{Germany} Here Come the ABCs

February 11, 2013



One of the first things I did when we knew we were moving to Berlin, was to check out what unusual and unique museums the city had to offer – well, a girl’s got to get her priorities right^^. And one museum that’s been high on my “must visit” list is the Buchstabenmuseum (Engl: Museum of Letters). So, when I read in a news article last week that they have to vacate their premises in March, as the old GDR shopping mall they’re located in is being renovated, I knew it was high time to make good on my intention.


“Where they gonna go without their letters?
How could they survive without their letters?
Where they gonna go to find their letters?
They gonna have to get together –
At the alphabet ‘lost and found’
At the alphabet ‘lost and found’…”
(They Might Be Giants)

Stepping in to the Buchstabenmuseum reminded me a bit of the Alphabet Lost and Found from TMBG’s Here Come the ABCs – you are at once surrounded by hundreds of letters ranging from a few centimetres short to close to three metres high. Founded as a charitable organisation in 2005 by Barbara Dechant and Anja Schulze, whose love for typography goes back to childhood days, what started out as a private collection was opened to the public in 2008. Since then it has become a favourite with letterform lovers from around the world, who truly must feel like a kid in a sweetie shop. The museum has around 200 exhibits in its collection, though if you counted the individual letters of the words and signs, there would be many more.



Half of the museum is actually set in semi-darkness, to let the collection of neon lit letters reach their full potential, but visitors receive a small torch at the entrance to help them read the exhibit labels. Other letters are grouped by colours, so there is for e.g. a yellow & green, a blue & white and a red room. Many of the letters are intentionally displayed out of context, to keep the focus on the typographical form rather than the original words or names. So far, all the collected letters are from the Roman alphabet and the majority come from Berlin and the surrounding areas, though there are also acquisitions from further afield in Germany as well as elsewhere in Europe, e.g. Vienna and Paris. The curators hope to add letters from further locations and indeed other alphabets to the collection in the future.


Although the exhibition space in Berlin Mitte bills itself as a showroom, the museum aims to not only collect and exhibit letters, characters and words from around the world, but also to document, research, preserve and restore them. Each exhibit comes with a note of its production (if known) and acquisition dates, font type, original location, size and material. Many of the fonts are actually custom made, which is not surprising considering the majority of exhibits come from traditional family businesses, which developed their own trademark signage. Other sources include building, cinema, exhibition and factory signage as well as letters used on film sets of for event decoration.




One particularly special exhibit is the “Zierfische” (Engl: ornamental fish) signage, which adorned an aquarium store in Berlin Friedrichshain in the 1980s and 90s. The lettering was designed by graphic artist Manfred Gensicke from his own handwriting, and the museum has not only the salvaged sign alongside neon fish in its collection – acquired after thwarting an attempt to steal them from the former store – but also Gensicke’s original sketches. “Zierfische” has since even been developed in to an actual font.



The founders’ goal is to set up a museum with a permanent exhibition covering the history and evolution of letters and writing, alongside a programme of temporary exhibitions on challenging and experimental topics. Looking for the perfect space has now come sooner than anticipated, in the involuntary move next month, and hopefully it will be just that – a move – as it would be devastating to see the end of this little gem of a museum. If anyone knows of good location in Berlin (minimum requirement is a space of at least 300 sqm and high enough ceilings, day light and central heating are optional), you can get in touch with the museum at kontakt@buchstabenmuseum.de. You can also still visit them in their current location in the Berlin Carré on Karl Leibknecht Straße until the end of March. They are open Thursdays – Saturdays from 1pm-3pm and admission is a mere 2.50 Euro.


I most certainly wish the Buchstabenmuseum well in their endeavours, both to find the perfect space and secure their future, as well as in adding the one missing letter to their collection A to Z – the elusive letter J!

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3 Responses to “{Germany} Here Come the ABCs”

  1. Tabea Says:

    No i didnt knew this one but it looks realy fantastic !
    i would lile to know how you found my blog because its in german… cD



    • Jenni Fuchs Says:

      I saw a link to it on Facebook. Sorry, I speak German too but I was on autopilot when I commented on your blog in English :)



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    […] gem of a museum at the Navy Yard. Definitely worth a visit. Honorable mention also goes to the Buchstabenmuseum in Berlin, with its collection of letters and fonts from all over. It’s since moved to a new […]

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