One and a half years

sheffield 42

My bottle No. 103, Peter’s No. 102 ready to dive in

The photo above was taken one and a half years ago, 11th October 2018, near a nature reserve in Sheffield. And the two bottles were dropped into the river Don. Since then I dispatched a bunch of other bottles. I even went to Sheffield again just a month ago, albeit didn’t manage to prepare bottles ahead and thus no new bottles were put into the Sheaf or Don. The failure to do so only partly stems from a lack of time. In part it was because I had given up on English rivers…

When I returned from Sheffield, the new corona virus already dominated the news. My children both count as vulnerable, and we decided to try our best to shield them (which is a little more restrictive than lock-down). And my head was mostly wrapped around home-schooling and fears of what this virus will bring.

And then, last week, an email reached my inbox:


[…] we have found your bottle, no. 103. It washed up in a spring tide last week, well I found it on Friday, clearing up the grass on the riverbank where the spring tide recently deposited reeds, rubbish and drift wood. I collected 2 black sacks of rubbish, 2 black sacks of plastic to recycle and your bottle! It was truly amazing to find and we had to dry it out first, because a little water had got in. The miniature book was incredible, we dried it out with bits of baking paper in between each page to stop them sticking together. We enjoyed looking though such incredible detail. It is undergoing some running repairs/cleaning, then we shall rebuild it and keep it on our mantelpiece. […]


It was so great to be woken from our isolation stupor and think of the world outside. How wonderful to be connected this way to strangers, when we have hardly seen anyone in the past weeks! A back and forth of emails started right away.


The finder apparently was really gentle with the tiny, soaked book, and managed to retrieve most, if not all pages.


By now it is all dried, and I received another photo of it on it’s current place on the mantle:


After more than a year who would have thought! And it made so many turns and went further down the river than I would have thought possible. Let me show you on a map…

The above is a map showing all the dispatches in Sheffield (the pointers on the lower left), and (in pink) the place where bottle No. 103 was found. Let me show this on a larger scale map for those who don’t know England so well:

The river Don is not that wide, and has a lot (a lot!) of locks and weirs, and makes many turns. I am so amazed that the bottle made it into the Ouse, I still hardly can believe it. In the map above I marked out a rough (smoothened out) path the Don makes. the line I drew there measures 78km. So not the bottle which travelled furthest along a river. Yet… let me blog up that map once again for you, to show you a stretch of Don rather close to Sheffield:

It’s just absolutely incredible to me, how it couldn’t have made it’s way through almost 80 km of path like that! Once it made it into the Ouse, it’s path was easier. The Ouse doesn’t exaclty feel like a river, more like a stretch of Ocean pressing in onto the land. It is subject to the tides a fair way into the land and definitely where the bottle was found. It is wide, and has sandy shores.

Well, thank you so much for contacting me about the finding of this bottle. It meant so much to me. While I was locked in a mental bubble that consisted of improvised home schooling and turning our lawn into something that might feed us in the coming year, and a very real bubble that came from our quarantine (M. had a fever that turned out to be something different) morphing right into lock-down and shielding of our kids (see above), this was a welcome reminder that the world out there still exists and is full of interesting people we still can connect with.

From Kingston-Upon-Hull, England to Kaurö, a Swedish Island

flaschenpost no 107-03 klein

message no. 107 in my garden at home well before its dispatch

Do you remember happy mailbox days? I remember waiting for my parents to empty the letter box (only they were entitled to), and usually it only contained letters for them. – I was always envious. Even when my Dad explained with a sigh that they were mainly invoices, I still imagined how nice it would be when I am grown up and find an invoice in my mailbox every other day.
But as a child I did receive post occasionally: Letters from friends, postcards from grandparents, and I was subscriped to a children’s journal that reached me once a month.

When I moved out of my parents’ house to study, the internet of course existed (we are bang right in the 90’s here), but people at home accessing the internet was still not a very common thing. I got my first email address a year later, and I was able to check it when I logged in at a computer at the maths institute. I didn’t get a dial-in-modem to use at home for several years. Nevertheless, the mailbox remained empty on most days. I stayed in touch with friends from school over the phone; we also occasionally sent letters. – But not as many as one might think.

Nowadays I do receive mail on most days, but like for my parents back then, they are usually do not make me particularly happy. I am not regularly staying in touch with anyone via paper mail. And when I think of letterboxes, I think of being a child, holding my breath while watching my father turn the key.

