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Contemporary debates, German History, German Language

This Is Bismarck Speaking, Can You Hear Me?

Germany’s longest-serving chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, can now be heard on a restored Edison record, as the NYT reported recently.

The unlabeled recordings, all housed in the same wooden box, had been found in 1957. But their contents remained unknown until last year, when Jerry Fabris, the curator at the Edison laboratory, used a playback device called the Archeophone to trace the grooves of 12 of the 17 cylinders in the box and convert the analog electrical signals into broadcast WAV files.

The German newspaper Die Welt has some more details about the find. Apparently, historians knew that such recordings must exist, because they found references to them both in the archive and in public records such as newspapers.

Based on the recent research, historians were able to reconstruct how the recordings were produced: Theodor Edward Wangemann, a German employee of Edison, visited Bismarck on his estate Friedrichsruh on October 7, 1889. Wangemann played a couple of voice and music recordings to demonstrate the function of the “Phonograph,” and then recorded Bismarck speaking parts of the American revolutionary song “In Good Old Colony Times,” the beginning of a poem by Johann Ludwig Uhland, and the student song “Gaudeamus igitur.”

Here is the recording with English translation:

It’s interesting to read that both German and American newspapers reported on this event, as the following caricatures and drawings illustrate (they are linked from the website of Die Welt):


About GG

Gundolf Graml is Associate Prof. and Dir. of German Studies at Agnes Scott College. He has a Ph.D. in German Studies from the University of Minnesota and has published articles on German and Austrian film and tourism. He is currently writing a book about tourism and Austrian national identity after 1945. Other research projects include critical whiteness studies and, most recently, investigations into the connection between memory and nature. At ASC, Gundolf Graml teaches courses on a broad range of topics, from German 101 to German and Austrian Cinema and Afro-German History and Culture.


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