14 typefaces found in berlin street signs

Was in Berlin this summer for 2 and a half months, found about 14 different typefaces used for the names of streets... thought it was interesting....

ianpaschal's picture

Interesting. I never paid much attention to the signs when I was in Berlin; I just sort of assumed they were standardized after I read about the DIN typeface. I take it DIN was only used on stuff like freeway signage?

brianskywalker's picture

The fifth example is Helvetica, and the sixth is Futura.

Stephen Coles's picture

#3 and #4 seem to be the same design, for West Berlin. #2 is East Berlin. Check out FF City Street Type.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Mark, thanks for this compilation. There are even more, I can assure you!

Yes, both #1 and #2 are the East Berlin style. #3 is the former West Berlin style that now has spread to the Eastern parts aswell. It is the most common one, coming in a number of flavours. #4 is the same, just (untypically) scaled down so that the long name fits in.

#8 is at Bahnhof Schlesisches Tor in Kreuzberg, most likely a relic, or an exception.

I don’t know if there is a rule when to use blackletter (#11–14; I doubt it), but those signs pop up all over the city, in all kinds of substyles. #12 is in Tiergarten. I’d say #13/14 is the most common blackletter style on Berlin street signs.

dberlow's picture

Too bad Berlin can't find a world heritage level, respected and influencial master typographer who lives in town, who would probably be willing to solve the issue.;)

kris's picture

Is there any more information about #3 & 4? Is there an existing style manual, for example, or are they a painted interpretation of an existing sans? I noticed them when I was in Berlin earlier this year, and the various widths and interpretations were rather lovely.


Stephen Coles's picture

From FontFont.com on FF City Street Type:

For decades two different signage systems divided East and West Berlin. The West used a sans serif dating back to the 30s, while the East preferred a technically-tinted sans face from the 50s. Ole Schäfer and Verena Gerlach based their designs on the street signs themselves rather than the sketches from which the signs were made. This resulted in there being two versions for the East and a single version for the West. The FontFont character set includes many characters that would never be found on a street sign so Schäfer and Gerlach designed the missing letters, punctuation and symbols. They also designed special headline fonts for both East and West available in three weights: Regular, Medium and Bold. In addition, they created lining figures and, for the expert sets, a series of arrows and other useful symbols.

dan_reynolds's picture

Kris, if I recall correctly, I heard Verena mention in a lecture that the West Berlin signs (3 and 4) are a design that predates the war. The letters used are from a specific version of the Erbar typeface. [I don't know if that means "custom" in the same sense that it would today.]

I assume that today, the signs are made with a digital font (because some signs in the city look artificially compressed, and also because, as Florian mentions, they scale the letters down sometimes, like in number 4). But, it could be done without a font, of course.

kris's picture

Thanks for the replies. I didn't see the 5px high 'info' button on the FF site!

“…based their designs on the street signs themselves rather than the sketches from which the signs were made”

So there are existing sketches. Interesting.

Dan—I have heard that it's based on Erbar, but it must be very loosely so. And from what I saw, not many of the signs seemed digital. They looked to be hand-painted & adjusted to accommodate longer names. I might be totally incorrect, however.


mili's picture

This was taken in Ku'Damm last Summer because of the interesting tz.

Queneau's picture

Isn't that a ß, rather rhan a 'tz'?

mili's picture

The ß of that font is number 3 in the original post.

nina's picture

Yes. Here's one with both a t_z and an eszett, for direct comparison:


Frode Bo Helland's picture

We had someone post a recently released design based on one of the geometrics sans serifs on the U-bahn a while back, but I couldn't find the thread.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Kris, this is what I wrote in another related thread on Flickr:

One has to keep in mind that those signs are subject to constant renovation and replacement – and have been for decades. There is no sole source font, but rather a fuzzy model that every manufacturer innovates upon. Just compare the other letters, ‘s’, ‘r’, ‘a’ … none of them is congruent to those on the other sign. Some newer signs (neither of these) show a noticeable reworked version of the typeface; cleaner, a tad narrower, and less geometric.