I get a reminder of this feeling every time my computer tells me, that there’s mail in the mailbox labelled “flaschenpost”, and I catch myself holding my breath while opening the email.


photo of the finder

And yesterday was a mail day:

Dear Hilke!
I have found your bottle mail, yesterday February 28, in position 58°02.447’N, 011°28.539’E. That is an island called Kaurö, off the Swedish west coast.
I am an old retired seaman, now spending my days with beach cleaning on our coast. We have a real problem here, with most of the debris and floatsam from the entire English Channel and North Sea area landing right here. Volunteers, council work groups and entrepreneurs like myself try to get rid of at least the worst, by simply picking it up by hand. We bag it and bring the bags to the recycling centre or to garbage combustion. Thousands and thousands of bags…
Of course it it sometimes a heavy and dirty work, and it is sometimes hard to keep the good spirits up, when just more and more plastic garbage is rolling in. But on the other hand, we have the privilige of working on beautiful islands, with good people who all help out.
And sometimes, our work days are brightened up by finding bottle mail from near and far. Many of them unfortunately unreadable, but some are quite clear – like yours. A good move to use a pencil and to include the piece of chalk.
Let me know where you launched the bottle!

What a happy mail on so many levels. Of course it is great to hear about any bottle being found, but when a finder is so specific about where and how they found a bottle I am especially grateful.

And of course it is good to hear that my message was readable. Unfortuntately the artwork inside didn’t seem to have survived the journey. I rather liked the look of my papermaché houses in bottles here at home. But apparently they are only good at soaking up moisture and keeping it away from the letter, and are a failure as a piece of artwork. It’s the second bottle now that met this fate, so that is the end of paper mache in bottles for me. But I got some endorsement for using pencils, so I’ll keep that up!

Let’s see where and how the bottle travelled:

map 1

In direct line the bottle travelled a distance of about 860km

This must be the bottle that travelled furthest and longest so far. Looking at the map, the distance between where it probably hit the waters (bottle no. 107 was launched from the ferry Pride of Rotterdam going from Hull to Rotterdam in August last year) and the island where it was found is about 860km. And from being launched until being found, it took roughtly 6 months.

The bottle can’t have travelled in direct line, though. Obviously, since it goes over land, scraping off a slice off Denmark. So how could it have travelled?


North Sea Map derived from NASA satellite image. This image depicts the currents in the North Sea. Author SriMesh, distributed through Wikimedia with a CC license. – Thank you!

As you can see, mail (and debris) from Great Britan, travels in the North Sea roughly in a counter clockwise direction. So probably the bottle first followed the journey of the ferry approaching Dutch waters, and from there might have followed the coast, past Germany and Denmark. (My bottle no. 70 was found on Sylt just before crossing over to Denmark, obviously following the same path). From the top of Denmark, the bottle would then have been pushed by Atlantic waters to the island where it was found.

What is not so clear in the image is that many items will tour the North Sea maybe several times and go round and round the carousel until they land somewhere. I remember reading how long it takes to go round once, but I am not sure anymore how long it really was. I think it was something like 3 weeks, or was it 3 months? If someone reading this knows better, please do let me know.

Bottle no. 70 was found on Sylt after 3 months, bottle no. 107 a far bit further away after six months… Somehow I find it satisfying that these numbers seem to kind of match. Does this mean this bottle travelled past past England once more before landing? But if it takes three months to get to “the other side” of the North Sea, then it might be six month until it would be back at the English coast, and 9 month to return to Denmark and eventually Sweden? I am not sure. And then there also seems to be this mini-gyre between Sweden and Denmark… – As I said, if someone knows more, please enlighten me and us!
But in any case it could have gone there directly, of course, and then just wait there among the eye-popping amount of debris that gathers on that Island:


photo of the finding site

We all have to be grateful for people like the finder who get up again and again and clean up this mess. Being relatively far from the coast, it just seems incredible. I admire the willpower these people have to tackle this work that must seem like Sisyphus’ labour on many days. It is my pleasure if I can brighten up the work a bit. And I am relieved when I hear that my project is seen as such, and not as contributing to the problem! I suppose, seeing the sheer mass of debris, a little bottle like mine is not that much of a contribution. And I do try to be conscious about what I pack into my bottles, being very aware, that many will crash and break and spill their contents.

