Monday. 26/7/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Sound the alarm

As towns in western Germany prepare for what is sure to be a long rebuild following devastating floods, city and government officials would do well to heed a warning. After Germany’s worst natural disaster in 60 years, reports are emerging that apps and text messages didn’t have their desired reach, meaning that many locals didn’t receive adequate notice to evacuate as floodwaters rose. It’s a situation that Albrecht Broemme, former president of Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief, says could have been better negotiated by a simpler solution: the siren.

There is something to be said for not having to rely on a phone for evacuation notices – spare a thought for the elderly who might not have a smartphone or those who don’t sleep with it by their bedside. Sirens, by comparison, will work “no matter what’s going on”, says Broemme. Germany is no stranger to them: many of the country’s public buildings are already equipped with one. But most date from the cold war and could use a refresh. Following a trial of the national warning system in 2020, Germany’s Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance stressed the need for them to be upgraded after the sirens wailed but apps often failed to send notifications. The shift clearly did not come in time.

All of this points to a larger issue: the desire of cities to invest in new software and sexy apps, whether or not they provide the best solution. Other poorly thought-out examples include digital wayfinding signs that are prone to hacking and benches that double as billboards blaring advertisements. The floods in Germany are a particularly tragic reminder that smart technology isn’t always the smartest solution.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / USA

Building blocks

Bipartisan policymaking has been virtually non-existent in the US in recent years, including the first few months of Joe Biden’s administration. But an infrastructure bill totalling almost $1trn (€850bn) over five years deserves a hearing in the US Senate this week. The latest plan is the product of discussions between 22 senators (11 from each party) over the past few months. Though a first procedural vote to open debate failed in the Senate last Wednesday, the group of lawmakers pleaded for extra time, saying that they were close to a breakthrough deal that could be introduced this week instead. The need to upgrade America’s creaky infrastructure, from roads to bridges to broadband and public works, is one of the few topics that lawmakers and presidents as varied as Barack Obama and Donald Trump have found agreement on. The simple question at this point: what’s taken so long?

Image: Getty Images

Economy / Austria

Change is good

At a time when most of Europe is switching to cashless payments – helped in no small part by successive coronavirus lockdowns prodding many businesses to digitise – Austrians are holding firm to the money in their pockets. The country’s finance minister Gernot Blümel opposes a plan by the European Commission to cap cash payments in the bloc at €10,000. The EU’s goal is to curb money laundering but for Blümel it amounts to an infringement of individual rights.

“Cash gives people a sense of security, independence and freedom,” he said in a statement to Monocle. “We want to preserve this freedom for people.” According to an opinion poll by his ministry, 80 per cent of Austrian respondents are very sceptical about any cap on cash payments. Some political parties have even suggested enshrining the right to use banknotes in the country’s constitution. In the Alps, cash remains king.

You can hear our special report on the Alpine nation’s fondness for cash by tuning into today’s edition of ‘The Briefing’.

Image: Getty Images

Fashion / / Japan

Kitted out

Every four years the Olympic opening ceremony provides a grand stage for the International Olympic Committee’s 206 member nations to show off some slick looks and traditional outfits. Tokyo 2020 may be one year delayed and one nation down (the North Koreans were a no-show) but the extravaganza on Friday night did not disappoint.

Aruban casual. (pictured) The delegation from Aruba, a small Caribbean island, stole the show with a “smart-casual outing at the beach club” vibe. Aruba’s female athletes were sporting wavy blue-and-yellow dresses, while the men opted for white slacks and ocean-blue jackets.

Naked rivalry. Tonga’s Pita Taufatofua went viral in 2016 with his shirtless and oiled look at the Rio Games. He was back this year but this time he had competition in the shirtless stakes. Vanuatu’s Riilio Rii looked dashing with just a traditional multi-coloured straw skirt.

Healthy competition. With masks mandatory, countries and their athletes have put creative energies into the coronavirus countermeasure. The Australians had a garish yellow option with green highlights, while IOC delegates sported understated black face coverings with the Olympics rings embossed in the lower corner. Stylish and essential.

Use your head. Sporting action is now in full swing and sweltering temperatures mean that hats are a must-have for outdoor events. The South Koreans looked particularly dapper in the archery with white bucket hats. On Saturday they won gold; talk about winning in style.

Society / UK

Last standard

Leicestershire has become the last English county to adopt its own flag. The territory, located in the East Midlands, is famous for Melton Mowbray pork pies, Walkers crisps and the Leicester City football team, which is nicknamed The Foxes. The flag features a rendering of the animal in full sprint below a five-petal flower known as a “cinquefoil”, which was once used on the coat of arms of Robert de Beaumont, 4th Earl of Leicester. It was designed to coincide with Historic County Flag Day on Friday, for which the standards of 52 British counties were flown outside the UK parliament. But you don’t have to be a vexillologist to appreciate what these ensigns represent. There’s evidence that regionalism (of the positive kind) is on the rise after a year of confinement to towns, villages and counties. If this means that people shop and do more to protect their local environment, that’s worth flying a flag for.

M24 / Eureka

Swapfiets

Richard Burger, Martijn Obers and Dirk de Bruijn are the founders of Swapfiets, a full-service subscription bike company aiming to make travelling the city on two wheels hassle-free. The three founders met at the University of Technology in Delft and launched the company in 2014. For a monthly fee, Swapfiets will make sure you always have a bike, with repairs and insurance covered in the cost.

Monocle Films / New Zealand

Christchurch School: sunny modernism

We explore a New Zealand take on mid-century modern architecture that fused British brutalism with a Scandinavian aesthetic. The simple construction methods of the Christchurch School’s creative homes have endured changing tastes – and earthquakes too.

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