Mark Twain and the Secret of Dilsberg, Germany

Dilsberg on the Neckar River

Dilsberg, a German town crowning a hill on the Neckar River. (c) Kai Petrik, 240571

Every medieval town had its mysteries.

Dilsberg, a walled town atop a hill that towers above Germany’s Neckar River, was no exception. Its mystery was its defense. Dilsberg had never been conquered in a siege, and the besiegers could never figure out how the Dilsbergers remained fat and well-armed even after their access to the outside world was cut off.

Who would have thought that a traveling American would hit upon a secret that had eluded generals and armies?

Mark Twain in Germany

Mark Twain

Mark Twain, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, public domain

When Mark Twain traveled to Germany in 1878, he never planned to solve a military mystery. He was in the middle of writing Huckleberry Finn and had ideas for a new book on European travel, A Tramp Abroad. In the summer of 1878 he took a trip down the Neckar and Dilsberg caught his eye.

Twain's sketch of Dilsberg

Twain’s own sketch of Dilsberg. From “A Tramp Abroad,” public domain.

“For Dilsberg is a quaint place. It is most quaintly and picturesquely situated, too. Imagine the beautiful river before you; then a few rods of brilliant green sward on its opposite shore; then a sudden hill, – no preparatory gently-rising slopes, but a sort of instantaneous hill, – a hill two hundred and fifty or three hundred feet high, as round as a bowl…, and with just exactly room on the top of its head for its steepled and turreted and roof-clustered cap of architecture, which same is tightly jammed and compacted within the perfectly round hoop of the ancient village wall…. [F]rom a distance Dilsberg has rather more the look of a king’s crown than a cap.”

Dilsberg castle.

Tower and battlements of the Dilsberg castle.

Twain hiked up the hill to visit the town. Once inside the city wall, he explored the castle ruins. “It proved to be an extensive pile of crumbling walls, arches, and towers, massive, properly grouped for picturesque effect…” Children accompanied him and acted as his tour guides. They climbed the castle tower and walked on its lofty battlements.

Dilsberg and the legend of the secret passage

It was the children who let him in on the secret. “But the principal show, the chief pride of the children, was the ancient and empty well in the grass-grown court of the castle. Its massive stone curb stands up three or four feet above the ground, and is whole and uninjured…. There were some who believed it had never been a well at all, and was never deeper than it is now, – eighty feet; that at that depth a subterranean passage branched from it and descended gradually to a remote place in the valley, where it opened into somebody’s cellar or other hidden recess, and that the secret of this locality is now lost.”

The Old Well. Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880 ed., public domain.

Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880 ed., public domain.

This, Twain said, was the secret to Dilsberg’s defense. Dilsbergers were bringing in supplies through the secret passage. The children tried to prove the existence of the passage to him by dropped burning straw down the well. It struck bottom and burnt out without any smoke coming up.

“You see!” said the children. “Nothing makes so much smoke as burning straw – now where did the smoke go to, if there is no subterranean outlet?”

But was the story true or not? Sometimes with Twain’s travel tales it’s hard to tell.

The well in the Dilsberg castle today.

The well in the castle courtyard.

A Twain fan solves the mystery

Entrance to the Dilsberg tunnel

Tunnel entrance on the hillside.

In 1900, one Twain fan decided to find out. Frank von Briesen, a German American, was fascinated by the well story. He traveled to Dilsberg, let himself down the well on a rope, and found a passageway blocked by rubble. In 1926 he paid to have the outlet cleared. It terminated in the wooded hillside. The tunnel is now open to the public and the city of Dilsberg offers tours in the summer. Historians believe it was probably built to provide air circulation. But who knows? Maybe the Dilsbergers also used it during sieges to get supplies.

And maybe Mark Twain really did solve one of Germany’s mysteries for the outside world. If it hadn’t been for Twain and one of his fans, knowledge of the secret passage might have been lost.

Literature on point

All quotes from Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad (public domain)

Werner Pieper, ed., Mark Twain’s Guide to Heidelberg (Löhrbach: Werner Pieper’s MedienXperimente)

Der Burgstollen

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Tramp Signs: Secret Symbols of Criminals and Vagabonds


Tramp signs were somtimes carved into wood.

Criminals used to use secret tramp signs, sometimes carving them into wood. Photo AVN Photo Lab, Shutterstock.

A black shape emerges from the misty shadows of the night and slinks up to the door. A glint of light flashes from a knife. There’s a scratching sound as the man begins to whittle a symbol into the wood. You probably won’t be able to read what he’s carving, because it’s in a centuries-old secret language: the tramp signs of Europe.

