Jonas Feige — Zenkeri


A collaboration with Yana Wernicke.

In this collaborative project we address the history and repercussions of the life of German botanist and gardener Georg August Zenker.

At the turn of the 20th century Georg August Zenker was the head of a scientific research station in the German colony ”Kamerun“. After being let go from his position in a dubious coup that most likely resulted from Zenker’s refusal to turn the research station into a military outpost, he did not return to Germany but decided to remain in Cameroon as a civilian. Together with his African wife and their five children he settled down in a remote settlement in the Cameroonian jungle by the name of Bipindi.
Zenker built a house in German colonial style and created plantations for the cultivation of cocoa, rubber and banana. He became an important collector for multiple museums in Berlin and would come to a considerable income by shipping countless ethnological objects, preserved animal specimen and plant samples to Germany.
Zenker can today be regarded as an exceptional figure of German colonialism who regularly alternated between participating and outright refusing to partake in colonial practices. Zenker lies buried in the family cemetery in Bipindi where he died in 1922.

For our project we repeatedly travelled to today’s republic of Cameroon to portray Zenker’s descendants who still live in Bipindi today. We visited the extended family in other parts of Cameroon and Europe and conducted interviews with them to learn more about their complicated relationship with their forefather, Cameroon and Germany.
In Germany we explored Zenker’s scientific legacy through repeated visits to the museums for which he collected so diligently. We photographed many of the objects he collected and explored the extensive correspondence between him and the museums.

We aim to tell Zenker’s story with all its contradictions in the hope of adding complexity to the discussion around German colonialism. We want to draw attention to the fact that there still exist palpable repercussions of German colonialism and make visible the story of Zenker’s descendants who inherited not only his name but a double (or rather split) identity and who today live with the difficulty of reconciling their German and Cameroonian roots.