This time is different

This blog is called the Minimalist Travels for a reason.  It’s supposed to be an observation of the world that surrounds me and be a witness to the beautiful and express it with minimalist prose.  Yet, this morning it is the brutalist ugly that compels me to be a witness to.

As the tv, print and online media re-peddle night after day how they are rattled by the Brexit result few expected, I can’t shake off the feeling that we should have seen this one coming. Forces of economic nationalism and working class anger have been brewing ever since the last financial crisis and globalization and technological changes which sped up since meant millions of people saw their jobs marginalized and wages decline even further. I heard a Standard & Poor’s analyst say yesterday that this type of volatility is temporary and that things swing back to the norm.  I think this time it is different.

Pound plunging to 30-year low, FTSE 100 diving 9% even before opening and Euro Stoxx almost double that (17%), yes, are temporary. Markets will find excuses to re-inflate itself and if it doesn’t soon enough central banks will make it so. Most successful leader of Tory of his generation, David Cameron who only a year ago won parliamentary mandate who gambled away 40+ years of EU integration and many centuries of Scottish union will also be forgotten and new leaders will emerge (in England’s case it may be an old, familiar one). But behind the market and political normalization will continue to be fundamental forces of resentment fostered by populist manipulators confusing our judgement and corrupting our temperament.

What happened to the UK is not just an existential challenge to and turning point for EU, it’s a clear and unmistakable warning that we too can make that mistake in our next referendum, election and, perhaps most importantly, daily choices we make in how we click on that article to yet another Trump shenanigan, give breathing space to populist platform and lash out at an immigrant competing for our jobs. We would be naive to think what 52% of UK voters did is the result of deep division only of that country and the final dagger in the heart to that political establishment. It was only one, albeit notable, circumstance in the continuum of populist fury and is neither one society’s phenomena nor final. It is a challenge to all of us who are reading this that, despite living and breathing little of the working class marginalization, these forces surround us and we ourselves must own immediate changes to rescue ourselves from making poor, lasting choices.

How many more times can we be merely rattled and look on with bewilderment at the outburst of deep seated anger and distrust in the dirty economic and political contract carved out in stone between the bankers who who moved to central banks and law makers who are funded by those very sponsors? This fury train started when the economic elites bankrupted themselves and law makers bails them out excusing them as too-big-to fail and has been on collision course ever since.

This time it should be different. There should be no more complacency in the lofty concepts of federation and long drawn out discussion on gradual reform insisting the vision of founding fathers of EU.  Nor should we accept that the only logical response to corrupt establishment is dividing the country and wining by a small margin.  Far-right exploitation of the angry and suspicious must be defeated immediately, every time it raises its ugly head. And that systematic fight can’t be expected by our political and economic leaders but must start with us. We must recognize that we are the intelligentsia who must be alert of that anger at privileged class, anxiety about a perceived loss of national sovereignty and resentment toward migrants that surround us. And it is us who must fight to win the argument each time and every time that being subject to the manipulation of populist opportunists is not the answer. Answer does not lie in the populist opportunists, much less Hillary, Sarkozy or Mark Carney.  It is us who will be counted by our children of correct judgement and enlightened temperament.

Berlin Tegel Airport

Belin Tegel location

Extended curbside from one end of Tegel to the other but drop off at the right location means 30m from terminal entry to departure gate

First thing that struck me when I entered Terminal A at Tegel was ‘why did taxi drop me off on arrival floor and where’s the escalator to departure and check in hall’? It then occurred to me that I’m at Berlin Tegel, apex of two things the world needs more of: mid-century modernist design and German efficiency.  Integrated ebb and flow of arrival and departure on single floor with maximum distance from taxi curb to departure gate of less than 30m.  This is made possible by hexagonal design of Terminal A which eliminates  transit zone and allows that each gate with its own departure security clearance  and arrival exit.


Hexagonal design of Tegel Terminal A, Berlin, Germany

This does mean an extended curb side from one end of the airport to the other but this is inconsequential as long as you’re dropped off at the near vicinity your airline counter of choice. Through the automatic double doors of hexagonal terminal A, step into your airline check-in queue, enter the departure alley into security check and you’re immediately faced with your departure gate.

Thank God for the mini-duty free kiosks in front of each gate since I had over an hour to idle now what usually takes 30min even in the most efficient Asian airports took less than 5. So abruptly short is the journey from check-in to your gate compared to kilometres of meandering I’ve become accustomed to in star architect designed megalo-ports, the boarding experience is refreshingly bewildering. Sure, Tegel is a vestige of the old air travel days when airports served lighter demands but looking up Wikipedia reveals 20Mn passengers passed though it in 2016 so it’s no mignon of transportation hub. While Naritas, Chep Lap Koks and Changis may justify their ever sprawling addition of terminals with distant connections even before air travel, more regional airports should take cue from Berlin Tegel in operational design. Haneda and Gimpo (two secondary airports in major connection hubs) take note in their next renovation plan, please.

MuCEM (Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée)

MuCEM, together with the renovation of the waterfront, was supposed to be the centerpiece of Marseille’s reboot into the new century when it was named European Capital of Culture for 2013.  The historically gritty port’s moment in the sun to look up … a transformation of sorts.  The museum is built on reclaimed land at the entrance to Vieux Port next to the site of the 17th-century Fort Saint-Jean.
Now that the fanfare has subsided, it seems as though the waterfront rehab has achieved little to invigorate and MuCEM not able to create the pull it was intended to.  Visiting MuCEM is a tortuous pilgrimage from beginning to end. So unintuitively discrete is the main gate, I found myself circling around the grandiose structure wanting an entry.  Experience inside the dim, low-ceilinged structure is even more wanting.


Ground level, inside the dim, low ceiling structure

As you enter the security gate and stand in the lobby, there’s no architectural or design cue that helps lead one to any particular direction – you are lost before you started. Meander in and out of bookshop, cafe and permanent exhibition space, you struggle yourself up an escalator tucked away in back corner.


Standing in the lobby with no design cue to lead one to any particular direction

Navigation doesn’t get easier as you climb the 1st and 2nd floor temporary exhibition space. Walkways that lead to abrupt corners which are dead ends with blocking tapes. Heavy glass doors with unintuitive door handles that won’t open (why does exhibition space need doors?).  Claustrophobic exhibition space adds to the confusion – stunted by low ceilings, corridors endlessly circle ensuring to tire the exhibition goers.


As unhelpful is the access and allocation of space, the most unintuitive about MuCEM is that you cannot see the Mediterranean.  Once inside this shrine for Mediterranean history and culture, you’re completely disconnected from the environs it’s supposed to define… The latticework shell encasing the concrete and glass cube prohibitively obstructs the panorama out to the ocean, corniche and Fort St.-Jean.


Litticework shell encasing the cube hinders the perspective it is supposed to define, Mediterranean

As I climb the ramps and plunge into another corner staircase which doesn’t connect to anywhere, I pause to dispel any lingering doubts that this architect’s experiment does little to add to our understanding of the history of our civilizations.

MuCEM (Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée)

7 Promenade Robert Laffont – 13002 Marseille

Hours 1100- 1900 (summer 2000, winter 1800), Fri until 2200 (May 2-Oct 31)

Permanent & temporary exhibition – eur 12 / concession eur 5 / family eur 15 (up to 5 children w/ 2 adults)