Friday. 29/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Alexei Korolyov

Ballroom blitz

January and February are normally when somewhat sleepy Vienna comes to life as its Ballsaison gets underway. Coinciding with the German-speaking world’s traditional carnival period (cue the Krapfen, or “doughnuts”, a traditional carnival treat) the balls are highly spectacular events, attracting tens of thousands of attendees from Austria and abroad.

I say “normally” because this year has achieved what only war has before: the pandemic has stopped the music in ballrooms across the Austrian capital – and with it an entire industry that depends on these events for its survival. Fun as they are, the balls are not just about dancing; they’re also about money. Ranging in size from a few dozen to some 6,000 visitors, they generate tens of millions of euros for the Viennese economy within the space of just a few weeks (you can read more about the business of balls in Monocle’s Austria special issue from last March).

This year, however, many companies are holding on for dear life. “Our core business is non-existent this year. It’s very difficult,” says Clemens Höllrigl, owner of Kleiderverleih Rottenberg, a Viennese clothes-rental shop that (usually) does a roaring trade during the ball season. This lament is echoed by dozens of other companies, from caterers to florists to hairdressers, who have been left without work during their most lucrative months.

According to Anna Karnitscher, who is part of the organising committee of the Kaffeesiederball, or “coffee-makers’ ball” (despite its name, one of the highlights of the calendar), balls are an indispensable part of Vienna. “Of course, they are not for everyone but I think this tradition should be cultivated,” says Karnitscher. “Just look at how many guests we have. As long as we have guests, we should continue to do it.” We look forward to getting the ball rolling in 2022.

Alexei Korolyov is Monocle’s Vienna correspondent. For a full report on Vienna’s ball season listen to today’s edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Defence / Japan

Seal of approval

This week’s phone call between Joe Biden and Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga was met with some relief in Tokyo. Domestic media highlighted the fresh assurances that the existing US-Japan security treaty also covers the disputed Senkaku Islands. The Japanese-controlled islands, known as the Diaoyu in China, have long been a possible flashpoint in a region that’s full of them. China has been assertively entering Japanese territorial waters around Senkaku in recent years, sparking political tensions and, potentially, military conflict if the situation is mishandled. Although Barack Obama was the first US president to state that the joint security treaty covers the islands, it’s a sign of just how delicate the matter is that Biden’s own assurances were required as well. Following four years of a more transactional approach to diplomacy under the Trump administration, Japan is clearly relieved to have a clear reaffirmation of Washington’s commitment to its security.

Health / Germany

By the numbers

Germany’s Handelsblatt and Bild newspapers probably thought they landed a massive scoop this week when they reported that the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine was just 8 per cent effective among over-65s, citing figures from the German health ministry. Astrazeneca promptly denied the report and the ministry suggested that reporters had confused the efficacy of the jab with the percentage of older people who took part in clinical trials. Still, it’s clear that some in Europe are wary: Germany’s vaccine committee yesterday recommended it be administered only to those under 65, citing insufficient data.

The decision has surprised Monocle’s health and science correspondent, and Cambridge University virologist, Chris Smith. “Anyone making a decision about the effectiveness of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine should refer to The Lancet in November,” he told The Monocle Minute. “By 28 days, all older adults who received two doses of the vaccine had antibodies.” The EU’s top regulator joins the debate today: it plans to reveal whether the vaccine will be approved for use in the bloc.

Transport / Philippines

Stuck at the gate

A provincial government in the Philippines this week withdrew the right for a China-backed consortium to build a $10bn (€8.27bn) airport south of Manila. Sangley Point International Airport (pictured) was meant to ease pressure on the capital’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport and was one of the key infrastructure projects supported by Chinese companies in the wake of Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte’s 2016 pledge to tighten economic ties with China. The Cavite provincial government now says that China’s state-owned construction company, CCCC, which has been accused of fraud in the Philippines in the past, failed to meet a series of requirements in the joint-venture contract. It’s quite a rebuke to a major economic partner but perhaps also a sign that regional governments aren’t as reliant on China as Manila might think. After all, the suspension of the project boosts the prospects of a separate major airport plan north of the capital, led by Filipino conglomerate San Miguel. Construction on that project is likely to start this year.

Tourism / Egypt

Reinventing the wheel

Egypt’s minister for tourism last weekend laid a foundation stone for the country’s newest attraction in the making: the Cairo Eye. Set to open in 2022, the €26m project will see Cairo build its own 120 metre-tall wheel to join the many others around the world: the Las Vegas High Roller, the Singapore Flyer, the Melbourne Star, the Riesenrad in Vienna’s Prater and, of course, the London Eye. But Cairo’s addition begs the question: is it time to stop? Though there can be benefits to an observation wheel – the London Eye is the UK’s most popular paid-for tourist attraction and has become an emblem of the city’s skyline – it’s important that it works within its context. Let’s not forget that what makes Cairo unique and culturally irresistible is, and always will be, Giza. Adding a wheel, exactly like everyone else, misses that lesson spectacularly.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Article One

Wes Stoody is founder and CEO of Article One, an eyewear brand born in Flint, Michigan. Article One has made a name for itself in terms of both style and craftsmanship, with all of its frames made by just a few small factories in northern Italy.

Monocle Films / Global

Retail special: tea emporiums

The perfect hot drink is not always an espresso or a flat white: more and more specialty shops around the world are opening their doors to tea aficionados in search of the perfect brew. Monocle Films visits emporiums in Berlin, New York and London dedicated to the heritage, ritual and taste of tea.

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