Wednesday. 25/11/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Rocket science

Germans love a good new year’s eve party. It’s the one time of the year when all that stereotypical adhering to the rules seems to fall away – particularly when it comes to fireworks, which are generally unavailable without special permission at other times of the year. At the stroke of midnight, much of the country turns into what I can only imagine a war zone sounds like. I remember watching from my Berlin balcony one year as a firework set off from the street below headed directly towards the onlookers on the balcony opposite. The following morning I found an unexploded ordnance lodged in the brick just above our kitchen window.

It’s all a bit of a safety hazard – there’s an inevitable count of injuries published by authorities the following day – but Germans don’t really seem to care. Precautions should be taken to avoid injury, of course, but not at the expense of letting loose just once in a year.

It’s hard to imagine a better metaphor for what this holiday season is going to look like, particularly in western countries. Today, Angela Merkel will formalise the rules for December and particularly the week from 23 December to 1 January. Meetings of up to 10 people will be allowed in that week – a notable relaxation of national pandemic restrictions – but the states are recommending that people reduce contact for a week before and after to limit transmission. They even suggest that school holidays could begin earlier than 19 December to help.

That seems like a reasonable approach in line with that German new-year ethos: you can bend the rules at the holidays as long as you take precautions at other times of the year. And what of the fireworks? Public gatherings will understandably be restricted but households will be allowed to set off their own risky displays to their hearts’ content.

Diplomacy / Japan & China

Travel plans

A much-vaunted two-day visit to Japan by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi (pictured, left) has already borne fruit. During the first major in-person diplomatic meeting since Yoshihide Suga became prime minister of Japan, the parties sought to firm up a joint economic vision for recovering from the effects of the pandemic. Significantly, Wang and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi (pictured, right) agreed that quarantine-free business travel between the two Asian nations should resume before the end of November and will include a ramped-up testing programme for eligible flyers. The arrangement follows months of discussions and will be perceived as a foreign-policy win for China, which is otherwise under fire in the region for human-rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and for military incursions in the South China Sea. Japan’s Motegi stresses that although “there are various problems outstanding in our bilateral relations,” he is intent on resolving them “one-by-one through meetings between high-ranking officials”. So far, the idea has wings.

Culture / UK

Show business

UK business owners will welcome this week’s news that shops and restaurants can reopen in December but the country’s musicians are still wondering when live performances will be allowed to resume as before. Streaming platforms are doing a brisk trade but, due to the fact that royalties from such services are low, artists have seen a huge loss of income this year. That’s why the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee opened an inquiry on the economics of streaming yesterday with testimony from leading performers.

“We shouldn’t be having this discussion because live income has fallen away,” said Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien (pictured), noting that live shows have long been a “band-aid” for younger artists struggling to make a living on royalties. Tom Gray, a musician and founder of the Broken Record campaign launched earlier this year, added that “inequity” is an industry-wide problem. “Unfortunately, streaming has made the problem worse because it’s so much harder to understand.” Hearings such as this are one way to sound out some answers.

F&B / Helsinki

Hel’s kitchens

Twelve top restaurateurs have joined forces in Helsinki this week. Amid the doom and gloom of the pandemic, they’re focusing on the positive: how to weather the storm together and take advantage of the promotional opportunities it might offer. The Raising Hel project will start small by selling restaurant gift cards, which could be offered by companies to their employees in lieu of Christmas parties. But its long-term plans are to liven up the city’s restaurant scene, support new businesses and challenge other Nordic towns by lifting the Finnish capital’s status as a culinary destination. “What makes Helsinki’s restaurant scene special is how personality-driven it is,” says Ville Relander, one of the city’s best-known restaurateurs. “Chefs and restaurateurs follow their passion, relying less on tried and trusted formats or concepts.” Reaching the culinary heights of the likes of Copenhagen will be a challenge but it’s worth noting that the Danish capital has only gained global renown over the past 20 years and camaraderie was part of the recipe.

Cinema / USA

Model film

Few films are more influential than Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic Jaws. Not only did it make a whole generation wary of what lurks in the deep but its fearsome and unforgiving portrayal of sharks has also affected their conservation to this day. It’s rather fitting, then, that this special piece of cinematic history has now been immortalised at the Renzo Piano-designed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, which is due to open in 2021. Bruce, the last surviving model shark of four made for Jaws, is a 25-foot (7.5m) relic of a bygone time in film-making, which was only supplemented with some rudimentary special effects and camera trickery. In an era in which studios have a wealth of CGI options for set design at their fingertips, Bruce serves as a reminder that making a lasting impression doesn’t always require elaborate graphics.

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories 234: Finlandia Hall, Helsinki

We brave the cold to visit an Alvar Aalto-designed building in the heart of Helsinki that has hosted its fair share of events, both historic and cultural.

Monocle Films / Shimane Prefecture

Master craftsman: Shimada Takayuki

The unassuming Shimada Gama workshop in Gotsu doubles up as an open-air museum of traditional stoneware pottery. It specialises in creating large pieces that are burnt in a sloped wood-fired kiln. We talk to the 73-year-old master Shimada Takayuki about the challenges of passing the rare skill and aesthetic sensibility down to his son and grandson.

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