Wednesday. 2/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Stone deaf

Standing on a hill above Rüdesheim on the Rhine is “Germania”, officially known as the Niederwald Monument. An imposing sight nearly 40 metres high, the monument commemorates Germany’s unification in 1871 as well as victory in the Franco-Prussian war. France wanted it torn down and the only reason it remained standing after the Second World War is that it was on the US-controlled side of the Rhine rather than the French side.

I remember the first time I was taken there by a friend nearly 10 years ago. We remarked with awe on the words engraved below it – a militaristic song about guarding the Rhine (“You, Rhine, will remain as German as my own beating chest”). As a pro-European, to me it felt personally offensive and overly nationalistic. And yet I’ve returned several times since with friends and family. It often provokes reflections about history, about German reunification, about the Prussians and the Second World War, and on Germany’s role in Europe today.

Let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting that all offensive historical statues should stand as they are; sometimes they can be amended. In the German town of Heidenheim, for example, a monument to Second World War general Erwin Rommel was recently augmented with a sculpture of a landmine victim that casts a shadow in front of the monument. At other times they simply must go: Nazi-era statues have all been taken down in Germany and rightly so, while many Confederate statues in the US were erected in opposition to the US civil rights movement and serve as shameful monuments to white supremacy.

But some statues offer an opportunity to reflect on a nation’s tortured history. Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A Macdonald, was there for the birth of a nation but also spearheaded the killing of and discrimination against First Nations peoples. I suspect that the downing of his statue in Montréal this weekend means that fewer people will learn of that complicated history. Similarly, former US president Woodrow Wilson helped found the League of Nations but supported segregation. I fear that removing his name from Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs might deprive young students of the chance to discuss those faults and accomplishments. And if Germania is ever taken down, I would miss having the opportunity to confront unwitting visitors with evidence of Germany’s complicated past.

Trade / Asia

All for one

Japan, India and Australia agreed yesterday to set out a shared agenda for a trade initiative launching later this year that is designed to promote resilience, mainly by diversifying their supply chains. It’s a conscious shift away from the economic dependence on China that has become a hallmark of the region. “This is about delinking trade from politics,” says Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy, explaining that China has been using embargoes and tariffs to exercise geopolitical influence over its neighbours. “Nobody wants to be beholden to China; a more diverse supply chain means that they won’t be.” It’s a smart regional agreement that serves to protect economies through international collaboration, rather than the internalised supply chains that are characteristic of nationalist regimes. “The combination of India’s scale with Japan’s capital and Australia’s natural resources makes this alliance a very interesting counterweight to China’s dominance in the region,” says Lee-Makiyama. Trade on.

Media / Philippines

Tuning out

Press freedom in the Philippines is making headlines again after the country’s biggest broadcaster, ABS-CBN, was forced to take a dozen regional television stations off air last week. The broadcaster has been a reliable critic of president Rodrigo Duterte and the closures follow a recent decision by the House of Representatives to reject its application for a new free-to-air broadcasting licence.

“Filipinos living outside Metro Manila will lose a trusted source of local TV news,” ABS-CBN said in a statement. The independent media group endured – and survived – a similar blackout during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the country until 1986. But that will come as little solace to the countless journalists who are now out of a job, not to mention the viewers around the country who rely on their regional broadcaster for daily updates on the surge in coronavirus cases.

Cinema / Italy

Opening credit

The 77th Venice film festival starts today, albeit with strict rules, thermo-scanners and an army of cleaning staff. But it’s still a significant milestone: “We might think that festivals are just places to party and dress up for the camera,” says film critic Karen Krizanovich. “Publicity and awareness are part of it – but festivals are serious business. This is where contacts are made and partnerships forged. It’s also about the buyers and critics who are there to find new titles for public consumption.” Despite usually being a springboard for awards-season glory, this year’s Venice programme isn’t littered with stars and studios campaigning for an Oscar or Bafta because a reshuffled calendar means that those ceremonies are happening two months later than usual. But that’s not what’s important. “The fact that it’s happening in real life when so many others have gone completely digital demonstrates that even a pandemic cannot fully stop the film industry,” says Krizanovich. “We need stories. We need to see other people.”

F&B / Chicago

Best in snow

Alfresco dining on city pavements and streets has been a much-needed lifeline for restaurants around the world this summer. But with cooler months fast approaching in the northern hemisphere – and with many cities still nervous about indoor dining – Chicago recently launched the Winter Design Challenge. The competition asks entrants to submit plans for making outdoor dining feasible and safe during the city’s notoriously gelid winters. Run in partnership with design firm Ideo, the competition is open for submissions. So far, most hinge on some sort of individual dining pods or outdoor heaters. While it’s smart that Chicago is canvassing creative solutions, we don’t expect the winning designs to solve all the industry’s woes (and so much of what makes eating out intimate and fun is lost if you’re confined to a plastic bubble). Instead let’s hope that, along with other measures from city hall and ideally at a federal level, it just might allow the city’s vulnerable independent restaurateurs to weather the cold snap.

M24 / Food Neighbourhoods

Recipe edition, Shuko Oda

We hear from the head chef and co-founder of Koya, one of the most cherished restaurants in London.

Monocle Films / Global

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