Well, not this one. My thanks once more to the finder for contacting me, and for allowing me to use his photos. – Until next time! 🙂


Events of the past 6 months, and plans for the next

Quite a lot has happened over the last 6 months, and I finally find the time to tell you. As you will recall (and scrolling down it is not so hard to find the relevant blogposts), I released a good number of bottles last summer:

M. snapped me while throwing in bottles from Llandudno Pier

11 bottles on a trip to the British West Coast (links here, here, and here):

  • two of my small ones, one larger one (also my making), and one of a participant of the bottle making workshop in Chester (August 1st)
  • one of mine, one of Peter’s, Wolf Schindler’s and a bottle of one of the participants of the bottle making workshop from the Mersey ferry in Liverpool (August 2nd)
  • two of my bottles and two of Peter’s from Llandudno Pier in Wales (August 3rd), plus one larger bottle into a small harbour on the same day

and 10 bottles were dispatched during a trip to Germany (links here, here, and here):

  • one of mine, and one of Peter’s on August 19th from aboard the ferry Hull-Rotterdam (North Sea)
  • one in Telgte, river Ems, on August 21st
  • 3 in Koblenz, river Rhine, on 23rd of August
  • 4 in Bonn, river Rhine, on 28th of August

And not long after, the first messages about findings came in.

The first bottle that was found was the message I dropped off in the small harbour. It was found the same day, and still was completely intact.

This battered and wet message was found on August 12.

The second message about a finding reached me on August 12. At first it was a bit of a mystery which bottle it might have been, but it turned out as message number 109, one of the bottles that I put in from the pier in Llandudno. That meant, it travelled about 110km in a week.

On October 10th then, the first for one of my German bottles reached me. The finder had first handwritten a letter, and then decided to take a photo of it and send it via email after all because she found that easier. In any case I thought it was a nice gesture, and tried to get into contact a little more. Unfortunately that already fell into the time when I was  feeling unwell, was hopelessly burried under work, and my response rates were very slow. Maybe that was the ultimate reason why she didn’t seem to get into contact further. Or maybe it was the language barrier. I did send her email in German and English, but she answered very dismissive only with “I am sorry” (in English). Not sure what to make of that because she seemed very friendly in her first message. – I strongly suspect I did something wrong, I just don’t know what. Or maybe I would have had to write in French, but her handwriting looks very German to me, and even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could write a letter in French these days. (5 years ago is nothing, it has been 30 years since I wrote French.) Anyway, here’s the message that reached me:

As you can see, unfortunately there’s not much in it about the finding of the bottle. she did send a photo of her bottle, therefore I know she found the one that my son threw into the river Rhine in Bonn on the 28th of August. But I have no idea where or when it was found.

Bottle number 119 gets dropped. I know it was found some time before October 10, but not when exactly or where.

Then, on the 26th of October, another message reached me.

today I was cleaning up the Rhine in Koblenz.
And I was really happy, as I found your bottle 🙂
I read on your homepage, that you threw it from the “Deutsches Eck”, so the bottle could only swim a few kilometers.

The bottle was hidden in brushwood 😉

He very kindly included GPS data of where he found the bottle. The red arrow shows the location where he found it, a bit to the south you see, marked with a blue thingie, the “Deutsches Eck” where it was put in.

I find it absolutely amazing how some people can spot a message in a bottle at a river bank. I am sure I would just walk right past it:

Fortunately he marked the photo for me/us:

Bottle number 116 is found!

Apparently the contents survived their (short) trip very well:

message number 116 – found

Many, many thanks for the feedback! – And my apologies again that it took me so long to write this post!

And then on 2nd of January this year, I heard from yet another find!

Thank you drawing from a 9 year old girl

I dispatched Tracey Kershaw‘s bottle in Chester, and her bottle was found just outside the city.

So from the 21 bottles I released this past summer, 5 were found. That’s about 1/4 which is not bad for such small bottles. We can also see that most bottles that are dispatched in rivers, land at the next river bend. Then again, we’ll never know, maybe another one will turn up, and those are just the bottles, that were found quickly 🙂 Fare well, all my other bottles.

And many thanks to everyone who send me message. Even though I wasn’t able to process the information and share it right away, it always makes my day, hearing about someone finding my bottle, and liking it enough to send me message about it 🙂

sheffield 26

The river Don in Sheffield.

Edit: I almost forgot to make good the promise of the title and talk about plans. This post is already too long, so let me make it quick: I currently don’t have any bottles prepared, but will think of one or two to take with me to Sheffield in March. For I booked myself into another self organized writer’s retreat, similar to the one I held for myself one and a half years ago. – If you would like to see your bottle hit the waters of the Don, let me know, and I can take it there for you.

