Faces of Europe – Interview with Carsten Sander, by Vanessa Sánchez Fernández (Federal Foreign Office, Berlin)

Vanessa Sánchez Fernández: Carsten, what have been the highlights of your travels so far?

Carsten Sander: I always find it difficult to speak about “my favourite experiences” or highlights. There were so many exciting, interesting and also funny moments – all of them different and unique. The biggest surprise for me was visiting the Baltic states and Finland. I was truly fascinated by the many innovative people I met there who are either young or young at heart. In Finland, for example, Prime Minister Sanna Marin is only 35 years old, and when she assumed office she was for a while the youngest head of government in the world. Lithuania and Latvia, too, deeply impressed me, especially the great hospitality of the people there, who exude a strong, very pleasant sense of calm. In terms of landscapes, I really liked near-mystical Transylvania. Romania has a very special feel to it. And then there is of course Italy, which I love so much, where despite all of the difficulties due to COVID-19 I was very openly and warmly received.

Vanessa Sánchez Fernández: During your travels, you must have also encountered some challenges. What is the first that comes to mind?

Carsten Sander: This trip has been truly impressive. I have travelled many, many kilometres, 29,847 so far – long distances in a very short time. Because we had to postpone the trip by three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been on the road during Europe’s hottest summer months. The temperature in our Euromobile climbed above 50 degrees Celsius on numerous occasions. And when we finish our shootings, the work goes on. That is, my team and I edit the images and video footage, evaluate interviews and also adapt our travel routes in response to 27 countries’ COVID-19 measures, which change daily. On the side, so to speak, I am planning and organising 13 FACES OF EUROPE exhibitions, 11 of them in other countries. This is absolutely fantastic and truly exciting – but it also leads to long-term sleep deprivation. Time and again, I’ve been deeply moved during my quest for truly personal European stories. For example, I had the opportunity to do portraits of four Holocaust survivors, including 96-year-old Walter Frankenstein in Stockholm, who was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. During the period of National Socialism, he was repeatedly hidden from Nazis in Germany by people around him. He spent many years in constant limbo between life, survival and uncertainty. Despite all this, or maybe because of it, he is still active today and working to promote international understanding.
In Kraków, I met with Niusia Horowitz. She was only seven years old when the Second World War broke out, and she survived Auschwitz and Brünnlitz concentration camps. In Poland, she is the last of the survivors saved by factory owner Oskar Schindler, whose story was told by the moving film Schindler’s List. She does not care about what motivated Oskar Schindler to save his workers. She took a picture of Schindler off of her bedroom wall, sat down on her sofa holding it in her arms, and told me: “To me, he’s a hero. He saved all our lives, and risked his own life every day.” Her warmth and honesty made a deep impression on me. It feels like in Kraków I made a new friend for life.

Vanessa Sánchez Fernández: That sounds incredibly moving and very exciting. I want to thank you – also on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office – for making this tremendous project happen, despite all of the obstacles. Thank you, too, for lending an open ear, for giving so many people from across Europe a voice and of course also for taking the time for this interview.