Today i’m really excited. I’ve been in love with the buchstabenmuseum from the moment i stepped into it for the first time in 2010. Still at a different location, i had the fortune of meeting the delightful barbara dechant and anja schulze who founded the nonprofit organization back in 2005, but only opened it to the public in 2008.
The buchstabenmuseum (the museum of letters) was born out of a passion for typography and for rescuing threatened letters from public spaces. It’s dedicated to preserving, restoring and exhibiting signage from berlin and around the world.
When back in berlin a few weeks ago and as a self-confessed typography and letterform lover, the museum was once more high on the agenda. Now in a different location and with a two hours opening slot, I rushed over on my bicycle and arrived just as they were closing. Barbara, who saw me huffing and puffing, welcomed me with a big smile and a large glass of water. Not only did i arrive at closing time but i also wanted to take some pictures and ask for an interview. Well, 90 minutes later we said goodbye and i had my big fix of letterforms and another wonderful encounter with the sublime barbara.
Where does your love for letterforms originate from? I was fascinated by their shapes and angles even before i could read or write. Now, that i understand their content and meaning it’s become a deeper obsession. Letterforms in all different varieties hold major interest for me, be it chinese, japanese or any language for that matter. I love the curves, the corners, the soft edges and particularly the different varieties within one letter.
Your passion really comes through when visiting the museum. How do you finance it? Haha. We don’t. It was a labour of love right from the beginning. We had the vision but not the money, so we decided to just start the project and see where it takes us. Both anja and i work full time in our respective jobs. We dedicate a lot of our spare time, passion and a little madness to the museum and have some very dedicated and wonderful volunteers that help us run this.
You’ve moved since i last visited to these wonderful premises. Is this permanent? No, unfortunately not. We’re temporarily renting this great space but are looking for something permanent as soon as we can afford it. The number of visitors is rising quickly, and the museum has been the focus of substantial media interest from within germany and beyond. Support from donors and sponsors is still very much needed and sought after. We are very thankful to all our supporters. Getting sponsorship would enable us, amongst other things, to widen our collection of letterforms and offer better and longer opening times to our visitors.
Your collection is amazing but there must be so many more letter signage out there? Yes, we are very proud of our collection and always greatful when people call to offer us something new. It’s often a question of costs of transportation but people have been very generous so far. We are particularly interested in the idiosyncratic signs created by skilled craftspeople, reflecting a company’s unique character. These eye catching signs are dying out as more and more small businesses are disappearing. We would like to preserve and document them.
How else do you raise funds? Except for the permanent exhibition, we offer guided tours, talks and lectures on letterforms and related film screenings (ie gary hustwit’s helvetica film). We also rent out rooms for filming, photoshoots and offer our space for dinner where we decorate our letterforms with candlelights. At one stage we hired out some of our individual letters but found this to be a rather inpractical solution as the letterforms get damaged easily.
If someone wrote you a blank cheque what are your dreams for the buchstaben museum? First off, we would have a central massive permanent space for our museum. Next i would employ our wonderful helpers and secure a salary for me and anja. Then i would buy a second-hand unimog for easy transport of the signage and because i do love them. Not to forget, we would throw a massive party as a thank you to all our supporters and you’re definitely invited!
Well, let’s hope all your dreams come true but for now, thank you for your time, for your passion and generosity. I will see you next time in berlin. Bis bald!
I don’t know about you, but i just love this museum. When next in berlin, i urge you to visit but be aware of their very limited opening times. Being german, i feel very nostalgic when looking at the hertie sign, the miele and the sparkasse logo. Anyone recognise the green h? Of course you do!