West Coast/Irish Sea Dispatches Part I – Chester

Old Dee Bridge, Chester

Last weekend I made a trip to the West Coast of Great Britain to dispatch the first batch of bottles into the Irish Sea. As you may know, I made a good bunch of bottles over the last weeks and months, and it was time to get them wet. I also met with people in Nottingham to make bottles, and two German writers of messages in bottles sent me messages of their own. – So a very good reason to take the family on a short trip.

On August 1st we stopped in Chester on the way. Chester is one of the really old cities in England, going back to the Roman fort “castrum deva victrix” 79 AD. It is built on the banks of the river Dee. Around Chester it takes some tight turns, and then runs pretty much straight into its estuary. The river is subject to the tides there, and I made sure to drop my bottles in at fairly high tide, but after the highest rise.

Chester Bottles

The next decision to take was, which bottles to throw in. The photo above shows my choice:

The first bottle to hit the waters was one of mine: A Gaivani bottle with a letter written during the workshop, and one of my very short stories inside.

First bottle about to be thrown in.

The twins were more than happy to help with the dispatch.

The second bottle to go in, was also one of mine, the oldest of all of them, one of the first with paper mache houses:

one last look on the second chester bottle

Then it was my daughter’s turn. Next she dropped in one of the bottles made on the workshop by one of the participants. She was so excited, it was hard to get a last photo before it dropped in:

And last but not least, she put in another bottle for me, one that also has one of my stories (a different one) inside:

We saw all of them float downstream, and of course we wish all four of them a safe travel and happy finders!

In total I put 13 bottles into or close to the Irish Sea, these were just the first four. I’ll show you more in the next blogpost.


Bottle No. 104 found!

A day after the dispatch in West Bridgeford, I was contacted by the finder of bottle No. 104.

It didn’t came far when compared to bottles dropped in the ocean, of course, but for a river bottle it didn’t fare too bad, it took two turns of the river after all:

bottle 104 map 01

I dropped the bottle in near the West Bridgeford Centre, and it was found neat the Water Sports Centre

bottle 104 map 02

The way the bottle made is about 4km long.

It was a joy to read that my finder was excited about the find despite its short journey. Apparently he was walking his sister’s dog and spotted something different between the rocks on the river bank.

He didn’t seem to have any difficulties opening the bottle, and the message was still completely dry. But I must say, I would have been disappointed if it didn’t survive a day on the river.

bottle 104 from top

photo provided by the finder and used with his kind permission

It is customary for me to reveal some making of once a bottle gets found, but there’s not much to say about this one that you can’t already see: The “sea” is made from paper mache, and I painted it a bit with acrylics. The paper boat is indeed folded from a tiny piece of paper, and I then sprayed it with acrylic varnish to make it a little more resistant. And then I glued it to the “sea”.

The finder plans to add his own message and drop the bottle in after the next lock. We’ll see whether it travels further next time.

Many thanks to the finder for contacting me about the bottle. It is always so uplifing when I hear one of them gets found! This was the first of five bottles that I dropped into the river Trent of which I heard back. As some of my readers will know, I had already almost given up on the river. But maybe I’ll give it another go. For now:

Happy second leg of your travel, little paper boat!

Found in the River Thames

going on shout

On Wednesday, 12th September 2018 I received a short Email with the following content:

“hi , while operating a rescue boat we came across this message in a bottle . we were in the area of the river Thames in the Richmond area .

attached are the images of the message and bottle.”

And indeed with this message several images reached me. The one above, obviously showing the crew of the rescue boat, and this image of the bottle itself:


Now this image clearly identifies this as bottle number 86 which my daughter released into the river Thames in London almost exactly 17 months earlier. Uncharacteristically, it was indeed dispatched in a big bottle like this. I am delighted and a bit surprised that everything seems to be completely dry.

I remember making this bottles somewhat hastily: We were going to stay in London for a couple of days, and I didn’t have (enough) bottles ready to take with me. This print, on the other hand, was already in my stash of things to maybe put into a bottle. It turned out a little too big to fit into my tiny bottles, thought, and thus I took one of the lemonade bottles that I am already stashing for when my milk bottles run out.

Initially I thought, that this must be a secondary bottle. Assuming that someone else had found the bottle first, rebottles and resealed it, and then released it once again. That would explain why it was still completely dry. And also the bottle and cork seemed unfamiliar to me at first. I tried to contact the finders and ask them about any signs of another finder, but never received an answer to my emails. (Which is the reason, by the way, why this article comes so late.)

