As someone who appreciates typography, I was immediately drawn to the Twitter account Berlin Typography when it appeared in my feed last year. Since October, they have been regularly posting photos on their Twitter and blog that provide a window into Berlin’s beautiful and varied typography.
Anyone who spends time in Berlin will notice that every so often you pass the most incredible signs. The beautiful neon signage of a music shop on Karl-Marx-Straße was one of the first that I stopped to take in, but unlike this large, unmissable example, there’s a whole wealth of gorgeous typography throughout the city that is easier to pass by without noticing.
Thankfully, Berlin Typography has been thoroughly documenting the various styles found throughout the city — everything from the large neon signs above shops to the small nuances of Berlin’s street signs. We took some time to chat to those behind the account about the city’s wonderful signs and typography.
Who is the person behind “Berlin Typography”, and what inspired you to start documenting all of the interesting typography of Berlin?
There are a few of us working on the project, and we all have different backgrounds … but they all converge on a shared love of typography. The original idea was to put together a book about how typography defines our experience of a particular city, using Berlin as a case study. However, during the collection process, it became apparent that a lot of the cool older typography in Berlin was starting to disappear, especially the shop signs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it’s just the way that cities evolve. But it seemed worthwhile to capture and preserve at least some of the unique typography of twentieth-century Berlin before it is replaced by whatever comes next.
Do you go out of your way to find interesting typography, or do you just come across it throughout daily life?
It started as a kind of ‘bring your camera whenever you go for a stroll’ type of thing, but it quickly became much more focussed. The best typography is often found in the neighbourhoods which you might not visit unless you had a specific reason, and one of the incidental delights of the project has been getting to know some of the city’s more distant locations … which are actually some of the nicest parts of Berlin.
You’ve started to organise photos into various collections on your blog, such as the signs of apothekes or cinemas; is there one group that you like the most?
The blog and the Twitter account serve fairly different purposes: the Twitter account is focussed mostly on the strange and wonderful one-offs, while the blog is more about the patterns and themes that recur in the city. Some of those themes are fairly obvious … a particular kind of shop, for instance. But the posts that are the most fun to put together are the ones where you start with something very commonplace — something like a street sign, which you see all the time, every day — and then start looking more closely. Apotheke and flower shop signs are always fun, but some of the greatest typographic surprises are often found in places where you might not think to look.
some of the greatest typographic surprises are often found in places where you might not think to look
Why do think it is that Berlin has so many unique and eclectic signs and typography, compared to other cities?
All cities are shaped by their own particular set of historical circumstances, and the past half-century has been especially interesting for Berlin. It was divided, then reunited, then became the capital city of a newly unified country: because of this, it hasn’t evolved in the same way as other European capitals. In the last few years we’ve started to see some fairly serious gentrification, along with the usual plague of luxury condos … but there are still parts of the city that haven’t changed very much in forty or fifty years. These strange enclaves of stability often tend to have great older typography, simply because no one ever felt the need to change it.
Could you tell us about one of your favourite signs in Berlin, and why you like it?
There are so many great signs that it would be impossible to name a favourite. This one (seen above) is located on Mehringdamm, on the side of what is otherwise a fairly ordinary Berlin Altbau. It worked until recently — it gave off this unmistakable green glow — and when it was on, it required almost no effort to imagine that you were standing in a version of Berlin that existed forty years ago. The best urban typography — in Berlin or anywhere — has that power: it contains the memories of the city, and can draw you unexpectedly into its history.
The best urban typography has that power: it contains the memories of the city, and can draw you unexpectedly into its history
Interview by James Fancourt. All photos courtesy of Berlin Typography.