Second metro line in Warsaw nearing completion

The first section of the Polish capital’s second underground metro line has been completed and are now subject to final inspections and checks before opening. Originally intended to be completed in time for the Euro 2012 football world cup, delays changed the time plan and the seven stations spread over six kilometres of track are now to be operative in mid-November this year.

Polish PM Donald Tusk becomes new president of the European Council

2014 - Donald Tusk (16)
Current Polish prime minister Donald Tusk has been designated as the next president of the European Council and as such tasked with chairing the meetings of the council which consists of the heads of government of the European Union member states as well as being the figurehead of the EU, a role he will officially take over from current president Herman Van Rompuy on December 1.

The selection of Tusk, an influential and high-profile liberal-conservative politician from one of the newer EU member states of central Europe could be seen as an acknowledgement of the growing importance of central and eastern Europe in European affairs, with Poland emerging as the regional heavyweight.

The modernization of the monarchies

One of the strongest traditions of the monarchical institutions has been the steadfast view that a monarch reigns until death, unless exceptional political circumstances have forced the incumbent out prematurely. The only traditional exception to this rule has been the Dutch monarchy, whose reigning queens during the 20th century have not hesitated to take a step back and go into retirement when their successor has been deemed ready to take over. But that has been the quirky exception to the rule.

Now, in the 21st century, however that age-old monarchical taboo however seem to be regarded more and more as an anachronism in today’s world. In a sweep that started with the – actually even more unprecedented – stepping down of pope Benedict XVI and then continued with the abdications of both the Dutch queen Beatrix as well as the Belgian king Albert II and, latest, Juan Carlos I of Spain, it seems like a new precedent is forming. In the modern monarchy it seems the head of state are now seen as entitled to retirement. Or deemed unproblematic enough to have around as a retiree. Because it must also be noted that the other side of the coin with abdicated monarchs is that you will in such circumstances have an ex-monarch who theoretically can remain an influential power voice and a voice that is no longer as bound by convention and position. Such a person could theoretically be a problematic political problem, all depending on his or hers personal ability to slip into the new and in many ways undefined role given. With the diminishing actual political power of the monarchs in today’s European states that could be a lesser problem, but nevertheless it is still to be seen during coming years if this new tradition of handing over the crown “in advance” will prove to be a beneficial move or not for these very archaic institutions. For now, it seems to be functioning.

Centennial of the shots in Sarajevo

Sarajevo 1914 by Achille Beltrame in Domenica del Corriere (cropped)
The murder of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie as illustrated by Achille Beltrame.

Today it is exactly 100 years since the ill-fated attentate on the Austro-Hungarian crown prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. The double murder is traditionally viewed as the event which started the First World War and even if its position in history as the unavoidable ignition of the war can be debated, there is no doubt that it was a turning point from which it had taken considerable effort and will to stop – a will that didn’t exist at that moment in time. Instead the hard demands put forward by Austria-Hungary on Serbia became an ultimatum and then the fire was unstoppable before it had spread and brought destruction to most of Europe and the rest of the world.

Only in Japan…

Waitress in Akihabara café
Waitress at the Meteor Shower cosplay café in Akihabara, Tokyo. Source: Anime News Network

There are some things that just really can’t exist anywhere else than in Japan and even there only in some select places like the famous – or infamous – Akihabara district in Tokyo. Such as the latest addition to their very special café settings, this time it is a pop-up café with the special gimmick of having the staff wearing the easily recognizable Japanese school swimsuits and of course having a menu styled appropriately with beverages such as “sweet pool juice” and jello.

The café which is a part of the cosplay café Meteor Shower is a promo for the June 14 release of the live-action film “Sweet Poolside”, adapted from a manga.

Berlin’s Tempelhof to remain free

Tempelhof Airport in 2012
Tempelhof Airport in 2012. Photo: A. Savin

It seems like Berlin’s classic and iconic old airport Tempelhof will remain an oasis in the heart of the German capital after that the people’s movement who wanted to preserve the old airfield area as an open space for the impromptu mixed uses which have developed after the closure of the airport. Among the many activities people now enjoy there are ecological gardening, biking on the abandoned runways and flying kites over the vast open space.

European borders: the curious case of Baarle-Nassau

European borders are the product of centuries of warfare, dynasty changes, trades and negotiations. This also means that they can over time become rather complicated, in particular in more populous areas. The small Belgian exclave town Baarle-Hertog in the Netherlands is probably one of the more complicated border constructions in the world in this aspect.

Baarle-Hertog is a piece – or several small pieces actually – of Belgian territory entirely surrounded by the Dutch town of Baarle-Nassau.

Map of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog
Territorial map of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog. Source: Wikimedia.

Prague Central Station

Prague Central Station
Prague Central Station in 2005. Photo: Brunswyk/Wikimedia

Praha hlavní nádraží (Prague central station) is the main railway station in Prague, Czech Republic, and is like a not insignificant number of buildings in the city an example of art noveau architecture.

Prague Central Station interior
The café in Prague Central Station. Photo: Brunswyk/Wikimedia

Originally built in 1871 and back then named Kaiser-Franz-Joseph-Bahnhof in honour of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, the station was rebuilt in 1901-1909 after a design by the architecht Josef Fanta in the then modern art noveau style. After the First World War and the independence of Czechoslovakia the station was renamed after the US president Woodrow Wilson to Wilsonovo nádraží (Wilson Station). The name changed to simply Hlavní nádraží with the German occupation in 1939 and has since 1953 been the current name in use.

The next change came in 1970 when the construction of the Prague metro was the cause for the construction of a new, larger entrance hall with connection to the underground station below, making the central station accessible from the street Washingtonova.

In 2006 a large scale renovation programme was initiated which aims to bring back the original style as well as modernizing the station for the current needs.


Ukraine’s last hope?

The agreement now on the table might be the last chance to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine and also to avoid a situation devolving into a civil war. The main question now is how much the agreement actually will be worth. The current regime in Ukraine has not shown itself to be very trustworthy when it comes to earlier agreements and at the same time the opposition, or at least its more hardcore elements, will most likely have difficulty accepting an agreement that leaves the hated president in power for maybe up to the end of the year.

It is also ominous that the special envoy of Russia unlike his EU counterparts from France, Poland and Germany apparently haven’t signed the agreement as was first intended. The Russian statement that they too want to see a stable Ukraine might not mean in their mind the same thing as it does for the EU.

(This text is also posted at Tonakai World.)

Copenhagen Airport plans future growth

Copenhagen Airport (Københavns Lufthavn) plans to grow greatly during the coming years, having set a goal of increasing the yearly capacity from the current 24 million passengers to 40 million in 25 years time. This will according to the airport company be possible due to positioning itself even harder as a major hub in northern Europe. The expansion is however dependent on that cities and regions both in the whole cross-border Øresund region of Denmark and Sweden manage to attract businesses and tourists in such a scale that it becomes economically viable, something that is not impossible, given the current growth, but requires continued efforts in order to not lose momentum.


A geographer's view of the world