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Sibylle Berg gives bullying victims a happy ending in new comic

In the comic novel "Mein ziemlich seltsamer Freund Walter", author Sibylle Berg tells the story of a girl who has to go through the worst. An extraterrestrial boy and the friendly line of illustrator Julius Thesing take sides with the "victim".

Lisa's day begins with parents who stay in bed without noticing when she leaves the house; with older boys who torment her on the way to school; with mockery and ridicule on the playground, followed by scolding and shame from the teacher. Lisa is nine years old and already a loser. "There are many children who have no one to tell them what is right and what is wrong, to look out for them and caress them," writes the German-Swiss author Sibylle Berg in her comic novel "Mein ziemlich seltsamer Freund Walter". "But Lisa can't know that. She thinks she's the only one in the world who is alone, she thinks it's her own fault that no one likes her."

The "blame yourself" mentality of the meritocracy, in which there is no room for solidarity, found its expression a few years ago in the German youth slang term "victim". Since then, a "victim" for young people is no longer someone who needs to be helped, but an unsuccessful joke who can be trampled on with impunity. No wonder Lisa uses the astro software on her home-made computers to search the skies night after night for a better planet.

Cynic very tender

The fact that Sibylle Berg, of all people, takes care of Lisa in her new book with almost tender language and empathically describes the everyday life of a marginalized child from her point of view is astonishing. Berg is not a "victim" herself, but the opposite: a pop star without mercy. Her dystopian novels are characterized by cynicism, her plays indulge in the grotesque. The 62-year-old is happy to declare herself non-binary. Nevertheless, even the woke community is unlikely to feel encouraged by her, because Berg generally doesn't have a good word to say about people.

So it is not a human who becomes Lisa's friend, but a chubby creature with a tiger's tail and the unpronounceable name Klaklalnamanazdta. Lisa calls it Walter without further ado. Like Steven Spielberg's E.T., Walter has missed his spaceship and his friends have flown home without him. Luckily for Lisa, Walter has a few tricks up his sleeve that he shares with her. He makes himself invisible, stands behind her all day and encourages her to fight back. At night, he modifies Lisa's computer so that it fits in her finger and is always with her. Too bad Walter wants to go back to his cuddly planet himself. Yes, Sibylle Berg does indeed create the utopia of a paradisiacal world far out in space.

Successful balancing act

Lisa has now been strengthened, digitized down to her skin and mutated into an encourager for her peers. The book that Sibylle Berg presents together with the German illustrator Julius Thesing is really suitable for children and should also appeal to adults with its funny but also drastic drawings. This balancing act is rarely achieved.

The beautiful, valuable picture books that adults buy for their children are usually quite different from those that children choose for themselves in the library or at the second-hand bookshop. Similarly, the children's and young people's book pages of the feature pages hardly feature any favorite books of the actual target group. "My rather strange friend Walter" could be an exception to this rule. Only one thing remains to be clarified: How long will young people be allowed to keep the utopia of the cuddly planet? To answer with the title of the famous "Spiegel" column: Ask Sibylle Berg.

*This text by Tina Uhlmann, Keystone-SDA, was realized with the help of the Gottlieb and Hans Vogt Foundation.


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