Thirty years after being sent, East German tourists' postcards show a forgotten Bulgaria
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)."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Most wonderful greetings from Bulgaria from the bottom of her heart sends to you.
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.
Soon we will be setting out for Nesebar, Varna and Burgas.
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.
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.
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.