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Shortwave Penpals

Timaru and German penpals still click after more than 50 years

Al Williams
Jan 13 2020

Penpals John Watson and Rainer Bradtke have met face to face for the second time after more than 50 years of written correspondence between Germany and Timaru.

Both men have spent time together at Watson's home in Timaru since Thursday in a friendship that can be traced back to the Cold War.

Bradtke lived behind the Iron Curtain in Buckow, about 50 kilometres east of Berlin, when he got hold of a Radio Canada contact booklet in 1967.

John Watson and Rainer Bradtke

John Watson, left, and Rainer Bradtke have been penpals since 1967. Photo: JOHN BISSET/STUFF

The booklet was contraband in East Germany at the time and in it was Watson's name and home address in Timaru.

"The book was full of addresses from all over the world," the 69-year-old.

John Watson and Rainer Bradtke

John Watson, left, and Rainer Bradtke have been pen pals more than 50 years and exchanged hundreds of letters in that time. Photo: JOHN BISSET/STUFF

Watson, 73, also known in Timaru as Scooterman, was a member of Radio Canada and a short wave radio user at the time. Watson, in his Scooterman persona, has gained a following over the years through a series of online videos highlighting issues such as litter and poor driving along with a stated ambition to bring a smile to people's faces.

He was taken by surprise when a post card arrived from East Germany, signed by Bradtke in July 1967, and promptly wrote back.

The correspondence has since continued.


Some of the correspondence the pair have exchanged over the past 53 years. Photo: JOHN BISSET/STUFF

"It was unbelievable for me as it was a look into another world," Bradtke said.

"I'm quite sure our correspondence was being viewed by the secret service, there was no criticism of the Government of political chat in our letters."

The pair first met face to face in 2014 when Bradtke visited New Zealand and Timaru for the first time.

John Watson and Rainer Bradtke

The pair started exchanging letters in 1967 and first met face to face in Timaru in 2014. Photo: JOHN BISSET/STUFF

They got on well and Bradtke extended his stay this time to spend more time with his friend and include scenic tours of the country.

"It's been a good way to improve my English," he said of the friendship.

"It's been an interesting time for me staying with John and having a look around South Canterbury."

Watson said the pair tend to exchange emails rather than letters these days.

"We still send each other Christmas cards.

"We have a lot in common.

"At the time we started writing to each other we thought we would never meet."

- Timaru Herald

© Timaru Herald Jan 13 2020.

This material remains © Stuff Limited and is only to be used for non-commercial personal or research use. Any other use requires permission of the copyright holder.


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