In digital age, postcards refuse to die

Andrea Thode shops for postcards during her holiday at Zinnowitz on Germany's Baltic coast. (File photo, 04.08.2016.)



When Andrea Thode was on holiday at the German seaside on the Baltic coast, she headed straight for a relic of a bygone era: a rack of postcards on sale at a souvenir shop.
Postcards may be a phenomenon of the century before digital communication, but for Thode and her husband, Dirk, sending postcards to her kids, neighbours and colleagues from the beach remains a given.
In their view, an electronic text message or a WhatsApp photo couldn’t replace handwritten greetings on palpable card stock, adorned with a postage stamp and postmark from their holiday locale, the resort town of Zinnowitz on the German island of Usedom.
They’re not the only ones who think so. Postcards are still among the best-selling items in souvenir shops around the digitally connected globe. A century ago, the social media that up-to-date people used were postcards. Amusing cards with memes were sold everywhere and cost next to nothing. Before World War I, when mail services could even deliver them on the same day in big cities, you could send one home from work and it arrived at the house
before you did.
In the shop at the tourist office in Stralsund, a German Baltic Sea town whose historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, about 300 postcards are still sold on the busiest days,
according to the office’s director, Andre
Including the sales in bookstores and souvenir shops, the number likely exceeds 1,000 daily in Stralsund alone.
Most postcards in Germany are sent during the summer months as celebrations of vacation, says the German postal service. Of the 210 million postcards it handled in 2014, nearly a third were sent from June through August.
“On the (North and Baltic sea) islands in particular, we experience a substantial increase in postcard mailings in summer,” noted Deutsche Post spokesman Jens-Uwe Hogardt.
Postcards are nevertheless just a marginal part of Deutsche Post’s business, making up less than 2 per cent of all Germany-wide
mailings. Business and advertising letters
While holidaymakers’ greetings by digital means of communication now outnumber those by postcard, the latter hasn’t gone out of fashion – even though writing a postcard is much more time-consuming than taking a beach selfie and sending it with a smiley. You’ve got to get out a pen, consider your words, buy a stamp and find a postbox.
“Writing a postcard is a form of appreciation for the addressee,” said Dirk Thode.
The leisurely feeling that comes when you sit down to write a postcard, and perhaps reflect fondly on your relationship with the addressee, for many of us inhabits only holiday places.
Nowadays, though, the rectangular mailers with an open message and flip-side picture are no longer the sole “medium of record” in documenting a great holiday. They’re now typically sent in addition to the digital equivalents of “Wish you were here.”
Sixty-two per cent of the German holidaymakers surveyed by the German digital association Bitkom said they’d send greetings this year electronically, be it via text message, WhatsApp, e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. At the same time, 52 per cent said they’d reach for a pen and paper and write a letter or postcard.
A second survey, by the German market research institute Media Control, found that postcards are the favourite way for three in four German holidaymakers to send greetings to friends and loved ones — often in parallel with digital media.
Zinnowitz resident Silvia Kloepfer has a collection of some 3,500 postcards from the resort town, the oldest dating back to 1890. While the layout and paper quality have clearly changed over the years, the contents haven’t very much.
Besides the latest gossip, the writers share the eternal elements of a successful holiday: “The weather’s fine and the food’s good.”
Nor have the pictures changed much in 130 years. There’s the beach, the pier and spa architecture. And an occasional flirt with the risque, such as the scantily clad bathing beauty on a postcard from 1910.
“Dear Carl,” the sender wrote on the back to a friend. “This is the prettiest card I could find here.”
The younger generation, alas, is losing touch with postcards.
According to the Bitkom survey, only 39 per cent of Germany’s 14- to 29-year-olds send them. Among the minority is Karl Meyer, 20, who works in Zinnowitz as a lifeguard.
“Sending postcards is still a habit,” Meyer
He says he fires off a WhatsApp message now and then, but takes his time for a postcard, partly because it makes his grandmother and mother happy.
“It’s a reminder of childhood,” he said, adding that you can attach a postcard, in contrast to a WhatsApp message, to the refrigerator.

Silvia Kloepfer, a postcard collector, with two of her risque cards. (File photo, 04.08.2016 in Zinnowitz.) The one at left dates from 1910. "Dear Carl," the sender wrote on the back to a friend. "This is the prettiest card I could find here."

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