A fifth encrypted bottle post has been found in the river Alster in Hamburg. Still, nobody seems to have a clue what these strange messages mean.

The Alster bottle post mystery is one of the strangest crypto mysteries I have ever covered on this blog. Here’s what has happened so far:

  • In October 2016, an encrypted bottle post was found in the Isebekkanal, a sidearm of the river Alster in Hamburg, Germany (thanks to Dominique Eggerstedt for the hint).
  • On January 24, 2017, a similar message was discovered on the South-East bank of the Außenalster, near the Restaurant Kajüte (thanks to Alex Vladi for the hint).
  • In  late April 2017, Tuncel Biyikli informed me about another bottle post. He found it on the eastern bank of the Außenalster.
  • In September 2017, Hans von Jagow sent me a picture of another bottle post of the same kind. He found it drifting on the water while he was rowing near the Krugkoppelbrücke, which is close to the finding place of bottle 3.

Last week, I received an email from Katrin Reischert. Aleady in June 2017, she had found a bottle post in the Isebekkanal, near the Bundesstraße, next to the Kaifu.

This means that we now have five encrypted Alster bottle posts. The finding places can be seen on the following map:


Bootle post 5

Here’s picture of the bottle post Katrin Reischert sent me:


Like the four other bottleposts, this one contains an encrypted (?) text with many German cleartext fragments. Among other words, I can read SCHNELLBOOT, POSTFINANZ, and MÄDCHEN. All in all, this cryptogram looks pretty similar as the ones already known.


Bottle post 1

Here’s a picture (taken by Dominique Eggerstedt) of the first Alster bottle post:


This is the message contained in the bottle:


Many words can be read, while other parts of the text seem to have no meaning.


Bottle post 2

The second bottle post looks like this (source: Facebook):



Bottle post 3

Here’s the third message (picture taken by Tuncel Biyikli):



Again, the message contains a number of German cleartext words, e.g., MÄDCHEN, STURMBEFEHL, and HÖCHSTGEFAHR.


Bottle post 4

Here’s the picture Hans von Jagow provided me:


Here’s the text part (for an even  higher resolution check here):


Like the other three Alster bottle post messages this one consists of letter sequences, the purpose of which is unclear. A number of German words can be spotted, e.g., UBOOTE and DIEGRÖßTEN.

What is it all about?

I still have absolutley no idea what all these messages are about. Here are a few hypotheses:

  • Alternate Reality Game (ARG): ARGs usually start with messages (e.g. letters) being sent to selected people. These messages usually contain a call to action (e.g., “we need your help to save the world, call 123-456-7890”). While it seems well possible that the organizers of an ARG use bottle posts to start their game, none of the messages found so far contains a call to action. Perhaps, the bottle post messages played a role in a later stage of an ARG, when some instructions about how they had to be interpreted were already known.
  • Geocaching: Many crypto puzzles created today have a relationship to Geocaching. Is this the case here, too? To be honest, I can’t see how these messages fit into a Geocaching scenario (locating a bottle post using a GPS doesn’t make much sense).
  • Performance art: A few years ago some 20 encrypted notes were found at a university in London, Canada. In 2014 it became known that these messages all were created by a local artist. So, the crypto mystery turned out to be a performance art project. It is, of course, possible that the Alster bottle post mystery has a similar origin.
  • Hoax: Of course, somebody might have created theses messages just to create a mystery – and to make himself laugh about the people trying to solve it.

Can a reader say more about the Alster bottle post messages? Any hint is welcome.

Further reading: Kaliningrad’s second mystery: Who can break this encrypted bottle post?

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Kommentare (13)

  1. #1 Jan
    23. Mai 2018

    I would add another hypothesis: It’s someone with a mental disorder and/or someone that never learned to write properly. I think this is plausible because of the messy way the messages look like including the paper. Maybe someone who thinks the war is still going on, hence the words Uboote and Sturmbefehl.

  2. #2 Rich SantaColoma
    23. Mai 2018

    I would go with hoax. There are many motivations for these, but in this case it would probably be to gain attention, which then gives the hoaxer a false sense of self-importance: They have a feeling of having achieved/accomplished something by getting people curious and interested.

    Then, especially if the cipher is not solved, they also achieve a feeling of superiority. This, even if there is meaning behind the cipher: Most hoaxes have meaning behind them. But if it does not, then they can just think, “Oh how stupid everyone is, and how smart I am”.

    Putting some words with meaning in there may simply be a “Red Herring”, to mislead investigators into assuming there must be meaning to the rest of it… like the Beale Cipher.

    Just my opinion, of course I can’t know.

  3. #3 The Piper
    24. Mai 2018

    One thing which irritates me is the often used word “Mädchen” (girl/girls).

    As you can see, “Mädchen” is written with the german umlaut “ä”, which is the letter “A” with two dots above.

    And now have a look at the pictures of the messages again:

    The word “Mädchen” there is not written with the german umlaut “ä”, but instead with the letter “A” and a horizontal line above instead of two dots.

    Well, i know that some older germans write the letter “u” with a horizontal line or bow above, but i have never seen someone replacing the two dots by a horizontal line.

    Might that point to another language, where a horizontal line is used instead of dots above letters?

    Scandinavian languages, maybe?

    Right now i would exclude french, spanish, italian, portuguese, czech, greek, languages written in kyrillic font.

    The only thing which pops up in my mind is korean, i remember, that they have a sign which looks like an “O” with a horizontal line above. Haven’t seen that in chinese or neither in japanese.

    Well, my thoughts so far..

