Postcrossing Blog

News, updates, and all kinds of goodies and stories from the postal world!

Earlier this year, we started noticing a lot of tweets about articles featuring Postcrossing, published in newspapers like The Saturday Star in South Africa, or The Citizen in Tanzania… but also in a lot of other publications, from Ethiopia to Bangladesh. Our curiosity was piqued! Turns out, this was the work of Rainer (aka rainerebert), who was doing his best to spread the word about Postcrossing in these “rare countries” by taking the time to interview local postcrossers in each country, and then writing articles with their experiences for all these newspapers. We were in awe of his efforts and enthusiasm (which earned him the Ambassador badge) and decided to interview him for the blog. 😊

How did you come across Postcrossing? What got you hooked?
Posting a postcard at the Southmore Post Office, Houston, Texas, USA

I have been fascinated by the mail for as long as I can think. All you need is a stamp and your letter or postcard will be carried to (almost) any corner of the world. If you think about the logistics of it, the coordination and agreements between countries and private companies, the technology, and the vast network of planes, helicopters, trains, trucks, cars, boats, ferries, bicycles, and feet required to make the system work, it is simply amazing. I remember, as a child, whenever I went on a trip somewhere with my parents, I sent postcards back home. I wrote to my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, friends, my teachers, and the old lady who ran the little grocery store in my grandparents’ village. I imagined how finding the postcards in their mailboxes would put smiles on their faces. My postcards often arrived back home long after I did, but that did not matter. What I wanted is for the people back home to have a physical token that proves I was thinking about them while I was away.

This fascination for the mail persists to this day, and I got hooked immediately when I came across Postcrossing in 2015. How I came across Postcrossing, I do not remember, but I probably googled something related to the mail.

Do you have any other interesting hobbies?

I am curious about the world, and I love to travel! To date, I have had the privilege to visit about fifty countries. A distant dream is to have visited all of them someday. If I can make it at least halfway to achieving that dream, I think I will be satisfied.

My greatest adventure so far was a three-month motorcycle ride with friends in 2011, from my hometown of Adelmannsfelden in Southwest Germany to Cape Town in South Africa. We covered a total of approximately 13,000 km (or 8077 miles), crossing twelve countries: Germany, Austria, Italy, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. We made many friends along the way, and we found that Africa is home to some of the world’s warmest and most welcoming people. I have written about the motorcycle trip here, and here, hoping to inspire others to go and make friends in Africa as well.

Rainer in the Sahara Desert in Sudan in 2011
Rainer in the Sahara Desert in Sudan in 2011

There is much to learn and experience on all continents, but I am particularly fond of Africa and I think more people from other parts of the world should travel there. Too often, people think of Africa as if it was a single country, rife with disease, poverty, hopelessness, and corruption. This tiring image is at best misleading, and has little to do with reality! In fact, Africa is all but monolithic, and arguably the most diverse continent of all. Africa is full of hope, joy, and energy, and incredibly rich in history, culture, language, food, wildlife, and natural beauty.

I have been trying to capture some of the beauty of Africa, and the other places I have been to, with my camera, and photography has become another hobby of mine. You can see some of my photos on my website.

Show us your mailbox, your mailman/mailwoman, your post office or the place where you post or keep your postcards!

Besides Germany, where I was born and raised, there are three more places that I consider home: Texas, where I live and went to graduate school, Bangladesh, where I have family and friends and try to go once or twice every year, and Tanzania, where I taught philosophy at the University of Dar es Salaam from 2017 to 2019. I have sent postcards from all of these places.

University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
My PO box at the University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
My PO box at the University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

In Tanzania, my post office is the University Hill Post Office in Dar es Salaam, where I still have a PO box. I went there so often that the two nice ladies working there, Leah and Winnie, treat me like family. The same is true for Romana, who works at the Jigatola Post Office in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s bustling capital. I will print copies of this interview and mail them to Leah, Winnie, and Romana! I hope they will be inspired to help promote Postcrossing in their communities, and maybe even join Postcrossing themselves.

Jigatola Post Office, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Jigatola Post Office, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Whenever I go to Bangladesh or Tanzania, I try to send as many postcards as I can, as both countries are sadly still underrepresented on Postcrossing. In Texas, the post office closest to where I live is the Southmore Post Office, where I usually go with my bicycle to send greetings from Houston to wherever the Postcrossing website tells me to send them!

My bicycle in front of the Southmore Post Office, Houston, Texas, USA
My bicycle in front of the Southmore Post Office, Houston, Texas, USA
Show and tell us about your favorite received postcard to date, and what makes it special.

