IN-GAME TYPOGRAPHY of the arcade age played a role similar to that of neon signs in decades prior: to grab the attention of passersby, define brands and products, and above all make a unique aesthetic statement within the limits of its technology. Arcade games had to not only stand out in dark rooms and corridors, they had to compete side-by-side against other games, and along with eye-catching cabinet designs and sound blaring through speakers, a game’s onscreen display – called “attract mode” – was its primary means of drawing in paying customers. Typography played an essential role in drawing in players and convincing them to spend that first quarter – and after they had done so, in displaying essential information, providing encouragement, and keeping score. For those with enough skills, the experience of entering one’s initials on a semi-permanent High Score screen provided the ultimate type-based endorphin rush.
HELSINKI, WITH ITS months-long stretches containing more darkness than light, is a natural fit for neon lighting. For businesses operating in the dark winter months, neon serves as a beacon that invites customers in from the cold. In contrast to other cities, where neon often takes on splashier forms, much of Helsinki’s neon is set in orderly sans-serifs, though here and there bursts of cursive and other stylized types still break through.
Now I know why they call Main Street a drag
– Jeremy Gluck, Sorrow Drive
CIVILISATIONS ARE JUDGED by what they leave behind. Sometime around the beginning of the automobile age – that period in the post-war years when car ownership became not merely affordable but essential – it was determined that there existed a proportional relationship between the speed of travel and the size a sign needed to be in order to convey its information to the traveller. Simply put, as roads grew wider and faster, the signs grew larger.
Berlin Typography is a project dedicated to celebrating the incredible range of sign-based type that proliferates throughout the German capital. It reveals an astounding range of typefaces, ranging from traditional blackletter to midcentury sans-serifs to a bewildering spread of outliers (with a particular soft spot for cursive neon, a signature Berlin aesthetic if there ever was one).
The project’s tagline, “Words and the City”, evokes the corporeal nature of urban signage, with numerous pictures revealing the particular detail given to punctuation, umlauts, and the uniquely German Eszett (ß).
Like most of Berlin, our adopted neighborhood of Moabit has its share of signs ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, including many that have outlived the stores whose names they bear. This far-from-complete roundup features some of the neighborhood’s most colorful signage.
Lying at the northern border of Berlin’s Moabit district, just south of the Westhafenkanal on the U9 line, is U-Bahnhof Westhafen. In a city with so many strikingly varied train stations, Westhafen nonetheless stands as one of the most beautiful and unique: since 2000, the entire station has been home to a massive text-based art installation by artists Francoise Schein and Barbara Reiter, under the auspices of the multi-country Inscrire project.
Westhafen is one of 27 stops on the Ringbahn, which means it’s both a U-Bahn and S-Bahn station—but with the latter being a standard, ground-level outdoor station, the texts are limited just to the U-Bahn (i.e. underground) part of the complex and its connecting passages.