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Message in a Bottle from Hamburg Solved with Help from BILD

It has been a great week! First, I connected with 8-year-old Lily from Fort Lauderdale whose message in a bottle I found back in 2015. And now, we have solved the 23-year-old message in a bottle from Hamburg that my brother found, sent by a woman named Gerda! That’s thanks to BILD reporter Franziska Ringleben who used some magical reporter tricks to research the name on Evan’s note and solve this mysterious message in a bottle from Hamburg. We are so lucky to have this hobby!

Right off the bat, though, I have to tell you: This is a bittersweet story. Sadly, Gerda passed away about ten years ago. My brother Evan will never get to connect with her.

However, Gerda had a daughter named Christa who lives in Hamburg today–that’s who Franziska connected us with!

Christa with message in a bottle. Photo: Andreas Costanza / BILD

Christa Brzezicka with message in a bottle. Photo: Andreas Costanza / BILD

In 1994, after Gerda’s husband had passed away, Gerda decided to fulfill a lifelong dream: To take a cruise and have a fancy dinner on the cruise. So, according to Franziska’s article, Gerda booked a room for herself and her daughter Christa on the MS Fedor Dostojewskij / aka Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which is known today as the MS Astor.

Message in a bottle from Hamburg - Fedor Dostojewskij now called Astor since 1995 - Wikipedia user Bahnfrend

The former MS Fedor Dostojewskij, called Astor since 1995. Photo: Wikipedia user Bahnfrend.

Christa told Franziska, “That was our happiest time. The great food, the many trips, and then my mother also won a voucher for a jeweler at bingo.”

Gerda and Christa cruised together for three weeks. And while the ship was somewhere between Tenerife and Cape Verde, Gerda sent her simple message in a bottle. There’s no “letter,” really–no detailed note. Just a record of her position and her address, as if to say to the universe, “I was here.”

14 years after the cruise, Gerda passed away. But, her Flaschenpost floated on. Christa had no idea that her mother had sent a message in a bottle…

“We were inseparable,” Christa told Franziska, “It was hard for me to accept that I would never hear from her again.”

Message in a bottle from Hamburg - Gerda with two waitress on MS Fedor Dostojewskij. Photo: Andreas Costanza, Christa Brzezicka, BILD.

Gerda with two waitress on MS Fedor Dostojewskij. Photo: Andreas Costanza, Christa Brzezicka, BILD.

The Strange Magic of a Message in a Bottle From Hamburg

But this is where the weird magic of messages in bottles comes in. Christa would hear from her mother one last time, but not until a decade after her death when my brother would make a chance discovery on a desolate Caribbean shore…

One day, the three of us guys–me, my brother, and my dad–were out together on an adventure. We were exploring and beachcombing an uninhabited Caribbean island, seeking “treasure” among the trash that washes ashore. My brother, Evan, disappeared around a corner, and reappeared a minute later holding this incredible green bottle. To me, it was astonishing–almost like he knew the bottle was there. He just walked straight to it, picked it up, and came back. It was unreal!

Evan Buffington with German Message in a Bottle from Hamburg

We could see right away that there was German writing embossed on the bottle, so we knew it came from Europe, and probably Germany. But the message looked so brittle–we didn’t dare open it in haste. Finally, Message in a Bottle Day 2017 came around, and we decided to open it. But we couldn’t locate Gerda with the 23 year old information on the note. So, I asked BILD for help 🙂

The Search for Gerda Brzezicka of Hamburg

And that takes us back to Franziska and Christa.

It was Franziska who discovered Gerda had passed away, and also that her daughter Christa still lived in Hamburg. My brother Evan was blown away by all of this! So was I!

Evan Buffington's message in a bottle from Hamburg 2

My whole family feels humbled and honored to have this strange hobby that allows us to deliver final messages from those who have passed on. It seems impossible. Even now, as I think about it, I almost can’t believe it’s real, except that I have done it myself. I’ll never forget returning this note to Paula, the daughter of the couple who sent it. Or this one to Phil Freeland, son of John, who sent it 34 years before I found it.

Nothing would make Evan happier than to return Gerda’s last message to her daughter Christa. Ever optimistic, we dreamed that BILD would fly Evan to Hamburg so he could deliver the letter in person! 🙂 We’re still waiting for word on that 😉

Of course, I would love to accompany Evan to Hamburg–we could visit one of the world’s oldest messages in bottles there! That’s right, there’s more than one magical message in a bottle from Hamburg!

Evan Buffington with opened German message in a bottle

One Final Adventure for Gerda’s Message in a Bottle

You have to understand: This paper is so fragile that sending it through the mail would destroy it completely. There’s no question about it. All that would arrive in Hamburg would be a pile of brown dust. The only way we can get this message back to Christa where it belongs is an in-person exchange.

Evan Buffington's German message in a bottle from Gerda close up

Christa told Franziska, “I would like to visit Evan, and pick up the last memory of my mother.”

So who knows! Maybe Christa will come to Illinois? It’s a funny sort of race: Will Evan get to Hamburg first? Or will Christa come to Illinois to retrieve the message herself? Either way, we are all on the same page: The letter belongs with Christa, and that’s what Gerda would want, too.

Evan Buffington's German message in a bottle from Gerda - Date Sent

But in this race, no matter who “wins,” everyone wins.

Our “guy’s trip” adventure brought about some amazing memories for my family, and Evan is thrilled and also humbled to play this part in Gerda’s story. With any luck, we’ll get Gerda’s last message back to her daughter.

I like to think that, instead of being the end of something, this is the beginning of something–a new friendship that never could have been possible without messages in bottles, and without someone as sweet and adventurous as Gerda. We may never know why Gerda sent her message–just that she did, and in doing so, changed all of our lives. What a gift she has given us all!

***If you liked this story, click here to find me on Facebook and like my page for more message in a bottle stories! You never know when YOU could be the one to solve a message in a bottle mystery! Click here to learn more about messages in bottles, and you can always contact me with questions, ideas, or stories.