Perhaps I am being sentimental or, then again, maybe I am just plain old-fashioned. Still, I rarely use email. I have always felt that emailing is ‘quickly come, quickly go’. Within a span of a few minutes, and totally unprepared for, “You have three new emails.” can appear on your updated screen. It feels as if you are being simultaneously talked to by three people and don’t know whom to answer first. Email also leaves in a hurry. With a light click, the fresh text is already in front of you, without you being able to see the trials of writing and erasing, erasing and writing.
And you cannot sense my hesitancy to post a letter. So, every time friends ask me to email them, you can see silly me take out pen and paper and ask for their postal address. This has been a joke that friends laughed about for a long time. How paradoxical it is that someone who studies Information Technology does not want to assimilate with the technology. Normally I don’t write email, even if it is just to inquire about a postal address. “Yeah, whatever.” I reply to the laughter, “IT is merely an occupation but letter-writing is a lifestyle. How can you combine these?”
If the truth be known, there is a story behind my eagerness to write letters.
After one single incident with a bunch of letters, I have a selfish motive with each letter I write. Perhaps when my letter unfolds before you, you can smell the faint fragrance of the ink, and feel the words – painstakingly written - bounding on the paper. And, perhaps, between the lines you can see the train of my thoughts.
In this fast-paced and complicated world, at least you have someone who has the patience to sit down and write you a physical, tangible letter. After you have read it, you can’t simply delete it with a click, like you could erase any long email from me.
Perhaps you will place my letter into a draw in which you keep your glasses. Or then, you may use my letter as a bookmark in the thick book you are just reading. Many years may pass until you or someone else coincidentally rereads my letter, and relives the brief moment in our lives that was recorded in my letter. Maybe then you will sigh with emotion: “Luckily this was not an email, or it would never have lived to this day.” This is what I felt when I accidentally came across Katriina and Dieter’s letters. I was deeply touched and felt so fortunate: luckily these were not emails, or else I would never have had the fortune to fall stumble onto a secret love, and learn that there was a season, which had been missed.
I have wanted to share this story for a long time, but as the letters are private, I didn’t do anything about it till now. After all, publishing their private lives without their consent could be against both party’s wishes. Still, in the end I decided to write the story out, so that if, by any chance, the people involved in the letters read the story, the ‘love knot’ which was tied half a century ago can be opened. And if they are not with us anymore, this story is my way of remembering them.
I bought a bunch of letters for five Euros from a flea market in Helsinki. Every weekend, the market place by the harbour becomes a flea market from where you can find just about anything. Old things, once valued, but now waiting to be sold off in a hurry. Collections, not wanting to be collected anymore. Treasures, no longer treasured. Just about anything from silver cutlery to solid wooden furniture, from antiques to top tens records from a different era, from used clothes to mutilated toys. I frequent the place, not in search of anything special, just the odd old book. Any book lover will have had the same experience, whilst thumbing and browsing through the multicoloured piles of books. Sometimes I don’t even know what I am searching for. But one thing I know for sure: there is always a surprise in store. It is like mining for gold. I have found an original Beatles album, a year 1978 published Guy de Maupassant, and even a poster for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. It was at this treasure trove that I fell upon the letters from Dieter to Katriina.
On a Sunday morning in early autumn, the cool air penetrated every corner of the market place. I was there again, at the flea market, browsing through books. As I passed by a gypsy woman’s stall, she stopped me. She wanted to tell me my future. She was so covered in jewellery that I could hardly see her. She insisted on telling me my future, and, very certain of herself, she claimed she knew my future and could tell me about it. I refused again and again but she was very insistent and said: “It is very accurate.” I waved my hands in frustration and replied: “I believe that you know my future, but please do not tell me. Let me enjoy the ride.” “Why”, I thought, “if she could really tell the future, didn’t she know that I didn’t want to hear about my future?”
