This is how I started to sign more than 200 postcards in the last 16 months. Then I sent them to the whole world, the USA, Japan, Australia, Finland … More than 38 countries altogether, to complete strangers. And the world has answered.
What is behind this wonderful hobby? A website named Postcrossing. It connects members all around the world. More than 800,000 people by now. I’ll explain later how that works exactly. First, I want to talk about what value a small written rectangle of cardboard can have. Surprisingly, my experiences with Postcrossing have had a much bigger impact on myself than I anticipated, for example, they extended my concept of friendship. For me, postcards are an answer to a big question that the digital age in particular has left in me: How can I keep the feeling of closeness and personal connection?
Why even write a postcard anymore?
Because of Postcrossing I started writing postcards to people in my private environment. Eventually I noticed, that is not as easy as I thought since there might be a lot of people whose address you do not have. But slowly, my address book gets filled and so do my friend’s letterboxes. Especially if you live in different cities or even countries, keeping in touch can be hard. Of course, a good friendship does not define itself by constant exchange, though I do have the feeling a “Hey, what’s up? :)” on WhatsApp every six months comes to nothing in the end. I don’t really get much from it. When I walk into a shop and see a postcard which gets me thinking about a friend, however, when I buy it and sit down at home to think about an anecdote to write on it by hand, draw a little scratch in the corner and choose a nice stamp — that’s a whole different process. There is more attention and personality to it. I feel a deeper connection compared to typing in a chat for five seconds. In some way, it is just more appropriate regarding the affection I want to show the people in my direct environment. A postcard is something personal. Sometimes they lead to insider jokes. One friend, for example, always gets sent the ugliest cards I can find.
By now, I have a quite respectable collection of different blank postcards at home. Last month I scrolled through the website of the “Deutsche Post”, looked at the stamps of the recent years and ordered the most beautiful of them. When a friend calls me excited because I put a stamp with his favourite animal, a badger, on the last postcard I sent him, I notice this leaves more with both of us than just a funny “The Office”-gif. Even my grandmother — part of a generation that is used to analogue anyway — is immensely happy when she gets a card now and then between calls that she can put in her cupboard. Postcards are a kind of affection that is often lost in our digital age. You could almost say they are something like a postal hug.
Postcrossing, in turn, extends this idea. The internet connects people from all over the world and uses these digital connections to link its members by post as well. In this way, small personal bridges are built be tween strangers.
The concept of Postcrossing
It’s simple: If I want to send a postcard, the website randomly assigns another member to me. I am shown their public profile and their address. Additionally, a Postcard-ID. By their profile, I get to know the person I am about to contact a bit. That can be helpful to choose a fitting card, use the right pronouns or write in a language they understand. The Postcard-ID gets on the card, as well. The recipient uses it to register the card as soon as it arrives. Therefore, the website knows I fulfilled my part of the arrangement and assigns me to someone else who wants to send a postcard. That’s the whole concept.
Website and Community
The website operators are not troubling themselves about profit. It is financed by ads and voluntary contributions by the community. Anyway, membership and every feature of the website are completely free of charge for users. The core functions are extended by all kinds of lovely addons. Thus, every user has their own digital pinboard with the cards they sent. Pictures can be uploaded by either the sender or the recipient. By flagging some cards as favourites, you can build another pinboard, hinting others to your preferences in terms of motives. The stats page shows average travel times to different countries — which can be quite soothing when your card to South Africa is on the go for 72 days. In the explore tab you can learn a lot about the community itself. For example, Germany is on fifth place of the most members per country, right behind the US, China, Taiwan, and Russia at the top. The smallest country with active members is the Vatican.
Furthermore, the website offers various ways to connect with other members. There is a blog where postcrossers regularly post about postcards and stamps. In a forum, collectors can chat and exchange. There is a meetup calendar as well. Events to meet other members in person, planned by local postcrossers. Beforehand, an activity is chosen — for example, a meetup in the Halloren-factory’s chocolate museum in Halle was organized this summer — and an official meet-up postcard designed.
But all these offers are optional. The main focus is still connecting people from all around the world by post. To find a pretty card and some loving words in your letterbox, where usually only bills and parcel pickup tickets end up, can really make one’s day.
Tips to get into the postcard game
If you are looking for postcards, bookstores and touristinformation points are a good start. My favourite store in Halle is the travel bookstore “Auf und davon” at Große Ulrichstraße 24. Just a few street numbers away, there is “Feingemacht” at number 21 and “Vogelvillaland” at number 31, as well, where you can always find amazing cards. The small but nice selection of the “Rotschildt” antique store at Große Steinstraße 15 is worth a look at, too. Apart from single cards, it can also be recommended to look around the internet for postcard sets, especially if you write more often. The price per card is usually lower than for single cards there. It becomes even more personal if you design your own card. There are premade templates, but any robust paper or cardboard would be enough. Printed out photographs can be used too, but mind copyright and personality rights. From time to time, you can even find free cards in cafés and cultural or educational institutions as a nice kind of advertisement.
The German Post’s specifications for postcards recommend a length between 14 and 23.5 cm and a width of 9 to 12.5 cm with an aspect ratio of 1 : ≥ 1.4. Postage in Germany will be 70 cents, 95 cents for a card abroad. If your card is about to go on a long journey, ask for airmail-stickers in your post office — that way it will reach its destination faster. That being said: Best Wishes and Happy Postcrossing!
Text and pictures: Ronja Hähnlein
Translation: Stefan Kranz