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Dear Santa...

The village of Himmelpforten is rumored to have special contacts to Santa Claus. At least that’s what many children in Germany believe as they earnestly write letters by the thousands.


I'd like a computer, a television, a...

More than 20,000 letters addressed "To Santa in 21709 Himmelpforten" land at the post office in the tiny Lower Saxon town northwest of Hamburg every year.

After all, people here are supposed to have special connections to Santa Claus himself. And his hardworking elves are believed to live here.

That popular belief is responsible for the accumulation of rows of sacks containing wish-lists from all over Germany. That also explains why the 77-year-old former head of the post office in Himmelpforten has his hands full answering letters in the run-up to Christmas.

Began as a joke

"It all began around 1961-62," remembers the former Postmaster Hermann Bardenhagen.

"A young girl form Himmelpforten wrote to Santa Claus and slipped the letter in the post box. A bemused colleague at the post office decided to play along and replied to the letter. When she received the reply the next day, the girl – the daughter of a restaurant proprietor – was overjoyed and proudly showed the letter around in the restaurant."

The local newspaper soon got wind of the story and it didn’t take long for the news to spread that Santa Claus lives in Himmelpforten.

Ever since, the post office in Himmelpforten is flooded each year by Christmas mail from eager children with a wish list.

From fire engines to computers

Bardenhagen has been observing a strong change in children’s Christmas wishes in recent years.

Ten years ago, dolls and fire engines topped most wish lists, while today there’s a shift towards technical things such as computers and televisions.

"In recent years, children have become aware of events in the world, and write that war should be stopped, there should be no war or that the poor children in the their world should get something to eat," says Bardenhagen.

Hard-working elf

Bardenhagen has been replying to Christmas letters from children for almost 40 years, not laboriously by hand anymore, but with a pre-printed answer sheet.

For hours on end leading up to Christmas, this diligent Santa's elf works in a back room of the post office year after year -- without getting paid.

But Bardenhagen’s efforts haven’t gone completely unrewarded. Two years ago he received the Bundesverdienstkreuz from the Federal Government, the highest civil honor in Germany, for his role during Christmas.

Bardenhagen is now on the look-out for a successor, though nobody has shown much interest yet in working well into the night and sometimes even on weekends to ensure that the children receive a reply from Santa.

Digital wishes

Bardenhagen’s work has multiplied ever since the Internet arrived in Himmelpforten.

Along with the usual sacks of handwritten wish lists, he receives some 35,000 E-mails each year. The onslaught of all that digital mail has now prompted the establishment of an Internet portal with information round-the-clock about Christmas, a Santa's village and Christmas baking recipes and games.

On Advent Sundays, Internet surfers can also meet with Santa and a few of his elves in a chat room. And starting this year, Santa has also been accepting last-minute wishes per SMS.

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