Sibylle Berg

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Excerpt translated by Damion Searls

It’s strange how quickly the world changes, though some time passes before we become aware of it. How quickly it has changed. Images from before still linger in our synapses. Exciting trips, with no danger of anything worse than a stomach bug. You flew to Greece, carefree, or crossed the Gobi Desert, or sat in Yemen observing how the people lived. You took a trip to Paris – cafés under green plane trees, constant sore feet from all the walking: endorphins. All this is stored up, it tugs at your heart, and it overlays and conceals the real pictures. Like when I was in the Métro with some thirty young men drunk on violence, terrorizing the other passengers. Streets full of elderly homeless people. The tense faces of the Parisian women – they were supposed to be so relaxed, balancing kids and career with a smile, but such people do not exist. There are only the harried and stressed, underpaid men and women crammed into public transport, cramped apartments, and traffic jams, harassed by tourists posing for photos with a baguette. The stink of urine on the streets, the congestion on the streets. And now something new: terror attacks, uncertainty, Roma people squeezed onto the central reservation of motorways and heading down into the Tunnel. That insane underwater tunnel to England! Have there been any attacks there yet, or is it just the refugees daily trying to get to England? Yes, you Europeans, the world is robbing you of your comfortable Chunnel journey, taking away your kitschy image of Paris, and now you’re in London. A city that has always stood for missed opportunities, a city full of models and rock stars. But you, you stupid woman tourist, you ended up in Whitechapel in your unsuitable clothes, which don’t cover you up properly. Not covered up. Cute little draughty London with its well-meaning natives no longer exists, but fine, you don’t have to go to London, there are other destinations. Italy is still exciting; there’s still the Mediterranean, if you refuse to think about the 40% youth unemployment, you know, or about those ‘boat people’. And the fact is, you don’t have to go anywhere anymore. There are wonderful shows every day on television travel channels, and there the world is as it should be.

Simple, good-hearted men and women handcrafting local goods, hospitable and welcoming. No terror attacks, no kidnappings. Hardly any sign of revulsion at white tourists. And if you don’t want to watch it on TV, then you can read about it in books, as we once did… in the days when we travelled the world.