Each postcard is as unique and special as the person who wrote it. But if I have to pick one postcard, I will pick the one and only one I got from Hungary, in 2016 (HU-111390).

Postcard from Hungary HU 111390
Postcard from Hungary, HU-111390

It is special to me because my grandmother was born in Baranyajenő in Hungary, and lived there until being expelled by the Hungarian government in June 1946. She then had to start her life all over again in Germany… When I was nine years old, our whole family went to visit my grandmother’s village home in Hungary, and the postcard brought back good memories of that trip.

Have you inspired anyone else to join Postcrossing or start collections of their own?

There are not many Postcrossers in Bangladesh and Tanzania, so whenever I go to these countries I try to convince new people to join, with some success. I especially encourage my students to join, as I think Postcrossing is a wonderful way to learn, about other cultures and places.

Postcards I have sent from Tanzania via Postcrossing
Postcards I have sent from Tanzania via Postcrossing

A few months ago, I spoke to some of the most active Postcrossers in Bangladesh and Tanzania, and also in Ethiopia, Ghana, and South Africa, to find out what keeps people in these countries from joining Postcrossing. One reason that I was given again and again is cost. Postage rates are relatively high, which is very unfortunate, as those living in low-income countries rarely have the opportunity to travel abroad and would benefit the most from exchanging postcards with people in other countries. My conversations with these Postcrossers were published in a number of newspapers in their respective countries, and I hope some readers were inspired by my articles to join.

Is there anything that you are passionate about?
Rainer s PhD graduation at Rice University in Texas in 2016

I am a moral philosopher by profession, and I believe that philosophers should not confine themselves to the ivory tower, but spend at least some of their time actively working to achieve a broader presence of philosophy in public life. Philosophy can make a meaningful contribution to society, not least in that it can help people to think more clearly and critically about important social and policy issues.

I try to do my part and apply philosophy in the columns that I regularly write for newspapers around the globe. I have written on topics such as same-sex marriage, homophobia, transgender rights, veganism and animal rights, everyday racism, anti-refugee sentiment, open borders, religious tolerance, free speech and censorship, capital punishment, children’s rights, illiberal populism, and effective altruism. A common theme of much of my writing is the importance of individual freedom, about which I am particularly passionate.

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Remember Postcrossing’s tiny forest, which a group of postcrossers planted last year?

Earlier this year, way before all the social distancing came into place, we got together once again with a few enthusiastic postcrossers to plant some more pine trees and expand the forest a little! :) The location was more or less the same as last year, in the historical Pinhal de Leiria, a 13th century pine forest that burned down almost completely three years ago. Driving through the forest and its chopped down burnt trees is still heartbreaking… but knowing that over half of it has now been reforested and that we’re doing something to help makes up for it.

The day started out cloudy, but luckily the forecasted rain held off, and everyone ended up having a good time planting hundreds of trees. This year, there were quite a few children in attendance and it really warmed our hearts seeing them snuggle those tree roots in the sand with their small hands! Have a look:

Paulo marked last year’s plantation with GPS coordinates, and so we were able to visit it again to have a look — the trees are growing well, mostly under the cover of other local plants. Being by the coast, the location is super sandy and windy, and the local vegetation helps protect the fragile trees in their first few years. They’re still very small (pine will take a loooong time to grow), but it was a relief to see them going strong and gaining new branches!

forest2019

We are proud of this initiative and look forward to doing more for the planet. For ideas of what you can do too, check our Towards a greener planet page! 🌲

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A while ago, Anu (aka Gummu) from Bangalore 🇮🇳 surprised us by mailing six postcards to Postcrossing’s PO box, each with a quirky illustration, fun stamps and a piece of a postal story! You see, each postcard had a little chapter of the adventure that was searching for these same postcards in her hometown. We’ll let Anu tell the story, as it was written to us on her postcards: 😊

"Dear team Postcrossing, hello from Bangalore!

July 2019. It has been years since I entered a post office. I’d occasionally send a new year greeting or a birthday card. Signing up for Postcrossing brought back to mind all the post office coordinates around where I live, as did the fact that I hadn’t set foot in the gorgeous old GPO (General Post Office, Govt. of India) building in my city forever. So here’s a story in 6 cards…

A multi-postcard adventure story!

August 2019. The first visit to GPO revealed a philately desk and a shop. There I found this 20-card booklet, Bangalore in the 70s, illustrated by Paul Fernandes, Bangalore-based artist. Each card is an amazing, nostalgic throwback to a city we loved, loved, loved, but have seen slowly disappear over the last three decades. I picked up two booklets, gifted one and used up mine in no time. Went back for more but it was out of stock everywhere!

