Nine-year-old Youri Marhauer was out for a walk with his mother Silke, sister Yule and her friend when he found the bottle trapped in a pile of flotsam on the banks of the Leine River this Sunday, regional daily Göttinger Tageblatt reported on Thursday.
“I wanted to pull a stick out to knock icicles from the train overpass, and that's when I saw it,” Youri told the paper. “It was like a treasure hunt.”
The boy took the bottle home, where his father had to break it open with a hammer because it was so tightly shut. The damp and barely decipherable letter inside the old sparkling wine bottle was written on January 3, 1987 by an 11-year-old East German boy called Marko Bode.
According to his letter, Marko was looking for a new pen pal, the paper reported. And while his letter may have taken more than 20 years to reach a friend, it only travelled 42 kilometres from Marko's village Lutter in Thuringia to the former West German state of Lower Saxony.
Youri and his family tried without success to find Bode using the telephone book and internet, but on Thursday news agency DDP tracked him down.
Now a 34-year-old engineer, Bode still lives in Lutter and has a young son of his own.
“Near my parents' home in Lutter there is a stream – that can give a child such ideas,” he said, explaining he was inspired by postcards sent across the border from West Germany on balloons.
“I found it exciting as a child not to know where the letter would land and if someone would answer,” he said.
In all Bode sent five bottles with messages down the stream, but had forgotten about them until a friend told him the news, which he said he initially thought might be an early April Fool's joke.