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Sibylle Berg

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The bass notes pound from the disco. The young people are on the prowl for sexual encounters, older couples are kissing in the heated pool, feeling cared for, well fed, able to pursue all their needs immediately, unlike in real life where they feel much more under threat than they do on this ship. Here they finally have something to say, they can order people around, they can consume, without a boss standing over them, without being afraid that the labour market will no longer need them. The fact that so many people with disabilities are here, the blind, the wheelchair-bound, suddenly makes sense too. Everything here is accessible by lift, the world goes by outside the windows, here they are in control, not in others’ control. A cruise like this means the total and absolute elimination of boredom.

During my first night on board a cruise ship, in the darkness of the sea, I am able to fall asleep only with the help of the neon lights that have now left the corridors to stand around my bed. The ship races through the night at 30 knots. Down in the windowless crew cabins, staff who have worked the day shift are lying down to rest. One of them – I’ll call him Jim – is from the Philippines. He spends only three months a year at home with his family. He likes his job, before this he worked on a container ship, and that was stupefyingly monotonous, here there’s always something going on. Here guests are almost always in a good mood, and he earns enough to send his children to school. So, nothing new under the sun. No one signed a contract at birth that guaranteed justice, and this justice only exists in the minds of good left-wingers anyway, and there are none of them on board. They’ve probably booked a sailboat trip to the sites of classical antiquity and are curled up in rattan furniture, reading out modernist poets like Georg Trakl to each other.

At some point I fall asleep, trusting the stylish Italian captain and the technology and no longer picturing a leap into the cold, dark water.

The water. A cruise ship generates 32 litres of sewage per person per day, up to three kilos of rubbish, then there are the exhaust emissions, as much as from 350,000 cars. Don’t forget the fumes from the incinerators. Much of these waste products are dumped into the air and the ocean, of course.

Although new ships have modern sewage treatment systems and older ships have often been fitted with these new systems, the major problem remains the pollutants that these systems produce. Ammonia, nickel, copper, zinc. Not good. It is also not good that many of the fuels used on ships are much more hazardous to the environment than normal motor fuel. Ships emit more CO2 per person than airplanes. Waste disposal has a devastating effect on marine microsystems and the health of the oceans. As of now there are about 300 giant cruise ships, but some thirty more are under construction. The Allure of the Seas, which will take 6,300 passengers, currently occupies the top spot. Developing or maybe we can just say Third World countries reap only very limited benefits from this new style of tourism. Companies often rent land in these countries, such as in Haiti, to give their cruise tourists a pleasant beach experience without having to meet the locals. And, of course, there’s the added consideration that this way all the revenue will go directly to them.

Morning. Rarely have I felt more intensely out of place. I ate a little papier-mâché for breakfast and watched the passengers, all scrubbed squeaky clean, eagerly awaiting their first landfall, which would be at noon. I had already seen such landfalls from the other side, from the mainland or from little islands, where floating skyscrapers came and docked, and insects streamed out. I had felt sorry for those poor people hurrying through the streets, their faces betraying their fear of missing their skyscraper’s departure. At the time, I could imagine no greater punishment than to go with them back onto the ship, where I imagined there would be a lot of plastic and gold paint. Anywhere that you can’t leave whenever you want – ships, planes, islands, funerals – has always scared me. And now here I am, in my insane cabin, waiting to land.

The docking manoeuvre is the first relaxing moment of my journey. I am always delighted when people are masters of their profession, it so rarely happens. Parking 120,000 gross tons in reverse? Hats off! The needs of those on board are fulfilled with impressive perfection. On land, the usual suspects are hanging around the port in Palma. Con men, touts, rip-off merchants. The smart traveller waits for a bus, pays one fifty, and gets off right in front of the cathedral with five hours to be a tourist.

I gradually start to recognize some of my fellow passengers, whom I run into again and again in the turmoil of the island capital’s streets. The feeling of freedom is overwhelming. I’m inclined to jump for joy. Real coffee, real people, even if they’re mainly Germans. Palma has changed a lot since I was here ten years ago. It has become like every rich place in the world: one enormous chill lounge.