As far as I know, FSI was involved in that reworked version, which can be seen here – the extent of modification becomes evident when comparing the ‘y’ to the one in the old version.

If there ever were sketches, I am pretty sure they are gone now. Verena would know. You can find some more information about FF City Street Type in this English pdf.

Nina, eat this:
3 × tz + 1 × ß on one pole!

Ian, yes, we have some DIN, too

dezcom's picture

talk about sense of place;-)

bobbygrotesk's picture

Anton koovit created a typface based on the U8 Subway System.


kris's picture

Here are the photos I took whilst there:



Frode Bo Helland's picture

Thanks Bobby. That was the one I was thinking of.

heyfrito500's picture


"Too bad Berlin can't find a world heritage level, respected and influencial master typographer who lives in town, who would probably be willing to solve the issue.;)"

They do. Erik Spiekermann is involved in a lot of Berlin projects (he has an office there) and did the signage for the underground system. He is about as much a type guru as there is in my opinion.

I am not sure however that Berliners find this to be a bad thing, it is not something that needs "solving" as you suggest, for many. Berlin is a unique city with lots of culture and cultures and I think many probably embrace the mish mash of various styles of signage rather than long for a uniformity of style. There are certainly a lot of good arguments for developing a consistency, but it would take some of the charm of Berlin away I think.

Stephen Coles's picture

David and Erik are pals. He was being cheeky.

dberlow's picture

:) and assuming we are talking about the exact same person, he's been concerned about the signage since the wall came down. As charming as the diversity in signage is, I don't think it'd be a huge drag to the locals if there was order, except for the locals who only know where they are by sign style, as opposed to sign content?

Apologies for the leg pull.

Florian Hardwig's picture

I have posted a few ‘classic West Berlin style’ street sign pairs on Flickr, to demonstrate how diverse the signmakers’ renditions of this lettering model can be.

dezcom's picture

Fantastic set! Thankyou!

Were those not East Berlin though? I can't imagine Karl Marx street in west Berlin ;-)

Erik Brandt's picture

Amazing, one year later (and a day late), it's really nice to find this discussion via Florian's post on Flickr. My Type II class last year was fortunate enough to work with Verena's FF City Street Type, focusing our attention on the theme, "20 Jahre Mauerfall." See the full story with final poster images here: http://geotypografika.com/2009/10/16/typonauts-in-space-20-jahre-mauerfall/

I was lucky enough to visit with Verena and Alex this past summer as well, and uploaded some more images of Berlin (mostly Kreuzberg) here, hope you enjoy! http://www.flickr.com/photos/geotypografika/sets/72157624419812998/

dan_reynolds's picture

While a main Promenade in the former East Berlin is named Karl-Marx-Allee, there is also the Karl-Marx-Straße, a street in the Neukölln district, from the former West Berlin. Karl-Marx-Straße received its current name in 1947. The German Wikipedia has a page about it… http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl-Marx-Straße_(Berlin)

dezcom's picture

Thanks, Dan!

roald's picture

Hi everyone on this site commenting on this thread!

I just stumbled across you researching for a theater project street and U-bahn signs in Berlin, former East and West, over the last 100 years or so. It's a fascinating conversation you have going and though I've been to Berlin many times I'm going to be looking at the street signs with new eyes!


Do any of you know the name or anything about this font used in the Unter den Linden U-bahn stop in the former East Berlin--


-- and where I could get a set of it?



PS - I'm not sure if I'd get an automatic notification of your reply, so if you wouldn't mind sending me a note by email as well.


Florian Hardwig's picture


this has been asked before. Dan provided a good answer:
As he writes, it is a lettering job, i.e. the letters are not from a font, but have been made just for this occasion. Dan is also right in that it is a so called Schaftstiefelgrotesk (a simplified, stripped-down blackletter style that was popular in 1930s Germany, and is still associated with the Third Reich by many). Delbanco has a digital version of Tannenberg. So does Romana Hamburg, which also offer a National. Plus there are a few freebies, one by the name Potsdam. I don’t know about the quality of these digitizations.

roald's picture


Thanks so much for you help! Vielen Dank!


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