In her new book Land in Sonne, Christine Fenzl took to the streets of her birth country, documenting the young people in the areas of Berlin that previously belonged to East Germany. Capturing the generation known as “Wendekinder”, the children of German reunification, the photographer’s sensitive series explores areas such as Marzahn, Hellersdorf, Lichtenberg and Hohenschönhausen where rapid changes took place.
Born and raised in Munich, Christine’s youth overflowed with the reunification conversation and the political tensions of the Cold War. For her final project at photography school in Munich, she documented the last May Day Parade in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and when the wall came down in November 1991, she followed the news from New York where she was based at the time. Living in New York, Christine took up the enviable position of Nan Goldin’s full time assistant, becoming friends with the renowned photographer during her two years in the role, and later developing a collaborative relationship on projects down the line.
Influenced by her time with Nan, portraiture became Christine’s focus, shooting actors, artists and writers for editorial while fuelling several more personal documentary series such as Along the Peacelines in Belfast and Gdansk, Poland where she captured the cities’ dedicate political situation. But throughout these endeavours, it was the reunification of Germany that continued to pull Christine’s thematic interests. And, upon moving to the German capital in 1992, the photographer tells us, “the reunion had a great affect on me as the city was in a constant flux, always changing."
Christine tells It’s Nice That: “As I watched the rapid changes take hold of Berlin Mitte and the gentrification of Prenzlauer Berg becoming a hip area, my interest in the former eastern parts grew as I began to look deeper.” It was then that the photographer started to take the first portraits of the former Communist districts, drawing on her previous explorations of former red territories such as Latvia and Poland to inform her artistic take on the project. And, with all these journalistic undertakings in mind, it is these past experiences that have inspired Christine to create the work for Land in Sonne.
Her experiences formed a “wish and urge to explore and photograph the young generations now living in former East Berlin, those residing in the typical buildings and areas that were prestige, modern and progressive during the GDR era which have changed fundamentally since.” Delving in these neighbourhoods, for Christine it was important to create an overall image of what these areas look like now, as well as who lives there and how it changed in the book. Investigating the generations now occupying the buildings built for a state that no longer exists, she frequently visited the areas, gradually getting to know its inhabitants and gaining their trust.
“Of course the young adults I photographed are a generation that has never experienced the wall but they are still influenced by the former generations, their parents, aunts, uncles and teachers and even their location for whom the wall was built for,” adds Christine. And finding a mutual sense of curiosity in her photographic subjects, she became more aware of each person’s personal history and how they’ve learnt to adapt and change with the new democracy. “For the people in the West, everything had stayed more or less the same," says Christine. "We from the West did not have to adapt. I never really thought about this before.”
Wishing the viewer to build their own relationships with the subjects in the book, Christine hopes that ultimately, the reader will “feel the pride and the open whole-heartedness” of the young people in former East Germany who’ve shared their stories.