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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
- 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).
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.
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?
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.