Frequently used from the 17th to 19th centuries, these symbols provided secret information to other criminals and vagabonds. Tramp signs told which houses provided refuge and which were dangerous. Even if a criminal was illiterate, he could still read these symbols.

By the 20th century, law enforcement had deciphered many of the symbols. Here are few listed in a criminal investigator’s handbook:


Historical tramp signs from Europe. Hans Gross, Handbuch der Kriminalistik is a good source.

Historical tramp signs from Europe.


Some of these symbols became the basis for the hobo symbols that flourished in North American starting in the late 19th century and through the Depression. Compare the tramp signs above to some of these hobo symbols from North America:

Hobo signs

Ryan Somma, Key to a few hobo signs, National Cryptologic Museum, Creative Commons.

In Europe, however, tramp signs were also used by mischief-makers who were much more dangerous than hobos. Some tramp signs would tell a criminal which house to burglarize, which to burn, or even which occupants to murder. Here are two ominous examples from 19th century Europe:

Tramp signs from Germany.

Instructions to commit murder by arson found on a chapel in the forest in Germany. The first line means “In the night of the last quarter moon, the fourth house in the direction of the arrow will be attacked.” The symbols on the bottom line are the signatures of the participants. From Hans Gross, Handbuch, 1899.


Another example of tramp signs.

These symbols indicate plans to burglarize the church on Christmas night. The stones and the child wrapped in swaddling clothes indicate the date. Hans Gross, Handbuch, 1899.

In the modern age of cell phones, the need for such communication has largely died out, although police do occasionally still find tramp signs. In 2009, police in Vienna found several on houses, mailboxes, fences, and doors. You can view photographs here. One of the symbols used looked like an upside down table. That means “old people live here.”

A modern variation of tramp signs is warchalking, symbols on streets or lampposts indicating the availability of an open wireless access point.

Warchalking as a modern variation of tramp signs.

Maha, Warchalking on a street in Bamberg, Germany, Creative Commons

Have you ever seen secret symbols in a public place?

Literature on point:

Hanns Gross & Ernst Seelig, Handbuch der Kriminalistik (Berlin: J Schwietzer, 1954)

Hanns Gross, Handbuch für Untersuchungsrichter als System der Kriminalistik (Graz, Austria: Leuschner & Lubensky’s Universitäts-Buchhandlung 1899)

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Interview with Michael Müller, a German cadaver dog handler

German cadaver dog handler Michael Müller

Michael Müller, the first cadaver dog handler in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Private photo, with permission.

Gespräch mit Michael Müller, einem der ersten Leichensuchhundführer in Deutschland (Deutscher Text unten)

One month ago I interviewed Cat Warren, an American cadaver dog handler in America whose book, What the Dog Knows, has since hit the bestseller list. Germany trains and uses its cadaver dogs a bit differently. Please meet Michael Müller, a German cadaver dog handler and the first in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, along with his dog Gerry, who once solved a murder just in the nick of time.

German cadaver dog

We may be thinking that’s a beautiful dog, but the dog’s thinking, “Where’s my toy?” Play instincts are an important prerequisite for cadaver dogs. Photo courtesy of Michael Müller.

Ann Marie: Most cadaver dog handlers in the United States work on a volunteer basis. How does it work in Germany?

Michael Müller: I first have to draw some distinctions. There are cadaver dogs and rescue and avalanche search dogs.

Cadaver dogs are specially trained to search for bodies. So they are used in investigating crimes. Such procedures are led by a public prosecutor’s office and its investigative team – the police. For that reason, external volunteers can’t be used. Because there are numerous K9 squads in Baden-Württemberg, dogs are continually trained there and employed for appropriate assignments.

Rescue and avalanche search dogs are trained to locate persons who are missing or buried under an avalanche. Their handlers are volunteers who are usually members of certain organizations (Red Cross, mountain patrol, K9 squads, technical assistance organizations, etc.).

Because they help in disasters that may or may not be under police control, volunteers can be used. These missions, however, serve to locate living people. Of course it happens that these dogs also find bodies (in cases like earthquakes or collapse of dwellings).

Here the difference in training is also apparent. Cadaver dogs are trained to find decomposed flesh, whereas rescue and avalanche search dogs are trained to find living persons. Many learn using the living person, and evaporation from sweat and urine that every person in a helpless position secretes, as the basis for training.

You were the first cadaver dog handler in Baden-Württemberg. When and how did you start?

German K9

German K9s just might be the coolest in the world. Photo courtesy of Michael Müller.

