An encrypted bottle post was found in Kaliningrad, Russia, in 2015. As it seems, the cleartext is still unknown. Can a reader break this unusual cryptogram?

As mentioned in some of my earlier blog posts, I found a number of interesting crypto stories by searching on Google with Russian search terms. As I don’t speak Russian, I had to use Google Translate, which worked surprisingly well.

One of the results I got was an article published by a Kaliningrad regional newspaper in July 2015 (here’s the Google Translate version of it). Kalinigrad, formerly known as Königsberg, used to be the most Eastern German city, before it became a part of the Soviet Union after World War 2. There is already one famous mystery connected to Kaliningrad/Königsberg: the Amber Room. Maybe this article will establish the fame of a second Kaliningrad mystery – one of an encrypted bottle post.

According to the article mentioned above, a brown glass bottle containing a sheet of paper was found at roadworks in Kalinigrad. The sheet contains what appears to be an encrypted message. Here’s the front side:

Kaliningrad-Cryptogram

And this is the rear side:

Kaliningrad-Cryptogram-2

The bottle that contained the message (don’t get confused by the title image of this article, it’s only a symbolic picture) is a mass product from the Soviet era. The paper and the writing style look post-war to me, too. This means that Russian is the most likely cleartext language. The encryption method used might be a simple letter substitution, though the many apostrophes are a little confusing. On the first page, one letter is underlined, another one is even double underlined.

According to the article, the solution of this cryptogram is still unknown. Can a reader break it? And no, I don’t believe that the cleartext contains any information about the Amber Room.

Further reading: An encrypted notebook that waits to be solved

Kommentare (14)

  1. #1 Klaus Schmeh
    12. September 2016

    Mark Romo via Facebook:

    Interesting markings. At first glance it looked like French, and then Russian. Three apostrophes in one word, etc. Very interesting cipher.

  2. #2 Klaus Schmeh
    12. September 2016

    Alexander Ulyanenkov via Facebook:

    Look like English. Vowel+1, consonant-1…

  3. #3 Gert Brantner
    Berlin
    12. September 2016

    At a first glance this leaves a more french-flemish impression, but the cricumflex, the apostrophes & umlauts may be deceptive.

  4. #4 Thomas
    13. September 2016

    The cryptogram has 37 characters:
    abcdefghiklmnorstuvwz, d’ f’ h’ l’ m’ n’ n” ö r’ s’ t’ ü z’, e with circonflex, e underlined and n underlined.
    That’s a bit too much for a simple substitution of the Russian alphabet. Furthermore there are too many double characters (uu, ii, ss, ff, ll, ee, t’t’, n’n’, dd).

  5. #5 Thomas
    13. September 2016

    The Index of Coincidence of the cryptogram is about 0,054 which is compatible with a simple substitution in Russian. But the number of characters seems to high.

  6. #6 Thomas
    13. September 2016

    The cryptogram was already discussed in a Russian blog (without a solution but with a transcription and a frequency count): https://simple_life.dirty.ru/v-baltiiske-nashli-butylku-s-shifrovkoi-na-neizvestnom-iazyke-784251/

  7. #7 Thomas
    14. September 2016

    If we assume that the apostrophe wasn´t used for creating different cipher characters (t -t´ etc.) an count the characters, we get the frequency sequence e, n, r, i, s. Since this is characteristic of the german language, this might be an indicator for a transposition of a german plaintext.

  8. #8 Leonid
    14. September 2016

    In the above discussion at Russian forum, the version of German anagrams also mentioned.

  9. #9 Piper
    16. September 2016

    Can someone identify the other content of the bottle?
    Looks like two shells or snake shells to me.

    Where do those animals live? In the Baltic Sea or somewhere else?

    Maybe that can help to identify from where the bottle stems.

    The whole bottle looks very clean to me, too the piece of wood and the string with which it is attached to the bottle, so i doubt, that it had had contact with water at all.

    Might be something a kid built to have his very own message in a bottle, filled with some sand and some self collected shells.

    Or it is a souvenir you could buy in some resorts even today.

    Is something written on that piece of wood, “Grüße aus XXX” or something like that?

  10. #10 Thomas
    16. September 2016

    @Piper
    The bottle has never been in the Baltic sea: According to the newspaper article the bottle was found in Baltiysk (former Pillau) in Lenin street during excavation works for laying a gas pipeline.
    If it was a hoax (and not a transposition cipher etc.) the writer must have faked a letter frequency distribution that matches German language, I doubt if a child could have done this. First I thought that the apostrophe indicates special cipher characters (t’ etc.), #4. But if only the normal letters are counted, the index of coincidence is 0,8 and the frequency distribution indicates german plaintext, so that random text is very unlikely. I wonder what the apostrophes were used for if it is a transposition cipher. I think a transposition cracking software could do a good job.

  11. #11 Piper
    16. September 2016

    @Thomas
    Maybe the apostropes are special commands, like repeat the previous letter.

    Like
    leer -> le’r
    schifffahrt -> schif”ahrt

    Just to confuse the russians 🙂

  12. #12 Dampier
    22. September 2016

    @Piper

    (don’t get confused by the title image of this article, it’s only a symbolic picture)

    ;]

  13. #13 Merzmensch
    23. September 2016

    I’m still puzzling over this code.
    You can try my “kosmopol method” here in this PDF.
    https://merzmensch.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/flaschenpostkaliningrad-08-letters-run.pdf (I just formatted the first page right now).
    But perhaps we need more than just substitition solver…

    Some notices I did while of my tryings.

    * If this is substitution code, it is perhaps much more sophisticated. Perhaps wrong spaces, perhaps new code table after some unknown separators. I am wondering about the “abbreviations” like “r.l.b.” or “r.l.n.” (are those numbers? or commands which letter to take or which sequence to follow?). Another “turn signal” could be the one-lined and two-lined underlined “e” in the text.

    * If it’s Russian, I am already puzzling about subsitition in case of two words “ede” and “dde” (if spaces in this document mean real spaces between words). In all combinations of letters these two words don’t exist in Russian.

    * My suspicion as well, it could be not only substitution coded words, but also anagrams. This case could be very tricky.

    * Curiously I can find some parts or fusions of words in German and Russian as well, like “wurieHeuEIMAT” (my capitalization), but here we have to be very cautious, if it’s just our selective perception looking for obvious sequences.

  14. #14 Thomas
    23. September 2016

    @ Merzmensch
    I suppose it is not a substitution but a transposition cipher (f.e. columnar transposition) of German plaintext. There is a letter distribution very similar to german plaintext (the most frequent letters: e, n, r, i, s) and a index of coincidence of 0,08 which is near the i.c. of German plaintext. Yardley provides a method of solving a german columnar transposition in his book “American Black Chamber” (cf. Klaus article http://scienceblogs.de/klausis-krypto-kolumne/2016/06/16/der-brief-einer-spionin-aus-dem-ersten-weltkrieg-gibt-raetsel-auf/). On pp. 150 the method is described as follows: “ch” is a very common digraph in German. By calculating the most common interval between the c’s and the h’s the length of the columns of the cipher rectangle can be determined. When you have filled the ciphertext into the rectangle, finding appropriate multigrams of plaintext is a question of shifting and swapping the columns (anagraming). Perhaps somebody knows how to implementate such a method for computing because the great number of c’s and h’s in the cryptogram would be quite difficult to handle with pencil and paper.