Scientific Collections



The nucleus of the Sound Archives consists of around 4,500 records (excluding duplicates), of which some 3,800 are speech and over 700 are music recordings.

Due to wear and tear and to wartime losses the collections are, sadly, no longer complete. Duplicates were made of the records, so copies of the lost recordings probably still exist in other archives. We would be grateful for any information.

The following structure of sub-collections, arranged partly by media, partly by content and partly in chronological order, has been consolidated in recent years. Some recordings must be assigned to several of the sub-collection categories described here. The recordings in the database have yet to be assigned to the listed categories, so a database query by category is unfortunately not possible. In the history of the Sound Archives there are additional categories not listed here, such as linguistics and phonetics.

Not all of the items in the Sound Archives have been cataloged. At the same time the online catalog includes recordings that are listed and for which written documentation exists but that are considered to have been lost.

Documentation of Languages

Documentation of languages makes up the nucleus of the Sound Archives. The languages and dialects that were recorded in WWI prisoner of war camps (over 250 in number, according to Wilhelm Doegen) are to this day a substantial part of the collection. The languages spoken in the Russian army, such as Georgian, Lithuanian or Korean, and dialects spoken in the other Entente states, not to mention the languages of French and British colonial troops, cover a wide range. The recordings consist of recurring standard texts such as the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son as well as traditional songs or fairy tales from the speakers’ countries and personal reports. Only in recent years has attention been paid – along with phonetic aspects – to the significance of the latter, of individual tales and cultural and societal contexts. The recordings are documented by the original personal information forms and partly by the text in the original language, phonetic transcriptions and translations. These written documents are only partly available in digital form but working copies are available in the Archives. The sound recordings are available in the “Kabinette des Wissens” database, where they are researchable. Unfortunately, only the historic terms for languages and ethnic groups are used in the database – without being indicated as such. They differ in many instances from what the languages themselves were known as back then. So a “decolonization” of the terminology, with the historic concepts and categories characterized as such and the terms in use today added is highly desirable, but sadly cannot be implemented systematically at present for reasons of capacity, so that specific external suggestions would be most welcome.

Sample recording and documentation:
Sadak Berresid – „Kriegsgedichte“ (War Poems)

Famous People

In 1917 Wilhelm Doegen, the founder of the Sound Department at the Prussian State Library, began together with the chemist Prof. Ludwig Darmstaedter to establish at the Prussian State Library a collection of voice recordings of famous people. This collection was intended to complement Darmstaedter’s collection of autographs relating to the history of science and to serve the purpose of preserving the voices of public figures that were considered at the time to be worth preserving for historic interest. From 1920 on, this sub-collection was incorporated into the Prussian State Library’s newly founded Sound Department and there and from 1934 until 1944 continued at the Berlin University Institute for Sound Research.

The people whose voices were felt to be worth preserving and of which gramophone recordings were made included Kaiser Wilhelm II, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, Paul von Hindenburg, Gustav Noske, Philipp Scheidemann, Friedrich Ebert, Alfred von Tirpitz, and Max Planck.

As live recordings as we now know them were not yet possible the public figures in question were asked to repeat for recording purposes passages from public speeches or lectures they had given or to read from their works.

Unlike the scientific voice recordings, detailed documentation of these recordings was largely dispensed with. In its place the records as a rule have the speaker’s signature impressed on them.

There are large gaps in the stocks held by the Sound Archives. The recordings that survive are marked either AUT (for Autophon) or LA (for Lautabteilung, or Sound Department). They have been digitized and are stored in the “Kabinette des Wissens” database. Recordings considered to have been lost are also cataloged and researchable in the database to provide an overview of the entire project.

German Dialects

Most German dialect recordings in the Sound Archives were made jointly in the 1920s by Wilhelm Doegen, founder of the Archives, and the Marburg Germanist Ferdinand Wrede. They were intended to complement the German Language Atlas that was compiled under Wrede’s direction at the University of Marburg to record and document the geographical distribution of German dialects. Recordings for the Language Atlas were based on the so-called Wenker sentences, which were used from the second half of the nineteenth century in systematic German dialect research data surveys. They consist of 40 sentences in High or standard German chosen by the Germanist Georg Wenker, founder of the German Language Atlas project at the University of Marburg, that dialect speakers were instructed to “translate” into their local dialects. The sentences were designed to bring to the fore the typical sounds and grammatical features of the individual dialects.