After she realized she was not going to make any money by fortune-telling, she placed a bundle of letters in my hands and asked whether I collected stamps. I took a look at the letters; there were about ten of them. What was very strange about these letters was that all the stamps had been carefully removed from all but one letter, which was on the top. And what was even more strange was that all these letters were from a man in Berlin to a woman – Katriina - in Helsinki. I asked the gypsy woman whether she was Katriina, but she wasn’t.
A wave of curiosity swept over me, and my heart started to race. I held the letters in my hand and maintained my composure and said to the woman: “What are you selling? There is only one stamp left? Did you take away the other stamps which are missing from the envelopes?” I realized almost immediately that she had not removed the stamps as she did not know there was only one stamp left until I mentioned it. I questioned her again: “From where did you get these letters?” She said: “I found the letters in an abandoned wooden chest. I don’t know where the other stamps are. Give me five Euros and you can have the lot.” I know what they say about gypsies, but I had no reason to doubt her, so I choose to believe her story. The stamps did not interest me but the temptation to read the letters was great, so, to make it ‘legal’, I paid her five Euros and bought those letters from her.
I hurried to a nearby street café. I couldn’t wait to read the letters. I ordered a cup of coffee and sat down at a corner table. As I untied the thread that held the letters, I noticed that they were arranged in chronological order. The topmost letter was dated 23rd September, 1961, and the one at the bottom was sent in December 1959. They were all from Dieter in Berlin to Katriina in Helsinki. And so I accidentally opened that dusty story by opening the first yellowish letter.
The first letter started like this…
The trip to Switzerland was unforgettable - because I met you! Your beautiful face and your bubbly laugh are all that I think of. I miss you so much! I told my mother about you and she is very happy for me. She would like to meet you soon. I mentioned our trip in the summer, and my family is very excited to meet you…”
The next few letters were similar in content. Dieter and his girlfriend Katriina spoke words of love from one heart to another. I was slightly disappointed that the texts didn’t seem to contain anything truly remarkable, and that they were not really anything very private. The only thing that stood out was that they were very sincere: one could tell from the letters that these two people must have been very much in love. I learnt that Katriina liked to collect stamps. For that reason Dieter searched for all kinds of stamps and put them on the envelopes he sent to Katriina. He also explained, in great detail, about the stamp on the letter he had sent. The mystery of the missing stamps was solved: Katriina must have removed them herself.
I was surprised by the last few letters from Dieter, which were written in an entirely different tone. As usual he wrote a lot about the stamp he had chosen, but he wrote also of the unstable situation in Berlin. The letters had less words of love, and often ended rather hastily with an ‘I love you!’. Although the years have gone by, as I opened the last letter, I could sense Dieter’s worry as he penned the almost incoherent letter.
It was short and simple:
How are you?
This will be the last letter I write to you. For many reasons, I got engaged. Don’t write to me anymore and don’t ask me why. Let the past lie and I hope you can start again. Berlin is splitting. I will move somewhere else with my fiancé.
Please take care of yourself.
23rd September, 1961.”
I threw the last letter on the coffee table, thinking that it was no wonder that Katriina didn’t want to keep those letters. What a worthless man and what cheap love! There is no lack of this type of man anywhere or in any era. “Where are all the good men?”, I wondered. I was sure that Katriina’s heart must have shattered when she read this last letter. She must have been so sad that she didn’t even remember to remove the last stamp for her collection. And who could blame her after reading that letter? I felt very sad for Katriina, I knew she must have had to wait for the pain from the blow to subside before she could resume her pet hobby.
My coffee was cold by the time I had finished reading. I took a sip and stared at the bunch of letters. In dismay, and out of boredom I started to scratch the stamp, thinking that, perhaps I could give this stamp to a friend who collects them. Perhaps it was because the letter was so old or maybe the stamp wasn’t stuck well in the first place. One light lift with my nails and the stamp fell off on my coffee plate.
Lines of small text written at the back of the stamp suddenly caught my eye: “Under surveillance, engagement is fake. Meet me this Christmas Eve in the same place in Bern!”
I froze, spellbound. The letters lay scattered on the floor.
Read the other chapters
<--Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 Next-->