German painter Göbel left behind a notebook with about ten ciphertext passages and something that looks like a key. Can a reader solve this crypto mystery?

Deutsche Version des Artikels (Beta)

Ludwig Göbel (1889-1964) was a German painter who spent most of his life in Ingelheim (today in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate) and Munich, Germany. He created a large amount of portraits, etchings, and watercolor paintings. Apparently, there is no Wikipedia entry about Göbel, but a few other web pages provide plenty of information (in German) about his biography and art.

A few days ago, I was contacted by Janine Werner, who owns a notebook Ludwig Göbel left behind. Here’s a page from it with two portraits the artist created:

Source: Werner

On some of the notebook pages, encrypted text passages can be seen. In addition, a table that looks like a key is contained. Let’s start with the key:

Source: Werner

Altogether, I found seven encrypted passages in the material Janine Werner provided me:


Source: Werner


Source: Werner


Source: Werner


Source: Werner


Source: Werner


Source: Werner


Source: Werner

Some of the passages mainly consist of lower-case letters written in groups of five, which is unusual for a notebook. These lines looks more like a military ciphertext. Perhaps, Göbel learned about enciphering messages when he was a soldier in the First World War and continued to use encryption in his later life. According to the biography I found online, Göbel didn’t serve in World War II. Anyway, I hope that these letter-based cipher passages can be solved with the key provided above.

A few other notebook pages show three-digit numbers and short letter groups. This doesn’t look like ciphertext to me. Nevertheless, a reader might find out what these notes mean.

It goes without saying that I included Ludwig Göbel’s notebook in my encrypted book list (#00106). So far, it is listed as unsolved. I hope and trust that I need to change this status soon.

Further reading: Another crypto mystery solved: Tony Gaffney has broken Ernest Rinzi’s encryption code


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Kommentare (5)

  1. #1 Armin Krauß
    9. Dezember 2020

    If you read the first column of the key downwards and the second column upwards, you get the german sentence: “Umaendern kann sich niemand, bessern kann sich jeder.” (engl: Nobody can change himself, everybody can improve)

  2. #2 Torbjörn Andersson
    Kalmar, Sweden
    11. Dezember 2020

    I do not think this is anything encrypted at all.

    The last two pages looks very much like morse traffic to/from an aircraft (standard way of communicating once upon a time). It’s mostly Q-codes (international abbreviations used in radio communication) dealing with bearings etc., like:
    qan – The surface wind direction and speed at … at … hours is …
    qao – The wind direction and speed at … at flight level … is …
    qdm – The magnetic heading for you to steer to reach me with no wind was … degrees at … hours.
    qte – Your true bearing from me is … degrees at … hours.

    The pages before, look to me like taken down by someone practicing morse code. It’s very common to use five letter groups for this purpose, with some groups of figures here and there (to throw the pupil off, since he/she is expecting another letter group), and dummy “plaintext” like “Brüder über in Sternenzelt” on top of one of the pages (could be a piece of poetry though).

  3. #3 Gerd
    11. Dezember 2020

    Indeed the writing looks like training text for morse code. The q-codes come with numbers (QAO 220 kmh) or with ? for an question, the five figure groups contain also groups with fractional numbers (5 2/3) or percent (7 %) for which special morse symbols do exist.

  4. #4 Klaus Schmeh
    11. Dezember 2020

    > the writing looks like training text for morse code
    Thanks, this might be correct.
    This reminds me of the rilke cryptogram, which migh also be a training text:
    However, this one is probably not made for Morse code, as it contains uppercase and lowercase letters.

  5. #5 Gerd
    12. Dezember 2020

    In the Rilke cryptogram, only L is used as uppercase letter. It might be so to avoid confusion with the 1. In handwriting, operators would use a lowercase l with a loop, this is not available on a typewriter.