They are athletes, musicians, politicians, students and tradespeople. They are old and young, urban dwellers and country folk alike. They come from all over Europe and are as varied as this continent is diverse. Only when they are viewed as a whole do they give Europe its face: multifaceted and colourful, yet united. The photographer Carsten Sander has taken portraits of people from across Europe as part of the cultural programme of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The Festival of Lights on the weekend of German Unity: A video projection of Faces of Europe on the eastern facade of the German Federal Foreign Office © AA

Faces of Europe will be illuminated on the eastern façade of the German Federal Foreign Office from 20.00 tonight as part of the Festival of Lights to mark the Day of German Unity. Sander’s portraits will be shown as a large-format video projection in collaboration with the Berlin-based band Salzufer. The faces blend into one another and fuse together to the accompaniment of a live soundtrack performed by the Salzufer musicians, thereby creating an impressive combined work.

What is it that gives rise to the humanity, emotionality and visionary power of the European idea? What do the people of Europe have in common, and what differences exist? Sander sought to answer these questions on his European tour from Bilbao to Stockholm and from Riga to Athens. Since the middle of June he has traversed the EU in his European-blue bus, photographing, interviewing and filming Europeans of various ages from different ethnic and social backgrounds. Some people were found with the help of Germany’s missions abroad, others he met by chance on the road. Sander has already visited 25 EU countries. It’s early October, and now only Hungary and Ireland remain on his itinerary. The route had to be changed numerous times due to the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Faces of Europe © MYO Design

Sander’s portraits are a striking demonstration of European diversity and peaceful coexistence, shared values and tolerance. He met some fascinating people, including 96-year-old Walter Frankenstein, a recipient of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, who lives in Stockholm and survived the Third Reich in Germany in hiding, thanks to brave compatriots. He spent many years in constant limbo between life, survival and uncertainty. Despite all this - or maybe because of it - he still actively works to promote international understanding to this day.

The photographer was also impressed by the many young and innovative people he met in the Baltic states and in Finland: “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,” Sander told us. “Lithuania and Latvia, too, deeply impressed me, especially the great hospitality of the people there, who exude a strong, very pleasant sense of calm.”

Sander also met numerous musicians and singers on his travels. And so the idea of creating a musical score for Faces of Europe was born. Sander used the voices of his interviewees to this end. Voices is the project on which Sander is currently cooperating with the Berlin-based band Salzufer. Voices from across the continent are to be arranged to form an atmospheric collage of European vocals. Also involved are new and established musicians from Lithuania, Malta and the Czech Republic, including Vaidotas Valiukevicius, the lead singer of the Lithuanian band The Roop, which won so many people’s hearts in Germany when they performed for the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2020.

The Berlin band Salzufer: Michael Ritter (guitar), René Becker (saxaphone), Peter Schenderlein (keyboard) © AA

You can find more information about the cultural programme of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union here, or in the following film:

The cultural programme of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union