We asked readers to tell us about pen pals they found through the Monitor's Mail Bag column, which ran from 1929 to 1969. Here is an excerpt from one of your responses.
I was in my first year of teaching in 1966. The cold war was raging, and the newspapers were filled with articles about the Soviet Union and the East Bloc countries that were under its control. I was struck by the poignant stories of citizens of East Germany risking, and sometimes losing, their lives in an attempt to flee the repressive regime. So when an East German pen pal appeared in the Monitor, I immediately responded. Thus began my 28-year correspondence with Gunther Lehnik of Dresden, East Germany.
Gunther was an engineering student living with his parents in a flat in Dresden. His knowledge of English was limited but adequate to convey the difficulties of living in East Germany.
I took a trip to Europe with a teacher friend in the summer of '67, and we decided to attempt a visit with Gunther. I naively underestimated the difficulties involved. But we succeeded in meeting him on the other side of Checkpoint Charlie in East Berlin, and we had a memorable afternoon with him.
Our tour of East Berlin was an eye-opener: Where we were, we saw no cars, one street with some meager-looking shops, and the ruins of bombed-out buildings from World War II – in contrast to the bustling city of West Berlin just over the Berlin Wall.
During ensuing years, my correspondence with Gunther included news of his marriage and the birth of his son and my marriage and arrival of two sons. One year, when I was lax in writing, he told me how important it was for him to have that contact in the West and not to stop.
What joy we felt when the Berlin Wall came down! Gunther and his family moved to Darmstadt in the new unified Germany, where his son was able to complete a law degree. In 1996, I received a letter from his wife and son, noting Gunther's passing. I continue to correspond with his widow, Eva-Maria. She has returned to Dresden, where she lives near her son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons in freedom.