  4. #4 Thomas
    24. Mai 2018

    @The Piper
    Die Umlaute werden auch von manchen Deutschen mit einem horizontalen Strich anstelle von zwei Punkten oder vertikalen Strichen geschrieben. Hierzu Wikipedia: “In der Schreibschrift gibt es neben den zwei übergestellten Punkten auch noch andere Schreibweisen (allographische Varianten). Die beiden häufigsten Varianten sind a) zwei kurze vertikale Striche anstelle der Punkte (daher ist in Österreich, wo diese Schreibweise bevorzugt wird, auch von ü-/ä-/ö-Stricherl die Rede), b) ein horizontaler Strich über dem Buchstaben, der gerade oder leicht nach unten durchgebogen ist. Letztere Schreibweise hat den Nachteil, dass sie dem u-Strich ähnelt, mit dem manche in der Schreibschrift den Kleinbuchstaben u versehen, um ihn vom Buchstaben n zu unterscheiden. Somit besteht bei dieser Schreibweise eine Verwechselungsgefahr zwischen u und ü.”

  5. #5 Thomas
    24. Mai 2018

    As some Germans writers use to write a horizontal dash instead of two dots to mark an umlaut, there is no evidence that the bottle post sender has learnt a script with macrons.

  6. #6 helmut
    24. Mai 2018

    @The Piper

    as Thomas already posted, it doesn’t matter if someone uses two dots or one horizontal dash or two vertical dashes.
    the dots normally used on keyboards (digital) and is (or was?) taught in primary school.
    when writing a letter, most of the people uses the dash(es) – because its much faster 😉

    someone knows when this cigarette package was sold?

  7. #7 helmut
    24. Mai 2018

    since 2003 this kind of warning has to be printed on each package. so the text “anno99” is not the year it was written.

  8. #8 John
    24. Mai 2018

    The word ‘Bomber’ is in Number 4 … there appears to be a number of clear-text words throughout these. So not a simple cipher as highly unlikely so many clear-text words would appear

    A good chance the person making these is reading this blog in my view. I think they are playing a game and watching the response. Could be ‘performance art’, ‘hoax’, or ‘trolling’.

    Unlikely to be geocache as the bottles in water are mobile, so cannot be linked to a GPS coordinate, which is the whole point of geocache.

    I think the umlaut over the a / horizontal line over the a might just be messy writing. The two dots could be joined by accident – the notes are not very neat and in some cases the ink seems to have run a bit (due to moisture). I often think we can read too much into the minute details of a cipher syntax.

    If a sixth bottle turns up, i doubt any of the clear-text words that have so far appeared will be present.

  9. #9 John
    24. Mai 2018

    I am not a German speaker but pick up the following across the five:

    depechen madchen

    and there appears to be a number of dates across the five

    Certainly a fascinating situation isn’t it

  10. #10 John
    24. Mai 2018

    And – at least some of the notes appear to be photocopies of a note, with further text added on the photocopy

    This suggests the person wants to keep the original notes – which suggests a ‘game’, ‘hoax’, or ‘troll’ … because they are investing a personal pride in the notes rather than their contents

  11. #11 John
    24. Mai 2018

    And – at least some of the notes appear to be photocopies of a note, with further text added on the photocopy

    This suggests the person wants to keep the original notes – which suggests a ‘game’, ‘hoax’, or ‘troll’ … because they are investing a personal pride in the notes rather than their contents

  12. #12 Michaela
    30. Mai 2018

    Ich habe mir mal die Nachricht Nr. 3 vorgenommen.
    Die Nachricht umfasst folgende Worte:

    SOS, NOT, 20.01.56, sich, Mädchen, Fernsehen, Keine, Hat, Niemals, Geweine, Kurz, Mädchen, Depechen, Mädchen, Geweint, Geseine, Ab, Höchstgefahr, Sturmbefehl, Nato, U-Boot, Bomber, Mädchen, Ab, Statt, Hinter, Ziffer, Keine, Null, Null, Nichts, TNT, Tiere, Mädchen, Verlangt: Zakrsewski

    Den 20.01.56 habe ich mit den Stichworten, wie Nato, kombiniert. Zu dem Datum in der Verbindung Nato finden sich die Aufstände in Ungarn und Polen.
    Dann habe ich nach dem Namen “Zakrsewski” gesucht. Der Name ist relativ selten, wobei es den auch in Hamburg gibt (Schiffahrtsunternehmen), der aus dem Polnischen stammt und den es auch in der Schreibweise “Zakrzewski” gibt.
    Das Meiste wird auf allen Mitteilungen, mehr oder weniger, wiederholt.
    Die Wiederholung deutet darauf hin, das es gleichgültig ist, welche Flasche gefunden wird, solange eine gefunden wird, die die nötigen Informationen enthält.
    Das für “ä” ein a´ geschrieben wurde, halte ich nicht für sonderlich wichtig da ich es z.B. auch mache, wenn ich etwas schnell aufschreiben muß.
    Das die Nachrichten von einem Polen, Tschechen oder Ungarn geschrieben wurden, schließe ich aus, da nirgendwo auf den Nachrichten eine Schreibweise, wie sie bei Worten üblich ist, vorhanden ist.
    Weitehrin gibt es die Zigarettenpackung in Deutschland und auch die Flaschen sind in Deutschland an Kiosken zu erhalten.
    Die Schreibweise deutet auf eine Person hin, die schon etwas älter ist, da Zahlen und Buchstaben bereits eine eigene Schreibstil zeigen, also ausgeschrieben wirken und sich in ihrem Schreibstil wiederholen.

    Ich vermute einen Hoax.

  13. #13 Davidsch
    30. Mai 2018

    Because of the some wrong letters in the ending of words, it could be that these are notes from a rebus-like puzzle.

    20-01-1956 is on a Friday. I tried to find the “Die Neue Zeitung” from that day but no success. Anyone?