Blue Blooms the Gentian

By Helgard Haug

Only one show remained after the dissolution of the one-time Western propaganda radio station RIAS in the program of the newly formed DeutschlandRadio Berlin: Sonntags Rätsel (Sunday Riddle) with Christian Bienert. The ‚dear listeners’ guess the name of musicians, their birthplaces, or song titles, and the moderator says what letters of the played concepts will make up the “solution word” to the overall riddle. Then, the song is played in its full length: a veritable clash of the most various styles and times.

This moderator is not only a riddle master and music expert, he is also particularly interested in methods developed for the medium of radio during the Cold War to send coded announcements. The West German spy service used the structure of the guess and request shows to send messages to agents in the field after an agreed upon code word or song request. The song “Blau blüht der Enzian” (“Blue Blooms the Gentian”) was such a signal. The message following the song was coded and of interest to the espionage services. Still today, on short wave radio a few stations exist close alongside the official radio frequencies; not directed at a large audience of listeners, these stations often only transmit coded messages to individual persons. They are catalogued, the initial stands for the language – the number distinguishes the station from the others already found.

Beside the request shows, there are also formats that send coded messages in a more obvious way: the playing of certain series of tones – each tone stands for a letter – the naming of certain agreed upon code words or the reading of coded series of letters. One of the most simple keys (+1) decodes for example Stanley Kubrick’s computer in 2001, HAL, into the corporate abbreviation IBM.

At the moment, “number shows” are used quite often: after a series of numbers that “calls up” the effected agent, repeating series of numbers follow, which actually spell out words, sentences, and messages, letter for letter. That at issue here are not coded lotto numbers or weather reports, as official statements would have one believe, is shown for example by the increase of the broadcast activity of “E 05” during the last Gulf War. When in 1991 the USA moved special military forces to Afghanistan, exactly at this point in the time two new number stations in Persian emerged, and when the Bush government at the end of August 2002 was concretising their plans to invade Iraq, the number broadcasts increased noticeably.

Until today, the short wave broadcasts have no competition in terms of anonymity and security, in particular due to the complete lack of a target audience. The broadcasters can be found with locating antennas, but not the receivers of the messages.

In the zigzag between the earth surface and the ionosphere, the information spreads across the world. The receivers of the messages, the so-called “connection entities”, can in this way easily be activated, instructed, and “exploited”.

While on the one hand the number broadcasters have a concrete political and military function, on the other hand a growing circle of persons enjoys the pure aesthetics and musicality of these broadcasts. They trace and collect them around the world, but shy away from actually decoding the massages, (surely also to avoid ending up in the crossfire of the intelligence services). These, usual male, hunters and collectors of number broadcasters – one is named Jochen Schäfer – give the mechanical women’s voices nicknames like “Cynthia”, the synthetic voice of the CIA or “iron virgin”, the Stasi voice on “G 08”. In their private archives, the recordings tower up, showing how consciously disinformation was also eagerly spread by the stations. The “counterpropaganda” used in an almost playful way all the agent clichés, with sentences like “The rose no longer blooms” or “The goat is ready for milking”.

The news of the end of the GDR and with it the end of East German State Security Service Stasi was sent to the employees of East German intelligence on the wave receivers with the coded call “Wittenberg – Wittenberg”; hours later on the frequency of the agent broadcaster sounded a drunken male chorus singing: “Alle meine Endchen” (a German children’s song, “All My Little Ducks”). Parallels to Kubrik’s Film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) come to mind: the board computer HAL marks its own fade-out with the old popular song, “A Bicycle Built for Two” (and in the German synchronized version, “Hänschen klein”) while it is being turned off…

The sound installation is made up of elements of the show SonntagsRätsel and parts of the archived spy broadcasts.

Blau blüht der Enzian

Ja, ja, so blau, blau, blau blüht der Enzian,
wenn beim Alpenglühn’ wir uns wiedersehn.
Mit ihren ro-ro-ro-roten Lippen fing es an,
die ich nie vergessen kann.
Wenn des Sonntags früh um viere die Sonne aufgeht,
und das Schweizer Madl auf die Alm 'naufgeht,
bleib ich ja so gern am Wegrand stehn, ja stehn,
denn das Schweizer Madl sang so schön.
Holla hia, hia, holla di holla di ho.
Holla hia, hia, holla di holla di ho.
Blaue Blumen dann am Wegrand stehn, ja stehn,
denn das Schweizer Madl sang so schön.
Ja, ja, so blau, blau, blau blüht der Enzian....
In der ersten Hütte, da hab'n wir zusammen gesessen,
in der zweiten Hütte, da hab'n wir zusammen gegessen,
in der dritten Hütte hab' ich sie geküsst,
keiner weiß, was dann geschehen ist.
Holla hia, hia, holla di holla di ho.
Holla hia, hia, holla di holla di ho.
In der dritten Hütte hab' ich sie geküsst,
keiner weiß, was dann geschehen ist.

By Helgard Haug, in the context of the group exhibition: world watchers

With: Julie Becker, Alice Creischer, Öyvind Fahlström, Katja Fredriksen/Sebastian Poerschke, Helgard Haug, Eva Hertzsch/Adam Page, Darius James/Angie Reed, Ben Katochor, Mark Lombardi, Henrik Olesen, D. A. Pennebaker

Thanks to Jochen Schäfer, Claudia Heisenberg, Christian Bienert
NGBK December 13 2003 - February 15 2004 / Kunsthaus Dresden 2004

The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue: ISBN: 3-926796-87-1