Last year i was invited by a friend to visit the Buchstabenmuseum1 in the S-Bahn Arcs of Bellevue. I only knew that it exists but never got the chance to see it. So i was excited to finally see the museum with my own eyes. We even got lucky and had a small tour with Barbara Dechant, one of the founders of the Buchstabenmuseum e. V. And yes, there are Letters everywhere.

Letters from different shops scrambled together

The S-Bahn arcs give them a sort of letter graveyard vibe because here are neon signs that were outdated, replaced or removed due to house demolitions. Normally they would have ended up in the garbage but the Buchstabenmuseum saved them. It also managed to obtain a neon sign workshop, so that they can repair the old neon signs so that they can shine again in their old glory. There are over 2000 different letters and type fonts from the public space and different time episodes; mostly from Berlin and Surroundings. There are some special letters which show some of the history of Berlin, like the H, A, U, P from the Hauptbahnhof Sign (which is now Ostbahnhof).

In a way it shows the way of time. Most neon sign were replaced with LEDs. LEDs have more advantages compared to neon systems: The power consumption drops enormously, the acquisition costs are lower and the durability is many times higher. LEDs are said to last up to 50,000 hours on average, while neon doesn’t even last half that time. LED diodes do not usually simply fail, but rather become weaker very slowly. However i think that LEDs doesn’t have the charme of neon signs. Ẃhen i see old pictures where neon signs flashed at cinemas, restaurants and shops with different colors one after the other, then it really has the charme of an era.

Nowadays they would no longer be approved. Outdoor advertising is a state matter and mostly advertising media must not cover any traffic signs or traffic lights and must not impair the view of the countryside or distract drivers.

Despite the charme, it is really interesting to see the old fonts and typography. For some neon signs it is a trip back to my childhood. Especially with the Zierfische neon signs which once hanged at the Frankfurter Tor. The font is based on the handwriting of the script and advertising painter Manfred Gensicke, who also developed the sign2. I saw it often and i really liked them during the evenings. 2009 the ornamental fish shop closed and the neon sign got removed. The Buchstabenmuseum e.V. acted quickly here and saved them. It feels good to see them still shining.

All in all i really like the museum and that they preserve some of the old signs. I hope they will still shine for a long time.

Volksbühne Berlin from the play 'The Brothers Karamazov'

  1. More info under ↩︎

  2. Most of the neon sign advertising for restaurants and shops in Berlin often came from the PHG Leuchtreklame in Prenzlauer Berg. Up to 35 people worked there in the 1980s with the whole process of glass blowing, letter making and metalworking. One of the ads they created were the ornamental fish. One of the larger objects was the 12-tube roof advertising for the VEB Pneumant in Erkner. Until the end of the GDR, they produced neon sign advertising for the Karl-Marx-Allee, Torstraße or Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße. ↩︎