- Wunderbare Jahre: Als wir noch die Welt bereisten by Sibylle Berg
Wunderbare Jahre: Als wir die Welt noch bereisten is the original German collection of nineteen previously published and newly revised essays by German/Swiss author Sibylle Berg, born in 1962 in Weimar, former East Germany, and now a Swiss citizen. Readers already familiar with Berg's numerous novels, plays, or regular columns in Spiegel Online are also familiar with her keen observational powers, ability to get to the essence of her subjects, compassion for others, concern for the current state of the world, and the cynicism that underlies many of her descriptions of it.
The present volume is no exception. It introduces Berg's unique style and critical commentary on an imperfect world. The cynical tone that readers of the original German, as well as of the more than 30 languages into which many of her works have been translated, have come to expect is clearly present from the beginning. The title Wunderbare Jahre, "Wonderful Years") and subtitle Als wir noch die Welt bereisten ("When we still Traveled the World") both suggest that there used to exist a make-believe "once-upon-a-time." Primarily White tourists from Western European and North America indulged in journeys to cities like Paris and Los Angeles, to major cultural events such as Bayreuth Wagnerian operas and the Cannes film festival, and to extraordinary adventures in exotic locations outside our first-world existence. Above all, these journeys kept us safe and aloof from the harsh reality of poverty, oppression, violence, and environmental degradation that had long been daily reality for so many. In contrast, Berg makes clear that for those who traveled with their eyes open and who sought to explore beyond the surface of tourist experiences of restaurants, museums, and main attractions, this fantasy world never truly existed. It is this "other" world, the reality behind the fantasy, into which Berg bids readers to accompany her.
From the beginning, Berg sets the tone, describing journeys to destinations both near and far. In the first paragraph of the introduction, the author invites us to bask in delightful memories of past journeys in a romanticized world, only to casually state that such memories have [End Page 187] merely been super-imposed on reality. She then abruptly reminds us of violence in the Paris metro, streets full of elderly homeless people, heavy traffic, and the smell of urine in the streets. On top of all that is a new addition to the tourist attractions—terror attacks. For tourists seeking the romantic past, there is no escape to a London populated by "friendly locals." Even Italy, delightful Italy, has unemployment rates of over 40% for young people, and struggles to care for its own "BoatPeople." Never mind, Berg suggests, for television still offers these romanticized versions of travel with the added advantage that "we barely witness the disgust for the White tourists" ["den Ekel vor dem weißen Touristen sehen wir kaum"].
Thus, the reader is launched on a world-wide journey, crisscrossing the globe and traversing time on journeys most recent as 2014 and reaching as far back as 1994. Each essay is followed by one or more postscripts about further developments of affairs for the people, impacted cultures, and the natural environment since the article's original publication. For example, the reader is taken to wartorn Kosovo in 1999 and hears an airport employee in Macedonia-two hours from the war zone--exclaiming, "Thank God that's all far away." The cynicism with which the author ends this essay is made more sobering by the postscript that explains how many active war zones there are in the world and how many refugees from these wars are now searching for safe havens.
The journey continues as Berg describes how the world stood still to witness the marriage of Prince Harry to Kate Middleton in a country where Muslim women are subject to Sharia law and systematically oppressed, abused, and discriminated against. Later, the reader travels to Bangladesh in 1994 and meets a woman...