Spy vs Spy

In Germany, Surveillance Angst Sparks Retro Return of an Old Friend, the Typewriter

Travel-Trip-Hemingway Trail
Security concerns in Germany has sparked a revival in typewriters, retailers in Berlin say.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The German legislative committee that has been created to investigate the National Security Agency spying in Germany is considering using only typewriters in the future. In Berlin, it is still easy to find a suitable model.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Concern about U.S. surveillance has prompted some German lawmakers to consider using typewriters for security reasons.
    • There is an active market in typewriter hardware, and many models could be retrofitted for modern use.
    • The East Germans were adept at developing the forensics of old typewriters in espionage cases.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

He rushes to the display window and takes out his “absolute favorite,” sets it onto the sales counter and turns effusive. It is the one with rounded forms and a massive metal case, jet black and brightly polished.

A portable typewriter from the early 1950s. “Rheinmetall, Borsig AG” is written in golden letters on its felt-lined carrying case.

“That was still excellent work, with a soft cylinder, flowing strokes, great quality,” says Mario Maschetzke (51) in the office-machine store “Zielinski” at Guerickestraße 14 in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg.

Mr. Maschetzke is certain that the “Rheinmetall” won’t be a shelf warmer. These last few years have brought a “Renaissance for typewriters.”

As reported, the NSA investigatory committee in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower legislative chamber, has emerged as a trendsetter. Its members have recently been flirting with the idea of using classical mechanical typewriters. The thinking is that they would provide protection against further American espionage.

“But of course! A typewriter doesn’t crash, can’t be hacked or wiretapped. Besides, it is resistant to viruses, is independent and unassailable—in short, extremely dependable,” says Bernd Moser, whose shop at Gneisenaustraße 91 in the Kreuzberg district is likewise one of the few places in Berlin where a good old “typer,” (or Tippe ) as the 71-year-old calls the typewriter, can still be purchased or repaired. And where accessories are available—above all, silk or nylon ribbons.

 

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