MEMORIES FROM A HOT SEA AND BUYING A ROPE

by Dimana Trankova; postcards collected and curated by Georg Heim

Thirty years after being sent, East German tourists' postcards show a forgotten Bulgaria

black sea bulgaria 1959.jpg

There are no avider postcard fans in the world than German tourists. When they arrive in a new place, they waste no time seeing the sights, but rush to the bookstores where they wrestle with other German tourists to lay hands on the best local postcards and write greetings to all their acquaintances, aunts and distant cousins "at home." Then they quickly resume their journeys, without ever bothering to take a look at the towns they've been in. For them postcard writing is a fulltime job.

OK, nothing personal here - the above is a quote from Jerome K. Jerome. Of course nowadays no one behaves this way, not even German tourists. Postcards have become mementoes from a past era and now tourists prefer to use other means to remember the sights they've seen – they just take pictures and MMS them all the time. What travellers battle for now are the locations with the best views.

The East Germans who visited Bulgaria from the 1960s to the 1980s occupied a middle ground, and not only in chronological terms. This becomes clear from the postcards which Georg Keim has spent years collecting. Last year in Veliko Tarnovo and at Goethe-Institute in Sofia he exhibited 30 of them, entitling the project "Let the Tan Stay On." Last spring the collection was presented in Der Spiegel magazine, and was exhibited at the Bulgarian Embassy in Berlin on 24 May.

What did Bulgaria look like in the eyes of an East German tourist? Unlike their predecessors about whom Jerome K. Jerome was a bit ironic in that peculiar English way, they did take a look around. Their missives to friends and relatives back in the GDR reveal a Bulgaria from the time when it started to come across as a cheap tourist destination.

"Wonderful buildings and coastal lanes," is how Ingrid and Alfred described Varna in the early 1960s. Another couple visited one of the most morbid sights of Socialist Sofia — the mausoleum to the Communist dictator Georgi Dimitrov, in which his mummy was displayed for people to pay tributes to just like to that of Lenin on the Red Square in Moscow.

Of course sunshine was the same then as it is now — almost every one spoke about the tans they had. There was also beautiful sea water and delicious, inexpensive food. "Five kilos of peaches cost as much as two bottles of beer!" was how Tanja and her family exclaimed joyously in 1987.

Nesebar was then, as it is now, overcrowded and full of stalls: "Absolutely cramped. If it weren't that hot, we'd feel as if we were Christmas shopping!" wrote a journalist from the East German TV. Wine and rakiya had already won a fan base, and night life was extremely lively. "Restaurant and disco each night can be pretty tiring," Katrin wrote from Burgas in 1982. But East Germans were sensing that Bulgarians would rather welcome the far richer "Westerners" and that they were treating the East Germans as "second-hand foreigners": "You know the treatment GDR tourists get here," wrote Birgit and Stefan in 1987.

There was one characteristic, however, by which the East Germans resembled the 19th Century Germans described by Jerome K. Jerome: They used to write to all their relatives. Amongst the postcards you'd find ones posted to colleagues, friends, families, to the Red Cross Regional Committee in Senftenberg, to countless aunts and uncles; and in 1969 a Mrs Schumann received a card from the Black Sea which was filled with greetings and had the following request: "I'm planning to drop by in the morning on 27th and ask you to shorten my turquoise dress (as I'll be travelling and I'd like it shorter)."

1975

10.08.75
To the regional Red Cross committee, Senftenberg

Tanja and everyone are sending you warmest greetings from the Black Sea holidays. I can barely find the words to describe how wonderful things are here — 35-40 degrees in the shade, we hardly go out of the water. Five kilos of peaches cost as much as two bottles of beer. So we live mainly on fruits. There are only foreigners in tents around us.

1973

June 1973

My Dears,
You can see it on the postcard. I have been coming across such things since yesterday when I finished my mountain trek. Warmest regards to each of you.
Peter.

1981

1981

Hello, Uwe!
So here I am in Bulgaria, such a contradictory country — wonderful and sly people, fantastic nature, terrible prices. The thing I like best is when I'm in a tent in the mountain. Here Rila is as if I'm on Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Regards, Haiko.

1972

20.08.72

Karola sends you many greetings from Vratsa
The weather's wonderful. This afternoon we will go wine tasting — two bottles per person, tra-la-la. I'll have trouble walking a straight line.

1961

1961

Ingrid and Alfred are sending to you best greetings from beautiful Varna. The weather's fine and the food is excellent. At lunch there are five courses, and in the evenings we each have half a bottleof wine. There are beautiful buildings here and a wonderful coastal lane and we have enough pocket money. Best regards, Ingrid and Alfred. We wouldn't be able to see each other as we won't be able to open our eyes (we've put on too much weight).

