Ima Picó is a visual artist, curator and a ringtone contributor from last year (when Locally Toned visited Valencia, Spain). She also played a key role in planning and coordinating the S.Low Projekt in Berlin (and invited Locally Toned to be a part of the project). Although Ima attended the Open Ringtone Recording Session at N.K., she opted to invite me to her family’s Prenzlauer Berg flat to record their old army green Western Electric telephone.
This telephone came from the Mauerpark Flohmarkt (flea market at Mauerpark). It’s still in use, has a great-sounding bell and has an interesting and quite faded warning (sticker) on the reciever. As far as we could tell, the sticker cautioned users to be careful of what they said, noting that their conversations might be picked up and/or recorded. More about the sticker in a moment, but first–have a listen to Ima’s East/West Berlin Telephone-Ring Tone. The audio take was recorded in the apartment on a breezy summer eve. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a tiny bit of street traffic and wind rustling the curtains in the window.
I had a bit of fun over the last few days, trying to decipher the exact text on the sticker. First, I tried Googling terms like “East Berlin Telephone,” “tapping Berlin phones,” and “warnings on Berlin phones,” but that didn’t get me very far.
Then, yesterday, during a visit to the wonderful Museum der Dinge (Museum of Things) I spotted this older phone with a prominent “CAUTION NOT SECURE” warning on it. When I searched that term this morning, it led to this printable sticker-sheet .pdf from the Federation of American Scientists website:
Voila–the words from this document matched the words (and their placement) on Ima’s phone! I’m assuming that the phone would have been in West Berlin (during the DDR/GDR era), since the warning came from the old U.S. allies. Digging a bit further, I discovered that the document from the FAS-site index came from the Defense Department (DoD) of the United States, Intelligence and Security (Doctrine, Directives and Instructions). The sticker is, officially, a TELEPHONE MONITORING NOTIFICATION DETAIL.
Thanks to Ima Picó for her fun-for-me to research contribution to the project! You can read an extensive Wikipedia quote below (from this article), if you’d like a little more background about telecommunications in post-WWII East/West Germany.
“The Post Office also ran the telephone network in Berlin. It was in a sorry state in all four sectors, because by July 1945, before the Western Allies took control of their sectors, the Soviets had dismantled and deported almost all automatic telephone switches, allowing direct dialling instead of operator connected calling. So Berlin’s telephone network dropped from hundreds of thousands of connected telephones to a mere 750 in use by end of 1945, all of which were assigned to Allied staff or utility services. Rebuilding the system became a lengthy enterprise because of the post-war economic crisis and the following Berlin Blockade. On 25 February 1946 calls between Berlin and any of the four Allied zones of occupation were again made possible. In April 1949 the Eastern branch of the Deutsche Post disconnected all 89 existing telephone lines from West Berlin into the Soviet Zone of occupation in Germany.
Meanwhile West Berlin was integrated into the West German telephone network, using the same international dialling code as West Germany, +49, with the area code 030. On 27 May 1952 the EasternDeutsche Post cut all 4,000 lines connecting East and West Berlin. In order to reduce Eastern tapping of telecommunications between West Berlin and West Germany microwave radio relay connections were built, which wirelessly transmitted telephone calls between antenna towers in West Germany and West Berlin, where two of which were built, one antenna in Berlin-Wannsee and later a second in Berlin-Frohnau, finished on 16 May 1980 with a height of 358 m (1,175 ft) (this tower was demolished on 8 February 2009).
Following the détente, on 31 January 1971 East Germany allowed the opening of 10 telephone lines between East and West Berlin. The Western area code for East Berlin was then 00372 (international access prefix 00, East German country code 37, area code 2). Calls from East Berlin were only possible with operator assistance. On 24 June 1972 East Germany opened 32 local exchanges (including Potsdam) in the East German suburbia of West Berlin for calls from West Berlin. From 14 April 1975 East Berliners could once again dial directly to West Berlin, without operator assistance. East Germany conceded to an increase in lines between East and West Berlin to 120 on 15 December 1981. However, private phones were very rare in the East. In 1989, the 17 million East Germans (including East Berliners) were served by only 4 million telephones, only half of which were installed in private homes, the rest being in offices, companies, public telephone kiosks, and the like.”