After cadaver dogs in the other German states had already proved their success, the police in Baden-Württemberg also received an order in 1980 to start training cadaver dogs. This order was first given to the K9 squad in Stuttgart. Together with two other colleagues, our police dogs were trained as cadaver dogs. The training lasted 10 weeks.

The police dogs were already all successful narcotics sniffer dogs and what they received now was additional special training.

A prerequisite for the selection of a cadaver search dog was whether the dogs exhibited pronounced play instincts. As early as the spring of 1981, we had our first case for these three dogs. Within the scope of a murder case, a garbage dump was searched. The actual body couldn’t be found (as it later turned out, the body had been disposed of at a different site); nevertheless, our police dogs alerted at various places where we could find diverse [animal] carcasses and hospital waste. Some of it was buried several meters deep.

How were your dogs trained?

Like I already said, a prerequisite for this special training is the presence of pronounced play instincts.

Police dog

Portrait of Working Police Dog, Rob Hainer,

Because decomposing pork smells similar to decomposing human flesh, a small portion of pork was first shrink-wrapped and packed into hard plastic (tubes). We first used this “toy” in relaxed games of fetch in which the dog chased the toy and retrieved it for its handler. With time we increased the difficulty and hid the “toy,” but at first so that the leashed dog could see it. At the next level of difficulty, the toy was hidden so that the dog could no longer see it, forcing it to switch from visual performance to olfactory performance when ordered to search.

After the dog could search with its nose, we continually increased the difficulty. Of course the dog received gushing praise whenever it found something. It was important to always break down the territory before the search. For every dog, an area about 100m long and 30-40m wide was cordoned off. The area was cordoned off depending on the wind direction so that the dogs always searched against the wind. In the course of training, it became apparent that the dogs could sometimes hit the scent 50m from the hiding place and run directly to the buried hiding place. There they tried to dig out their “toy” to show their handler that something was there.

During the course of training pork was replaced with human body parts so we could be sure that the police dogs were actually searching human flesh. Pork was buried as a distraction, but the dogs now ignored it.

Your dog once played a decisive role in an investigation and made it possible to apprehend the criminal at the last possible moment. Please tell us what happened.

With the help of my police dog, I was able to solve a murder case.

The case began in December 1987. A wife disappeared without a trace from a city in southern Germany. Based on the investigation, her husband became the prime suspect. But without a body it was difficult to prove the man committed a crime.

The investigation was very difficult. Military airplanes from the German army were used to take special photographs. In these photographs, you can see where something has been recently buried or where the soil was disturbed. The pictures offered no leads. But because the accused husband worked in construction, operating an excavator, we next investigated where he had been working at the time his wife disappeared.

Investigation indicated he had been working on building a new street. On the basis of this lead, portions of the new street were removed, but no body could be found. Further investigation revealed that the excavator operator had also been working at a dumpsite. A large, several-story building had been torn down and the rubble was dumped at a special dumpsite.

The detective decided to search the dumpsite and contacted the K9 squad in Stuttgart. Because the area to be searched was so large, we decided to use all the cadaver dogs in Baden-Württemberg together.

Over the next few days, following the necessary preparations, this huge mission started. The search area was so large and difficult that at the beginning, we weren’t sure if we could finish in one day, even though 14 dogs were deployed.

The nose of a police dog is a service to society.

A dog’s nose is capable of amazing performances. Auttiedot, morguefile photos.

Indeed, the mission had to be terminated in the evening because even the dogs had reached their limits and urgently needed a break.

Because only a small remaining portion was left to search, I received the order to search it on the following day. The reason for that was that my residence and workplace were not far away.

So on the next day I drove to the site. I also have to add that the accused husband had already been in jail for almost a year.

The deployment of all the cadaver dog handlers was on a Wednesday in November 1988 (the woman had been missing since December 1987). On the following Thursday I was deployed to search the remaining area. On the following day, on Friday, the accused was scheduled to appear in court for a decision on the procedural justification for his custody and would have most certainly been released without discovery of the body. But it didn’t go that far thanks to my police dog, Gerry.

On that Thursday I drove to the site in the morning and subdivided the remaining search area. I noticed that afternoon, as we continued to search, sudden, pronounced reactions in my dog, despite our having taken breaks. I could see how he began searching with greater concentration and narrowing it down to a smaller area. We took breaks several times, but he always returned to the same place and began to dig. Because I trusted my dog, I was certain he wanted to show me something there. Whether it was the missing body or something else he wanted to show me, however, I couldn’t tell right away.

