I really enjoyed British comedian Dom Joly’s book "The Dark Tourist". I connected with Joly because I saw my spirit in him. His penchant for the dark and morose tourist attractions resonated deeply with me. Admittedly, I am not nearly as well traveled as Dom, but his book also serves as excellent motivation. Where some may read it and and vow never to go to the places described in this book, I’m more excited than ever to visit them. There’s a certain intrigue that comes with dark tourism, and it is something I greatly enjoy. My most vivid example of the type of tourism described by Joly is when I traveled to Berlin (with a Kiwi as a matter of fact). The museums that contained treasures stolen by former regimes were interesting and the contrast between East and West Berlin was striking, but my main goal on the trip was to see where Hitler’s bunker was. The Germans have been and still are very embarrassed by Hitler, so it should come as no surprise that his bunker is not talked about very often. Authorities have been perplexed as to what to do with it, careful not to make it a neo-Nazi shrine. I found the location online and my Kiwi friend and I were there by lunch. At the time it was an uneventful landmark without even a mention that one of the most evil men of all time committed suicide there. In 2007, they put up a plaque with a bit of information, so it’s become much fancier since my days.
I enjoyed all of Joly’s chapters, but if I had to choose one that resonated the most with me, I’d have to choose Cambodia. It is a country, like Germany, with a recent horrific past. The museum sounds powerful and one that will affect everyone who visits it. As mentioned above, the chapter on Cambodia was a favorite. I am hard pressed to name a least favorite because they each offered their own flare. Iran was intriguing because Joly presents a brief look at how rebellious youth live as they circumvent the strict rules of the regime. I was expecting to be bored by the chapter on the United States. Quite the contrary, however, as I enjoyed hearing his humorous experiences with conspiracy theorists and the poignant contrasting assassination sites of JFK and MLK. Ukraine sounds like a very interesting city. I’m fascinated by the former Soviet bloc and Ukraine is at the top of the list. The Chernobyl visit sounds moving and eerie, something I’d very much like to do one day. North Korea, sorry, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is one of the most mysterious places on earth. While I haven’t been, I can understand Joly’s sentiment of only wanting to visit because of how closed the country is and if it didn’t have the regime that it does, he wouldn’t fancy a return. From the sounds of it, Pyongyang is not a city with much personality or flare. His final chapter on Lebanon was great because it was so personal. You can sense the affection for Beirut and Lebanon as a whole from his writing. I can’t wait to try some Lebanese wine now, something I wouldn’t have thought prior to reading this book.
I greatly enjoyed this book because I connected to it. People who are not ‘dark tourists’ may not enjoy it as much. That’s fine, but I highly recommend it for everyone with an interest in visiting sites that represent the darker side of humanity.