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Wolfgang Bauer
You Are Leaving the Comfort Zone

One might think in this country that populism is currently the greatest political evil. However, the wars and violent conflicts in other parts of the world show that we are living in a comfort zone. Every now and then we receive reports from places where the reality is far crueller than we can imagine.

By Holger Moos

Bauer: Bruchzone © Suhrkamp The award-winning journalist Wolfgang Bauer has published Bruchzone (i.e. Fracture Zones), a book containing “crisis coverage” from 2010 to 2017 in which Bauer explores the “periphery of our world view”. An almost indescribable cruelty and brutality reigns there, while in this country we debate how many of the unfortunates who hope to escape from this periphery we can take in. “In these days of the AfD and FPÖ and Trump and the Front National, we are in danger of losing sensitivity to what is happening around us in the world”, Bauer writes in his foreword.

This seemingly distant calamity is much closer than we think. Because something is breaking down in the crisis regions: the very foundations of humanity: “This fracture zone is the place of upheaval and change, where it begins, where it bursts open, which shortly thereafter also affects us in Europe and America,” says Bauer. Stories are told from Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Somalia, Pakistan and Iraq. Young Afghan lovers, for example, who are not allowed to marry because of their ethnic background, who want to run away together but are thrown into prison for doing so.

Normality between bombing attacks

In 2011 Bauer reports on the first days of the war in Syria, when the people in the city of Homs first went out on the streets to get their corrupt mayor deposed. But the regime's reaction soon resulted in people demanding general freedoms. In 2012 Bauer writes about arbitrary death in Aleppo, where the regime is engaged in a merciless battle with its opponents. Assad bombards his enemies with fighter jets – between the bombing attacks are short-lived phases in which people try to forget their dead and temporarily restore normality, for example by going shopping and repairing power lines.
Misrata in Libya will be besieged by Gaddafi's troops in 2011, and the only way to supply the local population is by sea. Bauer travels from Benghazi to Misrata in a tugboat full of weapons. In Sudan, Bauer is trying to prove that poison gas is being used by smuggling soil samples out of the country. Other reports are about Somali pirates, North Korean ghost ships, the last Ukrainian battalion in Crimea or the American drone war in Pakistan.

Extremely readable “offers of meaning”

Bauer's reportage lives through its vividness, through the numerous protagonists whose lives he reports on. The mostly disastrous entanglements of the West are interspersed occasionally, the lack of action and consequences of diplomacy hidden behind empty phrases: “A no-fly zone [in Syria] is 'not a suitable solution', the German Foreign Ministry says in the driest of official German. The pettiness of international power politics cares little for the actual humanitarian catastrophes.”
The author regards his book as an “early warning system”. It's an eye-opener – after reading it, you can no longer say you knew nothing. Even though the reportage format in general is in crisis in the wake of the “Relotius case” – named after journalist Claas Relotius, who admitted in December 2018 that he had manipulated many of his award-winning reports – it is predestined like no other type of journalistic text to supplement facts with impressions and experiences and thus make them more vivid and lively.

Simon Drescher, Mario Gotterbarm and Sebastian König, research assistant at the University of Tübingen, put it this way in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung: “A good part of our processing of the Relotius case will consist of admitting to ourselves that supposedly reality-reflecting reportages are rhetorical-narrative constructions that offer us meaning.” With his reportages, Wolfgang Bauer makes enormously complex, profound and extremely readable “offers of meaning”.

Bauer, Wolfgang: Bruchzone. Krisenreportagen Cherry Picker
Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2018. 349 S.
ISBN:  978-3-518-07392-6

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