Nightingale researchers in berlin are trying to find out, but recently there was a little kerfluffle since a musician took his clarinet to a certain park and listened to a nightingale and emulated some of the phrases on his instrument - unfortunately that exact bird was the subject of ten years of research which had to be discarded since - as one of the scientists phrased it - the bird was "spoiled" by the musician.
(Note: Although that column "Die Wahrheit" in the newspaper TAZ is marked as "humor and satire" the writings of Author Helmut Höge are "real stuff")
(translated from german)
Nightingale, I hear you sing...
The funny animal world and its serious exploration (144): Of famously useful and useless songs of the beautiful nightingale.
Now the male nightingales should slowly arrive again and start singing. The females arrive a little later - when the males have cleared the breeding territory. With 1,300 to 1,700 breeding pairs, the German capital Berlin has a fairly high nightingale population. According to Berlin's nature conservation authority, it is growing by about six percent a year.
And here at Freie Universität (FU), there is also a large nightingale research team - because since about the fall of the Berlin Wall, Berlin has been considered the "nightingale capital". Before that, it was Halle. And before that the "famous nightingale school of Kazan". But these were not nightingales there, but their northeastern sister species: mockingbirds. Nightingales exist only on this side of the Oder, the Thrushes on the other side, as the biologist Cord Riechelmann once explained to us in a seminar at Berlin's Humboldt University on "Species Formation through Song".
On the Oder, they have a contact zone. The nightingales push eastward, occasionally courting and mating already there. But nothing comes of it, not yet, meant the nightingale lover Riechelmann 2007.
Meanwhile, FU researchers have succeeded in recording, assigning and analyzing the song "of the children of male and female nightingales," writes FU nightingale researcher Silke Kipper in her book "Die Nachtigall. A legendary bird and its song" (2022).
The legendary "school of thrushs"
Nevertheless, the much-researched "Nightingale School of Kazan" was probably a "Thrush School." It no longer exists, as Yevgenia Ginsburg reported in her memoirs "March of a Life" in 1967. Among all other "outrages", the Bolsheviks had this "school" on their conscience - by cutting down its oak forest - and selling the logs to England.
The Soviet war correspondent Vasily Grossman wrote in his "War Diary" in 1944 about himself and the other war correspondents who had to go from the hinterland to the front again and again: "The most unpleasant moment is exactly this change from the nightingales to the airplanes ..." When the front changed over the Oder towards Berlin, however, Grossman did not notice the difference in the song of the mockingbird and the nightingale - but it can also only be "heard" by nightingale researchers with recording equipment.
The musician David Rothenberg quotes in "Stadt der Nachtigallen. Berlin's perfect sound" (2020) the author of a book about nightingales, Oliver Pike. There it says that a nightingale sang in a French forest during a battle in 1916, its song combined with the "force of the impacts" to produce a "glorious melody"; "as the bombardment intensified, the bird took up the challenge."
In Harper Lee's Southern drama, "Wer de Nachtigall stört"/"To Kill a Mockingbird," it is not a nightingale or a thrush, but a mockingbird. Only in German did it become a nightingale.
The Berlin nightingale controversy, which takes place mainly between artists and scientists, concentrates on those in the Treptower Park there - because there enough of these "longing birds" sing. A nightingale researcher has already been hired: A sociologist, she is researching "how technology sets the tone in our (FU) research."
A nightingale named "Peking"
The FU nightingale researchers invaded the site on the Spree River right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the meantime, they have been researching the song of a male named "Peking" for over ten years. "Every fall, Peking set off on a flight to sub-Saharan Africa, only to return the next spring" - to Treptower Park.
Silke Kipper owes many of her "insights about nightingales, Peking and its song." Her research group named the territory of another male nightingale "PW1" - PW meant Plänterwald, referring to a GDR restaurant of the same name that no longer exists. Once, a "saxophone player came from the USA who thought that nightingales communicate with him and his instrument." Kipper is referring, without naming names, to the artistically active nightingale researcher and bitterly notes, "Well, maybe - but why did he have to jam with the male, of all people, for whom we had planned an individually tailored playback experiment that night? The experiment was down the drain, the night wasted."
Toward the end of her book, we learn that "jazz musician David Rothenberg tried his hand at playing clarinet in exchange for nightingales in Hasenheide." "While in other cities a lot of money is paid for an organized nightingale concert, in Berlin he had to deal with conflicts of interest with biologists."
City of the Nightingales
Rothenberg devotes several pages to this conflict in his book "City of Nightingales". Before he, the American, and a crowd of followers, approach the tree on which a male nightingale sings, and under which a little later that night the FU researchers also wanted to set up their equipment for a playback experiment, he first has a discussion with two drunken Russians not far from the Soviet memorial. It was about who had more claim to victory over Nazi Germany: the Americans with their 25,000 dead or the Russians with 25 million dead?
Unpacking his instruments, he sees "our friends, the scientist Silke Kipper and her colleague Sarah Kiefer" coming. But they immediately start scolding him: "What are you doing here, David? This is our research area, as you know. We don't want you to spoil our data collection." Rothenberg defends himself by arguing that this particular bird on the tree they are under is "something very special."
He had been in Treptower Park before and had played nightingales something with his clarinet, including playbacks of their songs. He admitted this, whereupon Kipper or Kiefer expressed disappointment: "The bird is no longer usable for us" because he played him his own song - "that's a playback experiment, and that's what we're doing. [...] They interfered with our research. You interfered with the bird's brain, with its aesthetic sensibility. Who knows what your music has done to him!"
Rothenberg is "surprised by their anger. We're not exactly in pristine nature here, are we? A few hours ago, this place was flooded with Russian songs celebrating the end of World War 2." They argue for a while about the effect of foreign songs and of their own singing on the nightingales. At one point, "Kipper sighs, 'I admit defeat.' She turns away dejectedly and mutters, 'Spoiled, spoiled, another experiment spoiled.'"