Third millennium. digital age. Everything is fast: e-mail, chat, social media. But the charm of a stamped letter, handwritten, mailed and delivered at home seems timeless.
That’s exactly how Ira and Paulina got to know each other, through the project “Bunte Briefe” from our NGO Leb Bunt e.V.
One day Ira read an article on a newspaper that informed about this initiative. They connect elderly and young people through the exchange of letters. Paulina heard about the project from a student in her yoga class.
Ira is not exactly old, but she felt that participating in the project would help a foreigner who is struggling with the German language. And Paulina, who moved to Germany, had exactly this wish, which many immigrants had in common.
There was a certain chemistry in their profiles: shared interests, openness to new things, ability to give to others and a desire to form meaningful connections for life. All it took was a welcome letter (envelopes, stamps, paper, postcards etc.), a name, an address and this beautiful pen-pal friendship began.
Let’s read what they told us.
Tell us something about yourself and about your pen pal friend?
Ira: I’m Ira, 56 years old, I have two adult daughters. My husband and I live in Kleinmachnow near Berlin. I work four days a week as a project manager in a communication agency.
Paulina is originally from Poland but grew up in England and has been living in Munich with her partner for a few years. That means she is now learning her third language.
Paulina is a sensitive woman, a good writer and an attentive reader. She puts in a lot of effort, and I think her language skills are sensational.
She always refers to my content in her letters, but also tells a lot about herself.
Paulina: I’m Paulina, 25 years old, a yoga teacher and part-time barista in Munich, but my professional background is also a bit in project management and strategy management.
Ira is sensitive and very empathetic. I have the feeling that she understands me very well, far beyond the language. She’s open about herself, which helps me be more open about myself too.
What do you have in common?
Ira: Paulina and I both have young dogs: her border collie is called Yuki and my mixed breed one is called Poppy. I have been doing yoga for many years, Paulina is a yoga teacher. We are probably both similarly sensitive and open-minded. We both think a lot and reflect on world events and togetherness.
Paulina: A lot! We both love nature, walks, peace and quiet. We both believe in holistic healing for body, mind and soul. Sometimes the issues of the world touch us too much, so we both try not to expose ourselves too much to them.
Do you think that similar interests are important for starting a pen-pal friendship?
Ira: No, but similar interests make it easier to start a conversation. But just because of the age difference, we look back on different experiences and times that offer a lot to talk about.
Paulina: For me, yes. Having the same interest helps us to dive deeper into certain topics and also share our own experiences.. This way we can really take an interest in what we both have to say on the topics.
Why do you like this project?
Ira: I’m interested in people and their stories, biographies, big and small challenges and life itself.
I also like to read. Relate to what has been said, engage in dialogue and exchange. I think it’s great that immigrants can improve their language skills as a result.
I was very pleasantly surprised at how well we matched as pen pals, sharing common interests and views despite the age difference.
Paulina: The opportunity to get in deep contact with another person.
How do you feel when you get a letter from your pen pal?
Ira: As soon as I find the envelope in the mail, I look forward to the news and answers from Paulina. It’s always an exciting feeling: the anticipation and the excitement of reading.
Paulina: I am so incredibly grateful!
Nowadays there is e-mails, social networks and chats. What is different about a letter?
Ira: Letters by post have a special moment: they are not so fleeting, words are chosen more carefully, content can sometimes be presented in an elaborate way. The writing style is also different. And the joy of an answer would be longer and more intense. Although I now have Paulina’s phone number, it would never occur to me to replace letters with phone calls. I also love the tactile experience of holding paper and opening an envelope. What stamp is on the envelope? How long is the letter? Are photos embedded? Handwritten or written on the computer and printed out?
Paulina: Everything. The time and effort it takes to write and send a letter is so different than a quick message or e-mail. This also changes the energy for the conversation. Knowing that someone is willing to take the time and effort to actually sit down and respond to you is what makes it so heartwarming.
What would you say to someone who is skeptical about this project?
Ira: I find contact with people that normally I would not get to know in my familiar environment and that´s so enriching for my life. And if I can help Paulina improve her German language, that’s a significant win-win situation. Give it a try to see what it can do for you personally. Be open and let yourself be surprised!
Paulina: You can always try it and see if it’s not for you, you don’t have to continue. But I secretly know that you’re going to love it when you know there’s a real person on the other side of the letter!
How was your first personal meeting? Where did it take place?
Ira: We met in Berlin. It was a rainy day but we went for a walk with Poppy at the Grunewaldsee.
It was a casual meeting. The personal encounter triggers different feelings. Now I am very happy to have seen Paulina live, as this creates an even deeper relationship. I have experienced other and new aspects of her life, what moves her, how she speaks, looks and moves. This way we can both start writing in a different way.
Paulina: I was a little worried before the meeting. Because when writing in German I need a lot more time to think about what and how to say something. It was a little scary to be so open and vulnerable in a spoken conversation. But I did it! And I felt so comfortable with Ira that I didn’t feel judged or analyzed in any way. I feel that now that we have met in person, our letters can grow even deeper and a closer connection can develop.
Ira and Paulina haven’t planned a new meeting yet, but who knows, it might happen in Munich. Meanwhile, letter after letter, their beautiful friendship continues.