I made my first and only pen pal when I was just a little rascal. I believe it was during the last year of my elementary school career when our teachers arranged a game for all pupils as some sort of summer festival attraction: We would write our addresses on a small tag attached to balloons filled with helium and let them go. They would eventually come down somewhere, and we hoped some random passerby would come across the remains of our little air mail and write us a letter. Of course nobody really expected any results -- least of all the grown-ups -- and as far as I know I was the only person in my group to ever receive a response.
To our surprise, the address on the envelope I held in my hands several months later was nowhere nearby. Apparently my balloon had made a journey of over 400 miles and ended up in East Germany (which was still occupied by the Soviet Union at that time). The sender was a man in his sixties who had found my address tag dangling down from a tree branch while taking a walk.
Over the course of the next two years we exchanged letters on a regular basis and slowly got acquainted. My pen pal had a lot of stories to tell; he had no family in East Germany and seemed to enjoy the distant companionship we shared. He told me that he had to retire early due to a back injury and that he rarely left the house anymore, but he enjoyed collecting stamps. I remember he sent me a very colorful one later. He eventually even wrote about his experiences during World War II, although I am sure he omitted the worst parts. Nevertheless, he never seemed to grow tired of my trivial little tales of childhood. Ocassionally I would send him drawings I made. One of the things he kept writing about was how he wanted to reunite with his brother one day. They had parted ways before the war and lost contact; all he knew about his brother was that he had supposedly moved to London. He never went into details much, but I could always sense an air of regret when he spoke of his family.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1990 he sounded very excited about finally being able to leave the country and look for his brother in England. That was the first time he wrote enthusiastically about the future instead of the past; it was also the last letter he sent me. I would like to believe he managed to find his brother and make things right.
To my old friend, wherever you are.