But while writing this, and comparing images once again, I begin to think that probably, this is the original bottle after all, and the cork just looks different because the wax came off. Probably, however, it was just the finders removing it. I don’t clearly remember but it looks in the dispatch photo, like I tied down the cork and then covered it in sealing wax. That must have formed a good seal after all.

London bottle 86

In the 17 months the bottle was afloat, it didn’t come awfully far: about 15 km. But it made its way along several turns, and maybe more than once, as the river in that part is tidal. The area where it was found has several islands, too. But I don’t know whether it was found tangled in woods or other things, or freely floating in the river, or maybe washed ashore somewhere.

This latest found raises the percentage of bottles found in the river Thames to 100% (2 dispatched, 2 found).


Planning for the Future


During the weekend I cleared up my studio a little, and while I was at it, I counted the remaining bottles: It turns out I have 64 bottles left to fill – plus a couple odd bottles here and there which I put to use as storage jars for tiny bits. I made 84 bottles to date and it took me a little less than 3 years. So I should have enough for another 2 years. Plenty of time, really. But having used up more than half made me a little antsy.

Letztes Wochenende habe ich in meinem Studio aufgeräumt und mal meine verbleibenden Flaschen gezählt: 64 plus einige wenige, die hier und da rumstehen und als Behälter für kleine Dinge benutzt werden. Bis heute habe ich 84 Flaschen mit Nachrichten befüllt, das heißt, ich habe bereits mehr als die Hälfte verbraucht. Dafür habe ich etwas weniger als 3 Jahr gebraucht, also für zwei weitere Jahre sollte der Vorrat eigentlich reichen. Trotzdem hat mich der Gedanke ein wenig nervös gemacht, und hat mir die Augen für andere Flaschen geschärft:

On Monday then, M. and I each drank a bottle of ginger beer. – And I love the bottles. Turns out that the labels come off really easy (are just stickers and can just be peeled back). Each bottle has a best-before-date stamped onto the bottle which comes off with just a bit of isopropanol (cleaning alcohol). So I decided to collect these bottles for now. – Maybe I should write to them and ask whether they want to sponsor me 🙂
flaschen 2c

Einen Tag später haben M. und ich Ingwerbier aus diesen Flaschen getrunken, und die Flaschenform hat mir gleich sehr gut gefallen. Das Etikett lässt sich super einfach entfernen: das ist ein Aufkleber, den man einfach abknibbeln kann. Bleibt nur ein Haltbarkeitsdatum, das auf die Flasche gestempelt ist. Und das lässt sich einfach mit Isopropanol (Reinigungsalkohol) abwischen. Easy-Peasy.

Also werde ich wohl erstmal diese Flaschen sammeln, ich habe ja noch lange Zeit, bis mir mein momentaner Vorrat ausgeht und ich einen ausreichend großen Vorrat identischer Flaschen brauche. Die Unterschiede zwischen diesen neuen und den momentanen Flascen sind erheblich: Die neue Flasche ist viel größer (330ml im Vergleich zu 90ml), aber immernoch recht klein. Der wichtigere Unterschied ist dass die Öffnung deutlich kleiner ist. Das könnte sich noch als so unpraktisch erweisen, dass ich doch lieber zu anderen Flaschen greifen werde. Für den Augenblick finde ich die Aussieht auf neue Flaschen und eine grundsätzlich andere Sorte Flaschenpost allerdings faszinierend, und ich denke schon darüber nach, wie die neue Generation Flaschen aussehen könnte. – Ich habe ja noch Zeit bis es soweit ist…

So I have probably about two years to build a decent storage and decide how the new messages will be made up: These bottles are larger than the ones I use now but still fairly small (the bottle holds 330ml ginger ale compared to 90ml special formula milk in the current bottles). The most important change however is the much smaller opening which might actually prove unfortunate after all. We’ll see, I do have time.
Still, I am quite excited about the prospect of new bottles.- Silly 🙂


A quick update on the small worlds: If you have been following here for a while, you might remember that I am trying to put a shopping cart into one of my bottles. I have also not given up on them. Since all metal attempts are discouraging so far, I am now experimenting with baskets cut from paper. I’ll see where this will take me. I hope you’ll follow the journey. See you around!

Aber auch an anderen Inhalten wird natürlich weiter gearbeitet, konkret wieder an einem Einkaufswagen, den ich gerne für eine Szene in meiner “small world”-Serie benutzen würde. Weil alle Metallkörbe, die ich in der Zwischenzeit ausprobiert habe schrecklich aussehen, experimentiere ich zur Zeit mit Papierkörben. Mal schauen, wohin mich das führen wird. Bis demnächst!