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

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