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Goethe-Institut [4], Wellington, New Zealand, New years greating card 2008
Catalogue 2007, China
Catalogue 2007, China


2008: The 'Goethe-Institut' (German Cultural Centre) in Wellington has purchased one of my photos about reunification of East and West Germany to use for their annual Christmas and New-Years-greeting-card 2008/2009.

2006: Portraits of artists and artworks in the landart project 'Kunst+Landschaft' (transl. 'art+landscape') funded by the European Union (catalogue)

1999: Solo exhibition (with catalogue) in the City Gallery of the Elbeforum (Brunsbuettel, Germany) 'Soenke Dwenger. 1989 - 1999. 10 years of Change' about reunification of East and West Germany. The exhibition covered documentary photographs giving witness to the time of change in East Germany after the crumbling of the GDR and the following reunification. This exhibition has repeatedly been requested by and lent out to museums and other cultural organizations and shown throughout Germany. To name a few: the museum in the historical City Hall of Moelln, the Educational Center of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation in Wendgraeben near Magdeburg and the City Hall of Bad Segeberg.

Presently there are about 100 of my documentary photographs in the collection of the City Gallery of the Elbeforum.


2009: „20 years of change“: about the reunification of East and West Germany. Exhibitions in Wismar (East Germany) and Brunsbuettel (West Germany). See catalogue article (pdf): „Sönke Dwenger - 20 years of change“

2007: Participation in the exhibition 'Deutsche Kuenstler (transl. German artists) aus Schleswig-Holstein' in Shenzhen/China (catalogue)

2004: Participation in the State Exhibition for Photography in Schleswig-Holstein 'RFLXN 02' (catalogue)

1995: Participation in the exhibition 'Deutsche sehen Deutsche' (transl. 'How Germans see Germans') in the museum for post-war history, the House of History in Bonn (German capital city at that time) (catalogue)

1990 und 1993: Industrial photography for the Bayer AG; Exhibitions in several Bayer-factories in Germany and France (catalogue)


1995 and 2001: First prize in the photo competitions celebrating the Kiel-Canal Anniversary (in category 'professionals')

1999: First prize in the photo competition sponsored by the City of Luebeck (History Work Shop) on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall (see photo on my website)

„Soenke Dwenger. 1989 – 2009. 20 years of change“

File:Foto soenke dwenger.jpg
Trabant 601. Photo: Soenke Dwenger

“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality... Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”1

Summer 2009: Sönke Dwenger is walking through Hamburg. As usual, his digital camera is his constant companion. Even when his purpose is not taking photos he is always on the prowl, dissecting his environment, focusing, scanning. On these occasions he finds motifs which his excellent eye photographically unveils, at times in the starkest manner, at times rather subtly, sometimes mockingly but always sensitively and unerringly. On this summer’s day in Hamburg he discovers a sticker on a bonnet: “MFS – Mobiler Fahrrad Service (Mobile Bicycle Service)”. Has nobody made the connection to Ministry for State Security (MfS)?

What happened to our knowledge of recent history? Sönke Dwenger’s photos also document thoughtlessness, sometimes the rampant “Ostalgia” (pun describing the nostalgic feeling for the former Ost = German for East, translator’s note). In June 2009 a survey by the polling institute Emnid found: 49% of East Germans believe that the GDR had more good than bad aspects. Even in the West 18% share this view. Are people regarding history more and more ignorantly and without reflection? How can a sharp, clear image of the lawless GDR be gained if the instruments of power, the violence against dissenters, the violations of human rights or simply the desolation of grey and wearisome everyday life can no longer be captured?

Summer 1999: Has it really been 10 years already? The exhibition of documentary photographs “Sönke Dwenger. 1989 – 1999. 10 years of change” was on display from August 22nd to October 3rd 1999 in the Stadtgalerie im Elbeforum. The 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall was approaching. Sönke Dwenger documented the changes in the East, offered us his subjective view in order to hold on to that which was in the process of being lost, as he said back then. We re- cognize fragments of history and stories, important history and everyday stories, above all, however, opposites, contradictions, polarities, which Dwenger rescues from oblivion, such as the photo of a colour-ful billboard with the text “BILD gives this house away!” in front of a grey building made of prefabricated slabs, taken in Neuruppin in 1992.

Autumn 2009 will mark 20 years since the peaceful revolution in the East. This prompted retitling the exhibition to “Sönke Dwenger. 1989 – 2009. 20 years of change”, which contains photos already exhibited a decade ago and added to the permanent collection in our Museum along with many new works. In the past decade Sönke Dwenger has travelled systematically to compelling places, taking photographs that are worthy of inclusion into musem collections for their historical impor-tance, such as memorials, bunkers or rooms such as the one in the former remand prison of the GDR Ministry for State Security in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen. In 2006, Sönke Dwenger took here, among other things, an oppressing photo of a visitor’s room. We gaze into a conservatively wall-papered room with a table and a chair. The free view into the next door room is obstructed by bars, as well as the view to the outside.

Through the window opening to the outside a pale, blue light seeps into the room, spreads like a veil over the window, the surface of the table, the seat of the chair onto the floor. The window does not lead to freedom, the atmosphere is cold, we feel a shiver running down our spine. Sönke Dwenger reduces this place of indefinite perspectives to an emotion of eery silence: Captivity, desolation, loneliness, scantiness. Even the room‘s heater appears to be chilling. We are moved and altered by Sönke Dwenger’s photographs. Photographs of such places as the visitor‘s room in Hohenschönhausen provide an image of the sort of past we are unwilling to confront. Looking at the photo, an uncanniness sets in when it, as Roland Barthes suggests, ’...moreover ... emits the sinister aftertaste that is innate in every photograph: the return of what is dead’.2 And this return is important – for it alone allows us to truly understand.

Sönke Dwenger captures the passage of time; he documents, comments, and relies on our cooperation: His photographs challenge the flexibility of recollection or even create new levels, indeed a new basis of recollection. To achieve this, he searches for the optimal segment of reality which is conducive to his subjective gaze. Even to date he encounters such stark polarities as in the photo “Dresden: Luther and Mercedes opposite the Church of Our Lady” 2007. The poster says: “Sometimes statements need to be standing on asphalt.” Luther? Facades that masquerade as history? Or rather the luxury of the West, the Mercedes Benz? Sönke Dwenger perceives these images of a still incomplete unification in a sensitive and empathetic way and with a fantastic eye for the staging of reality. A further example is the lady in her blue dress who, with dynamic, wide strides walks past a dilapidated façade symbolizing stagnancy.

His photographs demonstrate a depth of knowledge of the classics of photographic history, and while not mimetic, they show a core depth of understanding and revelation of technique. Sönke Dwenger has developed a signatory style which is evident in this exhibition. And the fact that we need to look closely, that we have to remember openly and relentlessly when after 20 years of peaceful revolution the “ostalgic” glorification is running rampant. “Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.”, Susan Sontag wrote.3 The work of Sönke Dwenger will help us to sharpen our consciousness in regard to 20 years of “Germany after the change”.

Silke Eikermann-Moseberg, Head of the Art Gallery Elbeforum, Brunsbüttel, Germany

Translation: Beate Jones, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand

1 Susan Sontag: On Photography. New York 1977, Penguin Classics 2002, p. 15

2 Roland Barthes: Die helle Kammer. Bemerkungen zur Photographie, aus dem Französischen von Dietrich Leube, Frankurt/Main, 1985, p. 17 (here: translated into English by the translator of the text)

3 Sontag, ibid., p. 3 – 4

"20 years of change": Media