Because several excavators were available to us, I had one dig at that spot. In the meantime, a large hole was created at the location and the dog was once again deployed. Gerry began to dig further in the hole and showed me he’d definitely hit a scent. This hole was then dug deeper and wider. Nobody thought it would be possible for us to really find a body 5-6m deep. But it did lie there, under a concrete slab. The clay in the soil had preserved the body in a good condition. Next to the body were also drainage pipes in which the odor had accumulated.

Proud of my K9 Gerry, I reported the find of the body to the detectives. After lots of handshaking and dog petting for my Gerry, we could drive back home.

Have your dogs ever surprised you with their sense of smell?

Police dogs deserve our thanks.

Thanks to all police dogs for your incredible crime-solving capabilities! dlogue, morguefile photos.

There have been so many situations in which my dog’s sense of smell has surprised me. One was during his deployment as a cadaver dog in the garbage dump. Among the plethora of diverse and overlapping odors, he was actually able to find [animal] cadaver and hospital waste material.

I’ve been most surprised, however, when my dog was used for narcotics sniffing. Once my dog was able to find ca. 0.2g (0.007 oz) of heroin. This tiny wafer was in a record collection, stuck in a wrapper.

For the K9 handler, this is a greater success than finding several kilograms. Because it’s precisely the process of finding the tiniest amounts through which one learns to trust his dog. The dog senses that trust and that gives it further confidence.

Well-rehearsed teamwork between the K9 handler and his police dog can only be built on trust.

Thank you for the interview, Herr Müller! All of Baden-Württemberg can be grateful to your dogs.



Gespräch mit Michael Müller, einem der ersten Leichensuchhundführer in Deutschland

Vor einem Monat interviewte ich Cat Warren, eine U.S.-amerikanische Leichensuchhundeführerin, deren Buch What the Dog Knows inzwischen auf der Bestsellerliste steht. Deutschlands Ausbildung und Einsatz für Hünde sind etwas anders. Ich stelle Michael Müller vor, den ersten Leichensuchhundeführer Baden-Württembergs, und seinen Hund Gerry, der einen Mordfall aufgeklärt hat, nur Stunden bevor es zu spät geworden wäre.

1. Die meisten Leichensuchhundeführer in den USA arbeiten freiwillig. Wie funktioniert es in Deutschland?

Hier muss man zunächst unterscheiden. Es gibt Leichensuchhunde und Rettungs- und Lawinensuchhunde.

Leichensuchhunde werden speziell ausgebildet, um Leichen zu finden. Deshalb kommen diese zum Einsatz bei Straftaten. Diese Verfahren werden geführt durch eine Staatsanwaltschaft und deren Ermittlungsbeamten – also der Polizei. Freiwillige externe Personen können deshalb hier nicht zum Einsatz kommen. Da es in Baden Württemberg mehrere Diensthundestaffeln gibt, werden dort immer entsprechende Hunde ausgebildet und bei möglichen Einsätzen entsprechend eingesetzt.

Rettungs- und Lawinensuchhunde sind ausgebildet um vermisste oder verschüttete Personen aufzufinden. Hier handelt es sich um freiwillige Helfer, die aber überwiegend bestimmten Organisationen angegliedert sind (Rotes Kreuz; Bergwacht, Rettungshundestaffeln, THW usw.).

Da diese bei Unglücksfällen zum Einsatz kommen, die möglicherweise auch unter polizeilicher Leitung stehen, können hier freiwillige Helfer eingesetzt werden. Diese Einsätze dienen aber zum Auffinden noch lebender Personen. Natürlich kommt es immer wieder dazu, dass diese Hunde auch Leichen finden (Einsätze bei Erdbeben, Einsturz von Wohnhäusern).

Hier ist auch der Unterschied der Ausbildung deutlich sichtbar. Leichensuchhunde sind ausgebildet verwesendes Fleisch zu finden, während Rettungs- und Lawinensuchhunde darauf ausgebildet werden, lebende Personen zu finden. Viele nehmen hier zur Ausbildungsgrundlage die lebende Person an sich und Schweiß- und Urinausdünstungen, die jeder normale Mensch in hilfloser Lage ausscheidet.

2. Sie waren der erste Leichensuchhundeführer in Baden-Württemberg. Wann und wie haben Sie angefangen?

Nachdem es in anderen Bundesländern bereits schon Leichensuchhunde gab, die auch schon erfolgreich waren, erhielt 1980 die Polizei von Baden-Württemberg ebenfalls den Auftrag Leichensuchhunde auszubilden. Dieser Auftrag ging deshalb zunächst an die Polizeihundestaffel Stuttgart. Gemeinsam mit zwei weiteren Kollegen wurden deshalb unsere Diensthunde zu Leichensuchhunden ausgebildet. Diese Ausbildung dauerte 10 Wochen.