November 2019. Got a lead from the GPO that they may be available in one Post Office in another area. I head off on a Friday afternoon. At first, the staff said, no sorry, no stock. I get to speak to a junior branch manager, who, after listening to my quest said, “Let me make some calls…”

Subhash, the junior branch manager, made 6 calls over half an hour. Got phone numbers of staff at other branches and finally, tracked down a PO sales exec who had them at an exhibit at the agricultural university, just outside the city. Told me he would be there until 5pm, set me up with the sales exec’s phone number. Thanking Subhash profusely, I set off. If you know Bangalore traffic, you’d start to get nervous bout me ever getting there on time.

I made it to university by 4:45pm and discovered the beauty of the campus, green sprawling, rows of mango trees. Spied the convention hall where the exhibit was happening. Turned out to be an exhibit by uni students on the lives of insects (fascinating!) and located the young sales executive. He had kept aside 20 card booklets for me!

A multi-postcard adventure story!

Happy dance! Learnt from the sales person that India Post is planning to do another run of this card set. I hope they do! They are delighted that Postcrossing is going strong. I’ve spread the joy a bit by sharing the cards with old Bangaloreans, and with postcrossers. So, thank you team, for igniting the love for sending, receiving, reading, writing and connecting with the world.

Love,
  Anu"

Thank you Anu, for sharing your adventure and Paul Fernandes gorgeous postcards with us!

We love the story as much as we love the multi-postcard format — so pleasing! Imagine writing a story like this to a friend or little one, in postcard-sized installments that keep them peeking into the mailbox everyday for more… wouldn’t that be lovely? Pick a story or maybe an adventure you’ve recently lived, an unsuspecting friend and go surprise them with a few postcards! 😊

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The writing prompts invite postcrossers to write about a different topic on their postcard’s messages every month. These are just suggestions though — if you already know what you want to write about, or the recipient gives you some pointers, that’s great too!

So Eurovision isn’t happening this year… but we thought we’d stick to the musical theme nonetheless and ask everyone to share some musical instruments from your country.

In May, write about a special musical instrument from your country.

Which instruments from your country sound like “home” to you?

There are quite a few musical instruments that come to mind for us here in Portugal, but the guitarra Portuguesa (aka, Portuguese guitar) is probably the most iconic one, the one always makes us a little sentimental to hear. It’s a complicated type of round guitar, with 12 strings and tuners in the shape of a peacock tail that is commonly associated with fado and serenade songs.

The most famous artist of this instrument was called Carlos Paredes, and to this day I cannot hear him play his guitar without getting a little weepy…

What about your own country? Which instruments are part of the national heritage, and what makes them culturally significant to your people? Share them on the postcards you send out this month, and on the comments below as well, if you’re inclined to — we’d love some tips to discover new sounds! 😊

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Smithsonian National Postal Museum Streetview

Have you ever been to a Postal Museum? If not, well, there’s never been a better time to start — if only from your own home!

We’ve been looking into Google Arts & Culture, and we’ve discovered that you can use it to visit places like the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, in Washington DC, and then hop straight over to the UK’s Postal Museum in London, no air travel needed!

It’s not just that you can walk around these museums via Google’s Streetview, although that’s kind of cool as well. Depending on the museum, there are also “Stories” and collections, showcasing some of the museum’s exhibitions and holdings. For example, the Museum for Communication Frankfurt has an exhibition on the birth of express mail! Check out the sealed watch which the mail-carriers had to take with them, to prove they were delivering the mail on time:

Sealed watch
Pocket watch used on the mail coach service, with lockable case, Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation

In a similar vein to our previous post about the lost letters of the Brienne archive, we found an online exhibition from the Postal Museum in London on 717 letters found aboard a sunken ship, the Gairsoppa! They’ve recovered 19 bundles of undelivered letters from the ship including old Christmas cards! Wonder if there were any postcards on board…

Gairsoppachristmas
Christmas card from the Gairsoppa, The Postal Museum

If you’re interested in stamps, there’s always the Smithsonian’s Women on Stamps exhibitions, or Amelia Earhart’s stamp collection… Or how about a collection of love letters from the Mexican Archivo General de la Nación?

And of course, they have all kinds of other museums — art museums, exhibitions on Mayan graffiti, natural history collections… I think I have to say the Gairsoppa story is my favourite, so far.

Have a look, and if you find other interesting virtual exhibitions that we should check out, let us know in the comments below! 😊

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