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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