Dusty blue “N”s lean against the wall behind the yellow remains of a department store sign. Nearby, some gleaming silver hints at DaimlerChrysler’s now defunct glory.
They're all part of Berlin's typographic past that Barbara Dechant and Anja Schulze have been gathering for years. Together, they're slowly preserving some of the city's best-loved and most unassuming lettering at the quirky Buchstabenmuseum.
More of a storage space than a showroom, the makeshift museum was founded in 2005 after Schulze decided to put her experience at other cultural institutions together with Dechant’s infectious love of letters.
“Barbara’s fascination was simply contagious,” says Schulze. “But what can you do with letters besides admire them and display them in your living room?”
The two came up with the idea for their own museum after Dechant’s small letter assortment outgrew her apartment.
“We almost had to reject a few letters. We started to get ones that were upwards of two metres high and weighed a hundred kilogrammes,” says Schulze.
Then, in the summer of 2008 the women were offered the Schaudepot space near Berlin’s central Spittelmarkt to store them for free. They opened it to the public a few months later and now have a collection of more than 400 letters of varying styles and colours.
“We receive between 100 and 150 guests every month and they come from all over,” Shulze says. The majority of the visitors are font-fascinated foreigners who find their way there via design blogs and word of mouth.
“The magic is in the fact that the letters are taken out of their original context,” Dechant told broadcaster Deutschlandradio. “People come here and are emotionally affected by the history of individual letters.”
The pieces range from single letters (the ‘E’ that flew toward the screen from the cinema marquee in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”) to signs and symbols from savings bank Sparkasse, former East Berlin’s main train station and East Germany’s national radio broadcaster.
Because the museum is financed solely through its memberships and donations from visitors to the Schaudepot, the entire concept hasn’t been completely realised yet.
“Our goal is to preserve the letters and document them in a ‘real’ museum that would use the collection to display thematic temporary exhibitions about colour, music, politics, etc,” says Schulze.
In the meantime, the two are still on the lookout for new pieces. “We always go through the city with open eyes and make sure to follow up on tips,” says Schulze. “But often businesses approach us with donations as well.”
The letters aren’t limited to Berlin, although their inherent size means most of the items on display are from the area.
Until the museum finds its permanent home, font lovers can view the growing collection for free several times per month. The next showing is this Thursday, March 4, from 1-3 pm.
Leipziger Straße 49
Tel: 0177 420 15 87