Umlauts of Berlin, Part 2: Ä

It was madness to think that a single blog post could convey the fantastic diversity of Umlauts in Berlin … so we’ve decided to celebrate the Umlaut over the course of three different posts, each devoted to a different umlauted letter. The first post, devoted to the Ü, can be read here. In this, our second instalment, we examine the diverse applications of the Ä.

Although it appears at the beginning of the alphabet, the A-umlaut is, in some ways, the neglected middle child of the umlaut family. It is neither as common as the Ö nor as iconic as the Ü; yet without it there would be no Tannhäuser and no Matthäus-Passion, no Universitäten and far fewer Spielplätze. There might be less Ärger and Umstände … but there would also be a distinct lack of Aufklärung.

Perhaps most importantly, there would be no bread. The A-umlaut is an integral fixture of Berlin’s many Bäckerei signs, and it is in this context that they often reach their greatest heights of formal invention. The bakeries of Berlin have already been the subject of a previous blog post, but it is worth revisiting some of the highlights.

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A classic of cursive neon.

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The umlaut sticks its head just above the line in this relief sign.

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Two curiously-angled diamonds provide the umlaut for this Bäckerei.

Without the Ä, there would also be considerably fewer laundries. Although dry-cleaners tend to describe their service as ‘Reinigung’, the various Wäschereien dotted throughout the city are a reliable source of umlauts.

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An appropriately crisp neon sign.

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There are always two large trucks parked outside this Wäscherei, making it impossible to get a straight-on photograph…

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A newer example of cursive neon.

 

And, of course, without the A-umlaut, it would be impossible to spell Bär, the symbol of Berlin and a namesake for many hotels and shops.

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The great Bär.

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‘Berlin’ probably did not derive from the word for ‘bear’, but the fanciful etymology has resulted in numerous plays on the word.

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In extreme circumstances, the Ä can be rendered as an actual bear (although this is not recommended).

The double dots of the diaeresis tend to be the most common indication of an umlauted A, but the superscript E can still be spotted from time to time. Unlike the O and U, which offer a natural, symmetrical haven for the E, the triangular shape of the capital A means that the superscript letter has to be placed to one side or the other. In some cases, placing a small E to the left (i.e. before) the capital A ends up being the most visually elegant solution if not necessarily the most correct.

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The slightly oblique A leaves enough space for a very small E.

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Placing the E to the left of the A creates a sense of umlaut, even if it reads oddly.

If the capital A makes an awkward companion for the superscript ‘e’ it is perhaps the most perfectly suited to the diaeresis. The dots can either balance atop the summit of the letter or, in situations where line spacing is at a premium, they can be nestled on either side of the apex without invading the space of the surrounding letters or requiring any modifications to the A itself.

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This slightly wonky umlaut remains well within the vertical bounds of the A.

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The two downward triangles of this umlaut fit nicely into the shape of the A.

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There is a simple elegance to the Ä.

In neon signs, and other signs where the letters need to be mounted onto a surface, there are several recurring strategies for how to attach the umlauts to their parent letter. Sometimes the umlaut is installed separately, but more often it is attached to the A by means of small extensions from the sides or out the top of the letter.

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The umlaut is part of the structure of the A.

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Although nominally separate, the two dots are close enough to share a hidden electrical connection with the A.

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An umlaut balanced precariously.

Perhaps it is a peculiarity of Berlin – or of the letter itself – but one tends to find more conjoined or connected umlauts over the A than the U or O. Some of the dots of the umlaut are connected by a thin strand, while others give the impression of a single-celled organism in the final stages of division.

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There is no need for the two dots to be connected on this painted sign, yet there is a strange logic to it.

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Such a fat typeface demands a similarly bulbous umlaut.

The delights of the A-umlaut are undeniable, yet they are also subtly distinct from the pleasures found in the umlauted O and U. In Berlin at least, the A-umlauts have a tendency to be marginally less ostentatious than their counterparts; yet their work is essential, and they manage to get it done with considerable style and charm.

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Diamond dots for blackletter.

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An umlaut in negative space. This sign also appeared in our hair salon post.

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A vaguely Jugendstil relief over the girls’ entrance of an old school building.

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A stone-cutter’s umlaut.

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Umlauts are our specialty.

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

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9 thoughts on “Umlauts of Berlin, Part 2: Ä

  1. Thank you for your work on this site. As a sometime visitor to Berlin I am fascinated by the streetscapes and your postings on lettering and signage have done much to educate me. It is a reminder of the poverty of expression which populates the streets of most cities in North America. Armed with new insights from your postings I look forward to my Berlin visit later this year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I very much enjoyed reading the pictorial, electrical, and practical representations of the (humble) a-umlaut and ae in various signages in the Hauptstadt. I also liked how you tied the necessity of a-umlaut with places like Bäckerei and Wäscherei, and places with Getränke.

    Liked by 1 person

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