Alle Diensthunde waren zu diesem Zeitpunkt schon erfolgreiche Drogensuchhunde und erhielten hier nun eine weitere spezielle Ausbildung.

Voraussetzung für die Auswahl zum Leichensuchhund war auch ein extrem ausgebildeter Spieltrieb,

den die Hunde vorweisen konnten. Bereits im Frühjahr 1981 kam es zum ersten Einsatz dieser drei Hunde. Im Rahmen eines Mordfalles wurde ein Mülldeponie abgesucht. Die eigentliche Leiche konnte nicht gefunden werden (wie sich später herausstellte wurde diese an anderer Örtlichkeit beseitigt), allerdings zeigten die Diensthunde an verschiedenen Stellen an und hier konnten verschiedenste Kadaver und Krankenhausmüll aufgefunden werde. Teilweise waren diese mehrere Meter vergraben.

3.Wie wurden ihre Hunde ausgebildet?

Wie bereits berichtet war Voraussetzung für diese spezielle Ausbildung ein extremer Spieltrieb.

Da Schweinefleisch bei der Verwesung ähnlich ist wie das menschliche Fleisch, wurde zunächst eine kleinere Portion dieses Fleisches eingeschweißt und in Hartplastik (Röhren) verpackt. Dieses „Spielzeug“ wurde zunächst anfangs in einem lockeren Spiel immer fortgeworfen und der Hund sprang seinem Spielzeug hinterher und brachte es seinem Hundeführer. Mit der Zeit wurde der Schwierigkeitsgrad angehoben und das „Spielzeug“ wurde versteckt, allerdings zunächst noch so, dass es der angeleinte Hund sehen konnte. Als nächste Schwierigkeit wurde es versteckt und zwar so, dass es der Hund nun nicht mehr sah, allerdings aus Suchbefehl nach seinem Spielzeug umschalten musste von anfangs seiner Augensuchleistung nun auf Nasensuchleistung.

Nachdem nun der Hund gezielt mit seiner Nase suchte wurden die Schwierigkeiten immer weiter angehoben. So wurde nun sein „Spielzeug“ vergraben und auch mehrere Tage im Versteck belassen.

Durch gezielte Suchbefehle wurde nun das betreffende Gelände abgesucht und der Hund sucht ja nur nach seinem „Spielzeug“. Bei Auffindung dessen wurde er natürlich überschwänglich gelobt. Wichtig war auch immer vor der Suche das Gelände einzuteilen. Hier wurde für jeden Hund Bereiche abgesteckt, die ca. 100 m lang waren und 30-40 m breit waren. Je nach Windrichtung mussten das Gelände abgesteckt werden, damit man immer gegen den Wind suchte. Im Rahmen der Ausbildung war hier deutlich sichtbar, dass die Hunde teilweise schon 50m vor dem Versteck Witterung hatten und gezielt zur Vergrabungstelle rannten. Dort versuchten sie ihr „Spielzeug“ auszugraben, um seinem Hundeführer zu zeigen, dass hier etwas liegt.

Im Rahmen der Ausbildung wurde das Schweinefleisch durch Leichenteile ausgetauscht, so dass man auch sicher war, dass die Diensthunde tatsächlich nach menschlichem Fleisch suchten. Zur Ablenkung nun vergrabenes Schweinefleisch wurde jetzt durch die Diensthunde ignoriert.

4. Ihr Hund spielte einmal eine entscheidende Rolle in einer Ermittlung und hat ermöglicht, dass der Täter gerade rechtzeitig erwischt wurde. Erzählen Sie uns bitte, was passierte?

Mit Hilfe meines Diensthundes konnte hier ein Mordfall geklärt werden.

Dieser Fall begann im Dezember 1987. Hier verschwand in einer süddeutschen Stadt eine Ehefrau spurlos. Ein dringender Tatverdacht ergab sich aus den Ermittlungen gegen den Ehemann. Allerdings ohne das Auffinden der Leiche war es schwierig das Verbrechen dem Ehemann nachzuweisen.

Die Ermittlungen waren sehr schwierig. So kamen Kampfflugzeuge der Bundeswehr zum Einsatz, die spezielle Bildaufnahmen machten. Auf diesen Bildern sollte zu Erkennen sein, wo frische Grabungen oder Erdveränderungen sichtbar waren. Dies führte nicht zum Erfolg. Da der beschuldigte Ehemann als Baggerfahrer bei einer Baufirma arbeitete, wurde zunächst ermittelt, wo er zur fraglichen Zeit arbeitete wo auch seine Ehefrau spurlos verschwand.