The recordings were documented on standardized personal information forms and working copies of these forms can be consulted in the Sound Archives. All of the recordings in this category have been digitized and can be researched online in the “Kabinette des Wissens” database.

Sample recording and documentation:
Emma Spreng – Sage von den Wurzelkindern

Music Recordings

Music recordings were not a collection category in their own right of the linguists at the Phonographic Commission or the Sound Department of the Prussian State Library and that is why they do not have a signature mark of their own. Yet the prisoner of war recordings and the dialect recordings include many songs and a number of instrumental recordings were made in the 1920s. From 1934 on the Institute for Sound Research recorded increasing numbers of German and so-called ‘auslandsdeutsche’ folk songs.

The song and instrumental recordings made on wax cylinders during WWI by members of the Phonographic Commission have now been digitized and can be researched in the online database of the State Museums in Berlin.

Recordings of Prison Inmates made in 1926

During the 1926 Berlin Police Exhibition Wilhelm Doegen made sound recordings of Berlin prison inmates. For purposes of comparison they mostly spoke the Wenker sentences along with a personal report on their lives and how they ended up in prison. In view of the intentions and the power position of scientists and members of the Berlin police force involved these documents too must be regarded as sensitive.

The recordings were made in the pseudo-scientific context of physiognomy and characterology, which suggested that ‘criminal’ traits were evident in the body, such as in the shape of the skull, physical features and maybe also the voice. We are as yet unaware of evaluations of the recordings and written documentation. Here too we would grateful for any pointers.

Animal Sounds

Animal voices are also to be found on some shellac records in the Sound Archives. In 1925, together with a number of colleagues, Wilhelm Doegen recorded the animal sounds of elephants, sea lions, bears, lions, and tigers at the Zirkus Krone in Berlin. Two years later Doegen visited the Dresden zoo where he lined up hyenas, tigers and monkeys in front of the gramophone’s recording trumpet to record their “voices” too.

Commercial Voice Recordings

The founder of the Sound Archives, Wilhelm Doegen, had produced sound recordings for school use since 1909. Recordings from this early and from later periods are held in the Archives. For reasons of capacity the focus in opening up this material was on recordings made by the Sound Archives and their predecessors. That is why these commercial recordings are not yet systematically indexed and cannot be researched in a database.

Recordings on Acetate Discs

This category, which is not listed in historic descriptions of the Sound Archives, exists solely in its material self and nothing is known about its context, origin or content. It is in such a precarious condition that the discs cannot currently be played. In 2016 a Bachelor’s degree thesis at the University of Applied Sciences Berlin indicated a way in which the discs could be restored and played again.

Phonetic Recordings Made in the GDR Era

There are over 300 tape recordings that have yet to be indexed and digitized. We would be grateful for any information about them from contemporaries because we are not sure how they came about.


The Sound Archives hold a stock of individual musical and phonetic research instruments. We know little about their origins and they have yet to be indexed systematically.


The Sound Archives include photographs of recordings and individuals. Their origin and the names of the photographers and their subjects are largely unknown. We would be grateful for further information. With copyright issues still to be resolved, they are not yet all researchable online.

Publication Series About the Recordings

The “Lautbibliothek. Phonetische Platten und Umschriften” (Sound Library. Phonetic Records and Transcriptions), published by the Prussian State Library’s Sound Department in the 1920s, or the “Arbeiten aus dem Institut für Lautforschung an der Universität Berlin” (Works from the Institute for Sound Research at the University of Berlin), published by Diedrich Westermann in the 1930s, set themselves the target of publishing the phonetic transcriptions and translations of the Sound Archives recordings. The phonetic transcription was undertaken regardless of the recording context or content. The publication series are available in several libraries; the copies held at the Sound Archives have yet to be indexed systematically and made available for research.


Press clippings and the like about the Sound Archives and their activities have been collected since the early days. They can be inspected on the premises. We aim to keep a collection that is as complete as possible about activities undertaken since 1999 and digitization. All users of sound recordings and archive material are requested to provide the Archives with specimen copies of their publications, media productions and exhibition documentation (flyers, catalogs, photographic documentations, websites).