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The German language has 3½ letters that don't occur in standard ASCII: Ä, Ö, Ü and ß, the last only in lower case, and not used in Swiss German. There have been many methods to render them in computer character sets. The simplest and most effective is to change them into the character sequences Ae, Oe, Ue and ss. In 7 bit ASCII, they were assigned to the positions of the characters {, |, } and _. ISO 8859-1 and UTF-8 cater for them fully.

In the mid-1980s I was working at Tandem Computers in Frankfurt. Our department had some of the few terminals capable of displaying the German characters äöüß. Fritz Jörn, our press man, frequently sent out press releases, and of course ensured that these characters were entered “correctly” rather than the alternatives ae oe ue ss. Unfortunately, the character set he chose was correct only for specific daisy wheels made by Qume, and they did not match the then-standard. In particular, ä and ü were transposed. The resultant text looked like this:

          Tandem Computers am Londoner Marathon
             Grö@tes Laufereignis des Jahres

Tandem Computers fährte fär den Marathon-Lauf in
London am Sonntag 20. April 1986 die gesamte
Computerunterstätzung durch.  22 000 Lüufer wurden
registriert und on-line erfa@t - einige Ergebnisse
im Anhang, mehr auf Anfrage.

Die ausfallgeschätzten NonStop-Systeme von Tandem
sind, dank ihrer Betriebssicherheit und ihrem
raschen Antwortverhalten, optimal fär den Einsatz
bei unwiederbringlichen Ereignissen - natärlich
auch bei allen kommerziellen Anwendungen, wo^s um
das Geschüft geht.

...

The full text is here, and this page shows what it would have looked like.

This looks just plain funny, but there's also the funny side: „ausfallgeschätzt“ could mean “prized for failures”, when in fact it should be „ausfallgeschützt“ (protected against failures).

Fritz justified his markup with the claim that most people printed out mail messages, and that they didn't have terminals with German characters anyway. I replied with a message of my own:

MSG 09629  FROM:     FRANKFT.GREG   06 MAY 1983, 16:15
*  2ND   * EXPIRES:                 11 MAY 1983
           TO:       D lgermany [FRANKFT.GREG]
           SUBJECT:  Nquqs Systqm in Frznkfurt
Liqbq Kollqgqn! Wir frquqn uns? Ihnqn mittqilqn au könnqn? dz: Tzndqm
nunmqhr qin 6-Proaqssor-Dqmonstrztionssystqm in Frznkfurt zufgqbzut
hzt. Dzs Systqm? dzs zus dqn Systqmqn \FRZII und \SCHULNG qntstzndqn
ist? trügt dqn Nzmqn \FRUST (Frznkfurt Dqmo und Softwzrq Trzining).
Diqsqs nqhmqn wir aum Znlz:? qinq viqrsqitigq Broschärq äbqr diq
Voraägq dqr glqichaqitigqn Vorfährung und Schulung zusaubringqn.
Intqrqssqntqn zntwortqn bittq zuf diqsq Mqldung.

mit frqundlichqn Grä:qn
Grqg Lqhqy

P.S. Falls Sie diese Meldung zeichenrichtig auf Ihrem Bildschirm lesen
wollen, können Sie sie SAVEn und mit dem Editor das Obey-File
\sosii.$waste.of.time umwandeln.

The interesting thing from modern perspective is the last paragraph, written in normal script:

If you want to read this message on your terminal with the correct characters, save it and convert it with the editor and the obey file \sosii.$waste.of.time.

An obey file was simply a collection of editor commands. The interesting part was that, due to Tandem's network topology, it was visible from anywhere in the network.


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