Diese Ermittlungen ergaben, dass er bei einem Neubau einer Straße eingesetzt war. Aufgrund dieser

Ermittlung wurden deshalb Teile dieser neuen Straße wieder entfernt, aber auch hier konnte keine Leiche gefunden werden. So führten weitere Ermittlungen dazu, dass man in Erfahrung bringen konnte, dass der Beschuldigte auch zur fraglichen Zeit als Baggerfahrer arbeitete bei einem Auffüllplatz. Ein großes mehrgeschossiges Gebäude wurde abgerissen und dieser Bauschutt wurde auf einem speziellen Auffüllplatz gelagert.

Die Ermittler kamen nun zu dem Entschluss auch diesen Auffüllplatz absuchen zu lassen und nahmen Kontakt mit der Diensthundestaffel in Stuttgart auf. Aufgrund der großen Fläche, welche abzusuchen war, entschloss man sich alle Leichensuchhunde von Baden Württemberg zu diesem Einsatz zusammenzuziehen.

In den nächsten Tagen nach erforderlicher Vorarbeit kam es zu diesem genannten Einsatz. Die Suchfläche war derart groß und schwierig, so dass man zu Beginn des Einsatzes fast sicher war, dass dieser Einsatz nicht an einem Tag zu bewältigen war, obwohl ca. 14 Suchhunde eingesetzt waren.

Tatsächlich musste der Einsatz in den Abendstunden eingestellt werden, da auch die Diensthund an ihr Suchlimit herangebracht wurden und dringend eine längere Pause brauchten.

Da nur noch eine kleinere Restfläche abzusuchen war, erhielt ich den Auftrag dies am nächsten Tag durchzuführen. Grund dafür war, dass mein Wohn- und Dienstort sehr ortsnah zum Einsatzort lag.

So fuhr ich also wieder am nächsten Tag zu meiner Einsatzstelle. Einfügen muss ich noch, dass der beschuldigte Ehemann nun fast ein Jahr sich in Haft befand.

Der Einsatz mit allen Leichensuchhundeführer war an einem Mittwoch im November 1988 (Vermißtenzeitpunkt Dezember1987) . Am nächsten Donnerstag war mein Einsatz mit der genannten Restsuche. Am nächsten Tag, also am Freitag, sollte der Beschuldigte zur Haftprüfung und wäre mit Sicherheit ohne Auffinden der Leiche auf freien Fuß gekommen. Dazu kam es allerdings nicht, dank meinem Diensthund Gerry.

An dem genannten Donnerstag fuhr ich morgens zur Einsatzstelle und teilte mir das Restgelände ein. Mit entsprechenden Pausen bemerkte ich nachmittags beim weiteren Suchen plötzlich auffallende Reaktionen bei meinem Diensthund. Ich konnte erkennen, wie er immer konzentrierter suchte und einen kleineren Bereich eingrenzte. Nach mehrmaligen erneuten Ansetzen kehrte er immer wieder zu der Stelle und begann nun zu graben. Da ich meinem Hund vertraute, war ich mir sicher, dass er mir hier nun etwas anzeigen wollte. Ob es sich allerdings um die gesuchte Leiche handelte oder ob er mir sonst etwas anzeigen wollte, war zunächst nicht zu erkennen.

Da mir mehrere Bagger zur Verfügung standen, veranlasste ich, dass an dieser Stelle entsprechend gegraben wurde. Mittlerweile ist nun in diesem Bereich ein größeres Loch entstanden und der Diensthund wurde wieder angesetzt. Gerry begann erneut in diesem Loch zu graben und zeigte mir sicher an, dass er Witterung hatte. Dieses Loch wurde nun tiefer und breiter ausgegraben. Was niemand für möglich hielt war aber, dass wir in 5-6 m Tiefe tatsächlich die Leiche fanden. Diese lag dort unter einer Betonplatte zusätzlich vergraben. Bedingt durch einen Lehmboden war die Leiche noch in einem guten Zustand. Unmittelbar über dem Leichenfundort waren noch Drainagenrohre, in denen sich der Geruch staute.

Mit Stolz auf meinen Diensthund Gerry meldete ich bei den zuständigen Ermittlern das Auffinden der Leiche. Nach vielen Drücken mehrere Hände und vielen Streicheleinheiten für meinen Gerry konnten wir zufrieden nach Hause fahren.

