The criminal code of Rotwelsch deciphered

When Martin Puchner was a child, tramps would turn up at his family home in Nuremberg to be fed by his mother. His father explained that they were drawn by a zinken (sign) associated with Rotwelsch, a language spoken by vagrants and criminals whose name is derived from two terms: Rot (beggar) and Welsch (incomprehensible). The zinken, a cross within a circle carved into the house’s foundation stone, told them that lechem (bread) could be had there. Rotwelsch became Puchner’s key to unlocking a cupboard of family skeletons. His grandfather, Karl, the director of the Bavarian State Archive, was one of many unrepentant Nazis who benefitted from the swift changes