Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
One of the things you absolutely must learn in order to do historical research in German is reading Sütterlin (already mentioned once here).
This old form of German handwriting developed in 1911 by Ludwig Sütterlin and introduced in Prussia in 1915 was taught in all German schools from 1935 until 1941, when the Nazis decided that all sorts of blackletter typeface (which most people know as Fraktur or Gothic script) were too Jewish and as such should be immediately banned.
The ban issued on January 3, 1941 by Martin Bormann, the head of the NSDAP Party Chancellery (Reichskanzlei Chef) and Hitler’s most trusted subordinate, specifically forbade the application of Fraktur typeface. You can see a copy of his circular discussing the allegedly Jewish roots of the blackletter typeface here.
Several months later, on September 1, Bormann sent another circular, this time referring specifically to Sütterlin, the handwriting taught to all German children at the time.
Although officially rejected, it was quite understandably still in use long afterwards, in fact well into the 1970s. For the people who learnt it when learning to write it was next to impossible to abandon it from one day to the next.
That’s why as a researcher you will keep encountering it practically non-stop. Whether on the early 20th century postcards or in notebooks or even in official documents (without being able to read Fraktur or Sütterlin one visit to Berlin’s Landesarchiv can leave you frustrated for life), it is unavoidable.
So whatever it is that you wish to study – old Berlin directories, old telephone books, old newspapers or letters you bought by accident at the flea market on Sunday – brace yourself for impact.
Luckily, there is enough help out there waiting for those willing to go all ancient. Internet pages offering gratuitous lessons, books you can order to study at home and even special live courses you can attend with the rest of the Sütterlin-crazy crowd.
One of the best pages, available also in English, can be found here.
And if you are feeling adventurous enough to try something new but prefer to stick to typing everything on your laptop, here is a font you can download and install in your word font database (details available on the www.suetterlinschrift.de page mentioned above).