5. Haben Ihre Hunde mit ihrem Geruchsinn Sie je überrascht?

Hier gab es verschiedene Situationen wo mich der Geruchsinn meines Hundes mich mehrfach überraschte. Zum einen war es im Einsatz als Leichensuchhund auf der Mülldeponie. Gerade bei

einer Vielzahl von verschiedensten vorhandenen und überlagernden Gerüchen, tatsächlich noch den Geruch zu finden um Kadaver oder Krankenhausmüll aufzufinden.

Am meisten allerdings war ich überrascht, wenn ich mit meinem Hund im Einsatz war um Drogen aufzuspüren. Hier konnte es sein, dass mein Hund in einem Haus in der Lage war ca. 0,2 g Heroin aufzufinden. Dieses kleine Briefchen war zum Beispiel in einer Schallplattensammlung in einer Hülle eingeklemmt.

Für den Hundeführer ist dies als größerer Erfolg zu werten, als wenn man mehrere Kilogramm gefunden hätte. Denn gerade beim Auffinden kleinster Mengen lernt man seinem Hund zu vertrauen. Dieses Vertrauen spürt der Hund und es gibt ihm auch wieder Sicherheit.

Ein gut eingespieltes Team zwischen Hundeführer und seinem Diensthund kann nur auf Vertrauen aufgebaut werden.

Danke, Herr Müller! Und in Namen von ganz Baden-Württemberg, danke an Ihre Hünde.



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Civil War Balloons: Five Fun Facts


Civil War balloons were used for reconnaisance.

Thaddeus Low in a reconnaisance balloon. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, public domain.

Spycraft rose to new levels during the Civil War. One of the most interesting innovations was ballooning. These five fun facts provide a brief introduction to what was then cutting edge military technology.

French ballooms preceeded Civil War balloons.

The French were the first to use military balloons. L’Entreprenant at the Battle of Fleurus (1794), public domain.

  • Civil War balloons were not the first balloons used for military reconnaissance. France created the Corp d’Aerostiers in 1794 to promote the use of wartime balloon reconnaissance. In the United States, Thaddeus Lowe developed balloons from a more durable material, won an army contract, and formed the Aeronautic Corps, forerunner of the U.S. Air Force. Lowe used portable hydrogen generator wagons to inflate his balloons.
Hydrogen wagon inflates a Civil War balloon.

A hydrogen wagon inflates a Civil War balloon. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, public domain.

  • The Union Army was the first to combine ballooning with telegraph communications. That was Thaddeus Lowe’s brainchild. Balloons rose up to a thousand feet over the landscape, offering expanded vistas. Using binoculars and sometimes even telescopes for more accurate observation, ballooners observed troop movements, spotted artillery locations, and sketched maps. Troop size was estimated by counting tents. Since it wasn’t possible to shout urgent information down from that height, the balloonists used signal flags or telegraph lines to communication their observations to the ground. Sometimes the balloonists dropped handwritten notes, attached to bullets, overboard. Most Civil War balloons remained tethered to the ground. That facilitated air to ground communication.
Civil War balloons offered vistas like this one.

Aerial view of Washington, D.C. from a Civil War balloon. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, public domain.

  • Confederates quickly developed countermeasures to frustrate Union aerial reconnaissance. During Lowe’s maiden military flight on August 29, 1861 over Arlington, they pointed their cannon skyward and baptized Lowe with artillery fire. That was our country’s first instance of ground to air artillery. There are no recorded instances of a balloon being shot down during the war on either side, however. The distances were probably too great for accurate fire. Confederates also created false impressions for Union airborne observers. They doused their campfires and created fake artillery by painting logs black and posing them as cannon.
Launching the Intrepid.

Launching the Intrepid, one of Lowe’s balloons. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, public domain.

  • The South used balloons too. During the Seven Days Campaign, for instance, Confederate reconnaissance balloons hovered over the countryside surrounding Richmond. Robert E. Lee ordered Edward Porter Alexander to observe Union movements, for which Alexander used a balloon. Lee’s balloons were inflated with hydrogen. Johnston used a hot air balloon. I haven’t been able to find a photograph of a Confederate balloon, and if anyone knows of one, please comment and provide a source!
Ships were used to launch Civil War balloons.

The Washington rising from the deck of the George Washington Park Custis. Wikipedia, public domain.

  • Both sides launched balloons from ships: the North from the George Washington Parke Custis and the South from the CSS Teaser. Those ships were our country’s first aircraft carriers.

Have you ever taken a balloon ride? How well could you observe the ground?

Literature on point:

Civil War Trust, Civil War Ballooning

Steven D. Culpepper, “Balloons of the Civil War.” Master’s thesis, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1994.

