KREUZBERGED BERLIN

Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin

DID YOU KNOWN THAT ABOUT BERLIN: THE FIRST PHONE BOOTH

Ostbahnhof telephone booths (image by Surveyor.in-Berlin)

Ostbahnhof telephone booths (image by Surveyor.in-Berlin)

Berlin´s first telephone booth, or Fernsprechkiosk as they were then referred to, opened for service on January 12th, 1881. Designed by a local engineer, Herr Vehlow from Charlottenstrasse 78 in Mitte, it was installed at the main telegraph and telephone post office in Mitte. Although the network was initially quite small as very few people could afford the luxury of a private phone (the annual fee alone was 200 Marks or almost 7,000 EUR), the idea of a public phone seemed to bid well for the future.

Until the introduction of coin-operated public telephones in the early years of the 20th century, their users were required to buy a special voucher known as the Telefon-Billet. In the 1920s and the 1930s, blue-and-yellow phone booths – since 1932 the official colours of the Reichspost – were a regular feature in the streets and plazas of Berlin. Their colour was changed to yellow only after WWII and remained so until 1992. That year marked the arrival of the Telekom Company, whose silver-and-magenta colour arrangement quickly became de rigueur. The rise of the cellular and then smartphones decimated the phone booth ranks in Berlin, leaving around 1,200 of them altogether.

The good news, however, is that since 2014 anyone can buy a disused phone booth and use it as they please. Telekom depot outside Michendorf is home to some 3,000 old yellow TelH78 models (EUR 450) as well as old silver-and-magenta TelH90´s (EUR 350). The between 250- and 350-kilo heavy booths need to be picked up personally. The buyers so far have converted them into garden showers, small bureau spaces, tiny recording studios, changing rooms for the beach, libraries as well as… quiet little places to make smartphone phone-calls at a busy office.

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