There are literally hundreds of museums in Berlin and you can find information anywhere about Berlin’s most visited museums such as the Pergamon Museum, the Neues Museum and the German History museum. So given that they already get a lot of press, we’ve decided to focus on the little guys: the unusual museums, the private museums and the ones that offer a different kind of collection. Because Berlin does it differently, we will too.
First up we are going to the mecca of letters, the Buchstabenmuseum and not just because it’s REALLY interesting. It’s about to move locations so the coming weeks are your final chance to see it in its currently glory inside a former DDR supermarket. The museum will be closing its doors for relocation on November 2nd and the new site is yet to be determined so if you’re in Berlin, definitely make the time to get there and see it at the Holzmarktstrasse building.
Buchstaben means letters in German, and not the ones you write to your grandma because she doesn’t have email but the ones from the alphabet. The Buchstabenmuseum is a privately run museum that is just a short walk from Alexanderplatz. Run entirely by volunteers, the museum relies on donations for its running costs and its exhibits. Their ethos is to save historic signage and letters in their original form as documentation of historical public promotion and information. Exhibits are shown in their original state with lights on if they still work and cobwebs displayed in their full glory. Weathered textures tell the stories of a life before the museum – stored in a shed or left in a garden or an alleyway. Also intriguing are the private donations from people who somehow came to have an amazing sign or letters in their possession and decided the museum needed their contribution. It’s donations like these that surely make the museum curator’s day!
The exhibits are well labelled (in English) with interesting information about date of acquisition, materials and usage. However private tours are also available and if you can get a few people together, it’s well worth it for the background information. The tours provide information about how pieces were found, what they were previously used for and why certain design elements were in place at the time of its production. Individual letters on display document the trends of the time through the materials and used and an easy guessing game can be had deciding what era the letters came from, simply from examine the font style. A small science lesson on different gases used to illuminate signs and the risks and advantages associated with them is also a bonus. It’s rare to be discussing the benefits of neon over argon on an average day but strangely fascinating in this context.
One of the best exhibits is a segmented display of a neon letter R, showing the 4 sections of the letter and learning how and at what stage each is produced. This really gives context to the signs we take for granted every day. This image above details the four sections of the letter – the base casing is created to house the gas filled glass tubing, which then is capped by the yellow layer to give the letter colour and then the final frame clicked into place on top to hold it all together.
Signage is such a fundamental part of our daily landscape that we really overlook the detail of it as a part of our cultural identity and our connection to society. The joy of seeing the large U or S Bahn sign illuminated in the distance as you stumble around on a cold dark night trying to get home, the familiar fonts of big brands such as Coca-Cola or the simple things like that pharmacy chain you know well when you are sick and in a foreign town, or dare I say it, the golden arches of McDonalds when you have a troupe of hungry kids in tow. Rarely do we think about how these signs are designed, made and then wired to function to become an integral part of our cityscapes.
The Buchstabenmuseum is an easy 20 minute walk from Berlin Apartment or by train it is just one station away from Alexanderplatz at Jannowitzbrücke. Come out of the station and its across the road on Holzmarkstrasse. Entrance times and prices can be found here. The museum will close on November 2nd and move to a yet to be confirmed location so make sure you check their website or Facebook page before you go to confirm opening times and the new address!
UPDATE NOVEMBER 5TH
The Buchstabenmuseum now has a retail store which can be found inside Bikini Berlin at Budapester Strasse 38 – 50. This is such a great location and we hope raises the profile of the museum until it finds a new venue to host its collection. Keep up to date with the museum on their Facebook page.