Auschwitz - the original dark tourism destination
I like going travelling to places that have a bit of history - and if that history includes a big chunk of genocide and or a famine, so much the better. From Mostar, the scene of much of the fighting in Bosnia during the second Yugoslav War to the memorial for the victims of the Ukrainian famine in Kiev, if something bad’s happened somewhere, I’ll probably go and look at it.
Last month I heard that The University of Central Lancashire is launching a research centre for Dark Tourism to look at why people feel so compelled to visit goulish places. Funnily enough, this coincided neatly with a weekend away I’ve just had to Auschwitz, and made me wonder where my penchant for the downright macabre has come from. Here are some ideas:
I’m a sociopathMaybe I lack empathy and take pleasure in other people’s suffering (or does that make me a psycopath? I’m never sure what the difference is...). Maybe I suppress my contempt for the rest of humanity so much that I need to find a release through...day trips to war memorials. Ok, not actually that likely. Also, if I was a sociopath I’d probably just be a sociopath.
Other people’s suffering distracts me from my own humdrum lifeThe grey monotony of 9-5, back to back Pret sandwiches and invoice filing getting you down? It could be worse, you could have been a victim of the Khmer Rouge. Erm no, aside from the fact that I’m pretty chirpy and actually quite enjoy my job/life, you’d have to be pretty freaking miserable to find solace in the fact that you’ve not been the victim of mass ethnic cleansing.
Me in Kiev, having just visited the memorial for Ukrainian famine victims. And shortly before checking out some of the city's excellent microbreweries
I want to learn about humanity’s worst excesses so I don’t repeat themBecause clearly one day I could go mad with power and embark on a massive cull of the middle classes and intelligentsia, plus all them damn land-owning peasants, lest they threaten my plum role as...editor of xojane.co.uk. Again, I’m not sure this is quite right. Were I to go mad with power I’d just get everyone in the office start wearing t-shirts with my face on it, or at a stretch get the SAY Media offices in the UK remodeled into the shape of my head.
Ok, it’s probably none of the above. I’m not big into navel gazing, but as far as I can tell, I visit war memorials, genocide museums and the such like because...I quite like them., it’s as simple as that. I find them interesting, and feel a stronger sense of history actually standing where a momentous event took place (good or bad), than reading about it at home.
Checking out the gun parade
Also, so many amazing, beautiful places have a difficult recent history, and although I’m no travel snob (ok busted, I totes am), I don’t feel that comfortable only enjoying good bits of a place (the flashy hotels, beautiful architecture and perfect beaches), without understanding the rest. Also, if you’re travelling to places in the third, or even second world (incidentally, do those definitions even work anymore? They seem a bit Cold War...), and you’ve got money to burn, it’s impossible to be a truly responsible tourist unless you really want to rough it (which generally speaking, I don’t). The very least you could do is show an interest in that country’s history.
Do you agree, or do you think I’m being a massive holiday snob and just need to chill out with a pina colada and an all-you-can-eat buffet? And where was your favourite ever holiday to? Basically, I really need some ideas for my next trip. Help me out here people!