Apothekes of Berlin

Within each Berlin locality – those larger regions that give the city its basic administrative structure – one finds a series of less formally-defined Kieze. These neighbourhoods, which often take their name from a particular street or square, may not have clear outer boundaries or even a commonly agreed-upon centre, yet in the minds of their residents, there is no part of the city more real. Talk to any Berliner and they will extol not the vague areas of Kreuzberg or Schöneberg or Steglitz, but the small corner of those areas that belongs to them.

If you wanted to break the city down even further, to find out what subdivisions could possibly exist within the atomic unity of the Kiez – short of individual streets or buildings – you could do worse than to look at the Apothekes.


An Apotheke announces its presence to the street.

It is a source of minor confusion for new arrivals from Britain and the United States to discover that in Germany the Drogerie and the Apotheke are two completely different things. Here the place you go for shampoo and toothpaste is not the place where you can also pick up some Aspirin … and all drugs, no matter how innocuous, must be requested over the counter.


The official logo of the Deutscher Apothekeverband, displayed by Apothekes throughout Germany.

Because they serve such a specific purpose you can go for months without ever visiting an Apotheke. But the minute you need one, you realise they are everywhere and that you are never more than five minutes on foot from the nearest one. In Germany they are instantly recognisable from their logo, a stylised blackletter ‘A’ (in red on a white background) with an inset bowl of Hygieia. (One does occasionally spot the green cross so prevalent in France, but the big red ‘A’, designed by Fritz Rupprecht Mathieu in 1951, is the official logo of the Deutscher Apothekeverband.)

Beyond the big red ‘A’, however, there are no set rules. From elaborate constructions of cursive neon to simple white boxes each containing a single letter, from the fanciful and ostentatious to the utilitarian and somewhat boring, the typography that announces our Apothekes is as diverse, wonderful, and occasionally confounding as the city itself. Taken together, the Apothekes offers a kaleidoscopic, defiantly non-chronological history of a century in the typographical life of Berlin.

The task of narrowing our collection of Apotheke images down to a dozen or so representative examples has not been especially easy and there will almost certainly be another post devoted to this subject in the near future. For now, we hope you enjoy the assortment we have assembled here.


Arguably one of the best Apotheke signs in town … cursive neon at its finest.


Classic incised capitals, with added gold (and two lights aimed at the letters in case you should miss the gold).


A heavy blackletter to go with the traditional big red A.


This austere, geometric face undoubtedly means business.


Who doesn’t like a good slab serif?


This was a fairly common (probably mass produced) type of Apotheke sign, and several examples can still be spotted around Berlin.


These individual boxes, each with a single letter, also experienced a period of popularity and can still be found throughout the city.


In the White City, where typography is regulated, the Apotheke, the dry-cleaner, the electronics shop and the Italian restaurant all use the same letters.


Possibly the least threatening Apotheke sign in Berlin.


The stencil faces of Albers and Renner have cast a long shadow over typography in Berlin. But not in a bad way.

If you don’t already, you should follow us at @Berlin_Type on Twitter, for your daily dose of typographic goodness from Berlin.


11 thoughts on “Apothekes of Berlin

  1. I enjoyed reading this piece and staring at the pictures. I went on a Best of Greece tour and my husband was bitten by a ‘small creature’ and swelled really bad. I will not forget when the tour guide stopped at a Greek drug store to assist my husband to buy a bug bite ointment. So, we make sure our hotel is close to a pharmacia.


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