Interview: Isolde Hilt
Was it Bucklands Beach, Orewa Beach, Piha Beach or Karekare Beach? No one really knows. All that is known is that one of these beaches near Auckland in New Zealand in the southern Pacific was the climax of a story that had begun eight years earlier in Bonn. The story of the message in a bottle.
Julia Gogos had made a trip to the Rhine with her two children, then still of kindergarten age, a friend and her children. Children love stories. And what could be more exciting than creating a story yourself that you don’t know how it will end? No one could have imagined that this story would turn out so brilliantly. But one thing is still missing, it seems: the perfect happy ending.
Dear Julia, how did you come up with the idea of the message in a bottle?
I was given a small bottle with the look of a flat message in a bottle. It was a sunny afternoon on the Rhine and somehow, we came up with the idea of writing a short message and sending it on its way in the bottle. To be honest, we didn’t have too much hope that this bottle would make it further than around the next bend.
What did the message say?
„Dear finder, please send us a letter when you have found the message in the bottle. Yours Silas, Frida, Maja, Jon.“
You said it was probably the „worst“ message in a bottle in the world. Why?
Well, the children dictated the text. It wasn’t exactly of literary value and wasn’t even written in a particularly friendly or enthusiastic way. On top of that, the message was written on an advertising block. Not exactly classy either.
Unfortunately, we had not written a date on it to be able to trace how long the message had been on its way. And because that’s not enough, a mistake had crept into our address and the last name was missing … So, it’s not only a small miracle that the message made it to New Zealand, but also that the reply found its way into our letterbox.
And then your bottle didn’t just make it around the next bend. The Rhine took its task seriously and handed over your delivery to the North Sea in the Netherlands. By what route can a message in a bottle make it to New Zealand?
We don’t know. You’d have to ask someone who knows something about currents. But it could be that the bottle swam around South Africa.
You had long forgotten about the message in a bottle, but one day you received mail. And that was not a matter of course either, because the letter was not so precisely addressed …
Yes, that’s right. The address was not quite correct and the surname was also missing. But the postman seems to have combined cleverly!
What did the reply say?
„Dear Silas, Frida, Maja and Jon. We found this message in a bottle and are sending it back from Auckland, New Zealand. It has travelled a long was! Take care, yours Scott, Julia, Lea & Alice Joy.“
Unfortunately, there was no contact information we could have used to thank the finders.
How did you feel then? That must have been a very special feeling …
I was alone at home that day when I took the mail out of the letterbox. At first, I couldn’t do anything with the letter, franked in New Zealand to the first names of our children and those of our friends‘ children (who haven’t lived in Bonn for years). When I opened it and found both the finder’s message and our original message inside, I could hardly believe it. To be honest, I had already completely forgotten about the action.
So, it was even more amazing to receive such unexpected news. And then also from New Zealand – one of our longing destinations! I was eagerly waiting for someone to finally come home to share the surprise.
It was also a good opportunity to get back in touch with my now spoilt friends, who were also completely enchanted by it.
And then they surely want to know more about it as soon as possible …
Yes, we wanted to thank the finders and find out more. And we were a bit sad that no contact details were included in the reply. So the idea was quickly born to ask the „world“ for help.
How did your children react? They probably won’t necessarily have remembered that moment when you sent the bottle on its journey …
In fact, they couldn’t really remember that afternoon. Nevertheless, like us, they were fascinated by the fact that a little bottle had made such a journey.
And then the great search began. What did you do?
My husband published a post on Facebook. That was enough to make the world take notice of us, and very quickly. Totally crazy!
There was a big media hype about your story, which – I think – went worldwide …
Both German and international media contacted us. In Germany, the story was pretty much everywhere in the newspapers, on the radio and in TV magazines. Internationally, for example, the Times, ABC News, partners of DW, the travel portal Atlas Obscura, but also websites/newspapers from Poland, Italy, Hungary, Russia and even India reported on the little bottle from Germany and its journey around the world to New Zealand.
It was crazy to see how the whole world seemed to have fallen in love with our message in a bottle …
So far you have not been able to find the finders of your message in a bottle. What would you like to ask them or tell them about you?
We would like to know where exactly they found the bottle. What condition was the bottle in after this journey? And what happened to it? Maybe they sent it on its way again?
You must have received a lot of mail like that. What did people write to you?
Besides media enquiries, there were also quite a few Facebook comments. Most of them were enthusiastic and eager to see if we could contact the finders. Of course, there were also people who accused us of making up the story to get attention. And there were also some who sharply criticised us for throwing a plastic bottle into the water … But most of them were just as excited and fascinated that it is possible for such a small bottle to end up on the other side of the world after years.
What will you always remember?
I thought it was great that so many people were cheering and rejoicing with us. And obviously there is a great need for beautiful news; the interest was really high. All over the world, this little bottle with its little story touched people. Possibly it was also a nice alternative to the other news, which in February 2020 was already mainly about Covid-19.
However, we also remember how quickly information and news can spread because of just one post and can also simply be copied and duplicated. Gradually, errors crept into the published texts, which in turn made their way. It was a little frightening to see that very little specific enquiry and research was done.
Anything else that is important to you, that is close to your hearts?
We would be very happy if we could get in touch with the finders. We’d also like to get away from Facebook, the press, etc. In private, with a personal thank you – that would be nice!
Maybe a small miracle will happen …!
… Who knows, maybe this story will have a happy ending and the Gogos family will find the family that found their message in a bottle on the beach.
Should this story reach the finder family in New Zealand, we will be happy to establish contact. We assure absolute discretion – firmly promised!
Many thanks to Uta Nabert for bringing this fairytale-like story to our attention!
And here is the interview in German:
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