Couchsurfing in Russia

When a former EU Commissioner, a long-time Moscow correspondent, a passionate couchsurfer and the CEO of Europe’s leading independent gas and oil company get together to discuss Russia in all its facets at one of Hamburg’s trendiest clubs, the range of subjects is diverse.

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Wintershall Dea Event Couchsurfing Russia Stage
Wintershall Dea Event Couchsurfing Russia Stage
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Wintershall Dea/Romanus Fuhrmann

On the 6th of February, more than 150 guests from politics, business and society gathered in the DOCKS club on the Reeperbahn to hear author Stephan Orth read from his award-winning book entitled “Couchsurfing in Russia – Friendships and misadventures behind Putin’s curtain”, and report about his experiences travelling around the world’s largest country by landmass. He criss-crossed Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok during a ten-week adventure in which the many personal and warm encounters with his hosts taught him that while some preconceptions we have about Russia may be true, many are not.

Wintershall Dea Event Couchsurfing Russia Stephan Orth
Wintershall Dea Event Couchsurfing Russia Stephan Orth

Author Stephan Orth presented his book "Couchsurfing in Russia".

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Wintershall Dea/Romanus Fuhrmann
Wintershall Dea Event Couchsurfing Russia Talks
Wintershall Dea Event Couchsurfing Russia Talks

The full panel: Mario Mehren, Günter H. Oettinger, Stephan Orth, Katja Gloger and Jörg Thadeusz talked about the Orth's book and the European-Russian relations.

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Wintershall Dea/Romanus Fuhrmann

The subsequent panel discussion, hosted by Jörg Thadeusz from TV broadcaster rbb, also revealed authentic insights: the journalist and Russia expert Katja Gloger recounted a waltz she had in the Kremlin with the former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. As the former Moscow correspondent for Stern magazine she also accompanied the current president, Vladimir Putin, for several months during his first presidency and she spoke of the social change that began under him: “For the first time in decades, people really had hope for a better future.” However, she added, Putin failed to seize the enormous opportunity for social and political modernisation during the economic upturn in his first two terms in office.

As a former EU Commissioner, Günther Oettinger understands the importance of dialogue with Russia. He noted, however, that the European Union needed to speak with a single voice here.

Wintershall Dea Event Couchsurfing Russia CEO Mario Mehren Günther Oettinger
Wintershall Dea Event Couchsurfing Russia CEO Mario Mehren Günther Oettinger

Wintershall Dea Mario Mehren (left) and former Minister President of Baden-Wurttemberg and European Commissioner Gunther H. Oettinger attended the event in Hamburg.

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Wintershall Dea/Romanus Fuhrmann

Mario Mehren, CEO of Wintershall Dea, sees the various dialogue formats in particular as a great opportunity to overcome differences in German-Russian relations and also those between Russia and the EU. For example, the Russia Country Working Group at the German Eastern Business Association offers platforms for economic dialogue. “We also need to build bridges and not just tear them down,” said Mehren, pointing out that the civil society’s role in that should not be neglected. He said that in particular youth and student exchanges needed to be strengthened, for instance by specifically liberalising visa requirements for young people. That would help break down cultural barriers and prejudices. Mehren noted in this regard: “Russia is not just black and white – it also has a lot of nuances in between.”

Russia is not just black and white – it has a lot of nuances in between.

Mario Mehren
CEO Wintershall Dea

The evening on the Reeperbahn offered the ideal setting for revealing those nuances and questioning preconceptions. Following the discussion, many guests had the opportunity to continue the constructive and wide-ranging dialogue over borsch and pelmeni. Just like Stephan Orth on his couchsurfing tour, when he made himself at home in the living rooms of his Russian hosts.