Howard Brinkley, Spies of the Civil War: The History of Espioage in the Civil War (Bookcaps, 2012).


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The Vintner’s Bush: Europe’s Oldest Tradition?

A vintner's bush

A birch broom, functioning as a vintner’s bush, signals the opening of a farmstead tavern.

A birch broom, fastened to a post, stands sentinel before a farmhouse in Germany’s vineyards. Red and yellow ribbons flutter from its handle. A board, bearing a hand-painted arrow pointing up the driveway, dangles below the broom.

Ivy as a vintner's bush.

Winegrowers also use ivy as a vintner’s bush.

Vintner’s bushes, as the brooms are called, are a centuries-old European tradition that advertises homemade wine and food in a temporary tavern on the farmer’s homestead. Winegrowers advertise by hanging brooms, bushes, ivy, and wreaths at the entrance to their homes. Shakespeare referred to the tradition when he wrote, “good wine needs no bush.”

Although pub signs replaced Shakespeare’s bush in England, the tradition continues in continental Europe, where the bush’s origins are steeped in controversy. Just how old is it and where did come from? Drawings of the bush date back to the 1400s, but then the trail goes cold. Folklore is harder to track through the history books.

Does the Vintner’s Bush Date Back to Charlemagne?

Charlemagne and Pope Adrian

“Charlemagne and Pope Adrian I” by Antoine Vérard – Hand-coloured print by Antoine Vérard. Archivo Iconografico, S.A./CORBIS-BETTMANN. Source information from Bridgeman. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Continental winegrowers like to say the custom goes back to Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor. He reigned as king of the Franks starting in 768 and as emperor from 800-814. In response to a famine, Charlemagne introduced a critical piece of legislation called the Capitulare de villis. The emperor wisely required each of his estates to grow and preserve minimum amounts of food. In §22, he specified: “Those who have vines shall keep not less than three or four crowns of grapes.” Because the word for crowns, coronas, can also mean wreaths, many scholars say this statute is the first mention of the vintner’s bush tradition: Charlemagne required the vintners to display their wreaths and sell their wine.

This interpretation of §22 is not unanimous. The leading scholarly interpretation of the Capitulare de villis by the French scholar Guérard says the coronas were wooden wreaths for drying grapes and preserving them as raisins. And that better fits Charlemagne’s legislative intent of preserving the food supply.

Might the Romans Have Invented the Vintner’s Bush?

Vintner's bush in Vienna.

Pine branches suspended from a house in Vienna announce the availability of homemade wine.

One scholar suggests we should forget Charlemagne and look much further back in history – to the Romans. In his short article for the American Journal of Folklore, Henry Carrington Bolton points out the diversity of bush types in Italy and pins the tradition to several Latin maxims, attributed to Publius Syrus and Columella in the first century B.C, that say essentially the same thing as Shakespeare: good wine needs no bush. Bolton claims the tradition dates back to the Romans.

A German scholar trumpeted an alarm one year after Bolton’s publication. The quotes Bolton attributed to Publius Syrus and Columella don’t exist. I’ve reviewed the maxims of both Roman authors and have to agree with the German scholar.

Rome might be the origin of the vintner's bush.

Rome might have been the origin of the vintner’s bush. Morguefile photos.

But the tradition might still go back to Rome. Consider this: the countries that historically displayed the vintner’s bush, England, Germany, Netherlands, France, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, correspond roughly to the European boundaries of the Roman Empire. And according to tradition, the founder of the Viennese bush tavern, the Buschenschank, was the Roman legate Galienus. He served wine and nuts to Roman legionaries in the Döbling district of Vienna.

Good wine needs no bush. But sometime the bush is just as interesting as the wine. And it might be much older than people think. So the next time you visit one of these taverns – a Besenwirtschaft or Straußwirtschaft in Germany, a Buschenschank or Heurige in Austria, an osmica in Slovenia, a frasca in Italy, a bouchon in Lyon, France, or furancho in Spain, lift your glass and toast some history. Shakespeare, Charlemagne, and some Roman legionaries might be smiling down on you.

Have you ever visited a farmstead tavern? What did it use as a vintner’s bush?

Literature on point:

Richard Andree, “Der grüne Wirtshauskranz,” Zeitschrift des Vereins für Volkskunde (1907) 17:195-200.

Henry Carrington Bolton, “The Vintner’s Bush: A Survival of Twenty Centuries,” Journal of American Folk-Lore (1902) 15:40.

B. Guérard, Explication du ‘Capitulaire de Villis’ (Paris, 1853)

Bartel F. Sinhuber, Der Wiener Heurige (Vienna: Amalthea, 1986)


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