokyo

This week we head to the alleyways of Shibuya in Japan’s capital to learn how small coincidences can make seemingly impenetrable cities feel a little more welcoming.

Monocle Films / Global

Copenhagen: healthy city growth

The concept of kolonihave, a blissful combination of an allotment and a summer house, has shaped Danish cities since the late 17th century. Today avid growers convene in these colonies to find a peaceful place to commune with nature – and a community of diverse characters.

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