'Wish you were here': Postcards help Germans connect in pandemic
Brightly colored rectangles of cardboard fill almost every wall of Gesa Funke’s apartment in southern Berlin, with piles more stashed in corners and drawers - some from places as far-flung as French Polynesia.
The 29-year-old student has been sending and collecting postcards for years.
But, like many Germans, she has found herself putting pen to paper more often as a result of travel and other restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
"It’s a little less effort than writing a letter, and it’s still nice to receive something from another person, to have a bit of contact," she says.
While many Germans have embraced digital technology in the virus era, others have turned to more traditional forms of communication to keep in touch with loved ones.
In December, Deutsche Post said it had carried 11 percent more postcards than during the same month the previous year "probably due to corona and Christmas".
Funke told AFP that she had started sending more cards to her friends in Germany during the pandemic, "friends whom I would otherwise meet in person but that’s not possible at the moment".
She continues to send lots to both her grandmothers too, she says.
Overall last year, 120 million postcards were sent, down from 2019’s 147 million, the German postal service said.
However, the drop was less than expected, given international post was severely disrupted in the first wave of the pandemic.
Holidays - usually a key reason for writing - had also largely evaporated because of stringent travel restrictions.
But at the same time, there was an increase in people sending postcards for other reasons, according to the German MyPostcard app, which lets users print their own customized postcards.
In 2019, the traditional "wish you were here" holiday note was the most common type of card sent.
Last year, birthdays took the lead as the most popular reason.
In October, around 66 percent of respondents to a YouGov survey for MyPostcard said they sent postcards regularly - compared with 57 percent of respondents to the same survey in 2019.
Funke is a member of Postcrossing, an international postcard exchange project with around 800,000 members in 207 countries.
At more than nine million, Germany has sent more postcards than any other country under the project since it was founded 15 years ago.
People may have turned to postcards in the pandemic because they "have more time and simply want to try out a new hobby that they didn’t know before", Funke suggests.
"Others might have discovered this hobby for the first time because they traveled a lot before and that’s no longer possible, so they have started to write postcards simply to see something of the world," she adds.
According to Postcrossing founder Paulo Magalhaes, the number of postcards sent under the project declined during the first wave of the pandemic because of snags in the postal system but picked up again later in 2020.
"We are seeing this both in terms of number of (new) users and of postcards exchanged which is accelerating," Magalhaes said.