1963

1983

Most wonderful greetings from Bulgaria from the bottom of her heart sends to you.
Your Doris

So far the trip has been just wonderful and the flight was capital. Here at the Black Sea the water temperature is 21 degrees and that of the air 26. But everything is too expensive, and GDR tourists can afford only basic things if they want to see as much as they want. Many kind regards to all of you, make sure my bed is ready for me for Monday fortnight.

Your Doris
Soon we will be setting out for Nesebar, Varna and Burgas.

1979

27.07.79

Make sure you buy cheap wines, their price is sure to double, petrol has already gone up, rumours have reached all the way down to Lozenets!!

My Dear Mummy,
We arrived safely here, the car is still running. We bought petrol cards (at a 25 percent discount) 2.5 marks per litre. Staying at the campsite still costs 1.20 leva (4.95 in total), but July will end in a couple of days and most probably the price of everything will go up again. Despite the rates, the campsite offers, as before, no amenities. The weather's fine, almost too hot. The awning is our only salvation. We even got a slight sunburn. We tried the water, it's hot as tea. Many kind regards from Karla and Thomas.

1978

20.07.78

Tamara and Jorg are sending you kindest regards from Bulgaria (Pernik). Yesterday we went shopping and I bought two chic dresses. Jorg found a rope of the kind he'd been looking for. We also visited the Dimitrov mausoleum. We couldn't buy anything in Hungary, though the dresses there were the best we have seen. We travelled to Bulgaria in a truck and on Tuesday we arrived in Pernik. On Saturday we will hitchhike to Malyovitsa. Bye. Jorg and Tamara.

1970

August 1970
The GDR desk of Topical Camera Germany TV, Berlin Adlershof

Your Berbel sends you warmest greetings from the wondrous, but totally crowded island of Nesebar. If it weren't that hot, we would feel as if we were Christmas shopping. This holiday is more stressful than a three weeks' shift at the desk!! One should constantly be on the lookout lest someone con him.

Keep up the good production.

  • COMMENTING RULES

    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

THE VELCHOVA ZAVERA HIKE
Еvery April, since 2020, hundreds of young Bulgarians gather in Veliko Tarnovo and embark on a meaningful journey, retracing the steps of a daring rebellion that took place in the town and its surroundings, in 1835.

LES FRANÇAIS EN BULGARIE
Before English took over in Bulgaria, in the 1990s, mastering French was obligatory for the local elite and those who aspired to join it.

BULGARIA'S NEW 'PATRIOTISM'
In the summer of 2023, one of the news items that preoccupied Bulgarians for weeks on end was a... banner.

WHAT WAS THE SEPTEMBER UPRISING?
Raised hands, bodies frozen in a pathos of tragic defiance: Bulgaria, especially its northwest, is littered with monuments to an event that was once glorified but is now mostly forgotten.

WHO WAS RENÉ CHARRON?
Not all people who make a big difference in history, or attempt to make one, are ahead of great governments or armies.

REARVIEW MIRROR OF BULGARIA AND AMERICA
When John Jackson became the first US diplomat in Bulgaria, in 1903, the two nations had known each other for about a century.

200 VAGABONDS
When the first issue of Vagabond hit the newsstands, in September 2006, the world and Bulgaria were so different that today it seems as though they were in another geological era.

LAPSE OF TIME
Sofia, with its numerous parks, is not short of monuments and statues referring to the country's rich history. In the Borisova Garden park for example, busts of freedom fighters, politicians and artists practically line up the alleys.

WHY DOES 'SORRY' SEEM TO BE THE HARDEST WORD?
About 30 Bulgarians of various occupations, political opinion and public standing went to the city of Kavala in northern Greece, in March, to take part in a simple yet moving ceremony to mark the demolition of the Jewish community of northern Greece, which

BULGARIA'S LAST MONARCH
On 3 October 1918, Bulgarians felt anxious. The country had just emerged from three wars it had fought for "national unification" – meaning, in plain language, incorporating Macedonia and Aegean Thrace into the Bulgarian kingdom.

WHO WAS ALEKO KONSTANTINOV?
In Vagabond we sometimes write about people whose activities or inactivity have shaped Bulgaria's past and present. Most of these are politicians or revolutionaries.

RUSSIA BRINGS ON... VANGA
The future does not look bright according to Vanga, the notorious blind clairvoyant who died in 1996 but is still being a darling of tabloids internationally, especially in Russia.