Monday. 21/3/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Kimberly Bradley

Honoured guests

In late 2015, in the midst of a mass exodus from Syria and other parts of the Middle East, all eyes were on Germany. Backed by then-chancellor Angela Merkel, the country took in a million refugees – but with a good amount of logistical and political chaos in the early stages. Nearly seven years on, with a steady stream of refugees now arriving from Ukraine, it’s clear that Germany has learnt a lot about how to provide emergency aid.

Outside Berlin’s main train station, Hauptbahnhof (pictured), is a “welcome hall” tent operated by Stadtmission, a Berlin volunteer organisation that aids the homeless. Volunteers are dishing up hot drinks and soup, while Ukrainian arrivals in good spirits take selfies with an open-armed bear (the city’s mascot). Nearby is a Vodafone stand with free Sim cards for calling numbers in Ukraine and Germany. On the lowest level of the station itself are busy donation stations and children’s play areas. Volunteers in yellow and orange vests carry signs indicating what languages they speak. It’s not all rosy of course: the Berlin police have posted multilingual signage in the train station warning Ukrainian women to avoid single men offering help.

Stadtmission and other aid organisations are also helping arrivals to find housing, using specially created websites such as unterkunft-ukraine.de to ease the load on official shelters. Still, those shelters are filling up and, depending on political developments, new distribution policies will have to be thought through quickly: more than 200,000 refugees have already registered in Germany and about 10,000 are arriving every day in Berlin, leaving mayor Franziska Giffey to warn that “Berlin can’t do it alone”. The newest predictions forecast far higher numbers of incoming refugees than in 2015. Germany will need to ensure its improved organisation extends well beyond the first four weeks of the invasion.

Bradley is Monocle’s Berlin correspondent.

Image: Heiko Prigge

Society / Albania

Open arms

While cities such as Berlin (see above) carry some of the load, the responsibility for taking in the millions fleeing Ukraine has fallen disproportionately on the country’s neighbours. Warsaw alone is currently hosting almost 300,000 refugees, increasing its population by 17 per cent. Now the mayor of Tirana (pictured), Erion Veliaj, has pledged to host Ukrainian refugees amounting to 1 per cent of his city’s population and challenged European cities with populations of a million or more to do the same. Veliaj says that 2,000 families in Tirana have already signed up to host refugees and attributes this openness to a recent boom in Ukrainian tourism. “People already know each other; they’ve realised how similar they are,” Veliaj tells Monocle. “The people that we waved goodbye to last summer as holiday goers are now being seen as refugees.” His hope is that Tirana’s commitment will push other cities – particularly those in western Europe with greater resources – to do their part.

Hear our interview with Veliaj on ‘The Monocle Daily’

Image: Shutterstock

Culture / Japan

Songs of war

Can music stop the war in Ukraine? “Sadly, the answer is no,” says Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami (pictured). “But it can make listeners believe that war is something we need to stop.” The writer took to the airwaves on Friday night to address the Ukraine conflict in a special edition of his programme, Murakami Radio on Tokyo FM. The theme was “music to put an end to war”.

Murakami, who in addition to being a writer is a music obsessive who once opened his own jazz café when he was a university student, selected the soundtrack and talked to listeners about his thoughts. It’s not the first time that Murakami has spoken up politically. “Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg,” Murakami said when receiving the Jerusalem Prize in 2009. “No matter how right the wall may be and wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg.”

Image: David Koskas

Culture / France

Burning questions

The world’s attention was caught by the fire that tore through Paris’s medieval Notre-Dame cathedral in April 2019, as well as the subsequent restoration project that continues today. The drama of the blaze and the intricacies of the rebuilding effort have also proved to be fertile ground for France’s cultural scene. A smattering of books were written on the subject and the event has featured on screens both little and large. Last week saw the cinematic release of the documentary Notre-Dame Brûle (“Notre-Dame on fire”), which was directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (pictured) and follows the firefighters working to rescue the church on the day of the blaze. Netflix is also after a piece of the action: the streaming giant has announced a dramatisation of the event featuring actor Roschdy Zem to be released later in the year. Stay tuned for more.

Image: Getty Images

Music / USA

National anthems

Today, a decades-old European tradition crosses the Atlantic for the first time. The American Song Contest, organised by the team behind Eurovision, will include entries from all 50 US states, five territories and Washington DC. Acts include a K-Pop singer representing Oklahoma as well as big names such as Michael Bolton for Connecticut and Macy Gray (pictured) for Ohio. Unlike Eurovision, which is bunched into two semi-finals and a final, the US version on NBC will be a drawn-out affair featuring multiple qualifying rounds over eight weeks, culminating in the final on 9 May, just ahead of Eurovision’s own showpiece on 14 May. Will it prompt the same sense of healthy rivalry as its European counterpart? “The interstate competition is a very new idea to us in the US,” Audrey Morrissey, the show’s executive producer, tells Monocle. “We don’t do this too much outside of politics, so it’s a good chance to have a little bit of state pride.

For more, tune in to a special episode of ‘Monocle on Culture’ airing tonight on Monocle 24

Image: Sean Fennessy

M24 / Monocle on Design

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Monocle Films / London

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