Jeveryone knew them, the little ones phone booth with the reminder signs “Be brief!” Queues often formed in front of the yellow booths, there was usually an unpleasantly strong smell inside, and the small change sometimes just fell through.
These are all memories from a bygone era. And after more than 140 years, the final farewell is due: This Monday, the telecom coin payment at the 12,000 remaining telephones nationwide.
Telephone booths were an integral part of the cityscape for a long time. Its triumphal procession began in Berlin in 1881 with the first “telephone kiosk”. At their peak in the mid-1990s, they were not only found in shopping streets or at train stations, but also in purely residential areas and even at the edge of the forest. As the successor to the Bundespost, Telekom operated more than 160,000 public telephones.
Over the decades, they have not only been a place for a phone call, which was mostly short – or long and expensive. On rainy days the houses offered protection from the wet and in winter from the cold. Homeless people stayed in the small cabins. And when travelling, they were the first point of contact to report back home that you had arrived safely.
Phone calls with first love
We asked our readers on Instagram what memories they had of phone booths. “It saved me when the doorbell broke so I could come home after school! Was winter,” writes one user. In addition to the practical use that the house had, it was also a place of great emotions. A user remembers the phone calls with the first love: “how nice and expensive back then”.
Some also remember the less romantic situations: “It always smelled so wonderfully of urine and the smashed windows looked like glass cubes.” All too often the smell of sweat and cigarette smoke mixed in with it. And while you diligently put change in the coin slot and waited for the connection, you could study the drawings of erect body parts and leaf through the phone book, the pages of which were often tattered.
Some Instagram users still wish there were more telephone booths again. But hardly anyone still uses them, and Telekom explains that they are no longer profitable. In addition, they are power guzzlers with no use. The mobile phone made the fixed telephone obsolete. They are even irrelevant for emergency calls, since cell phones have taken over. However, it will probably take until the beginning of 2025 before all telephone booths and modern telephone pillars without walls are finally dismantled. Telekom then wants to convert the locations into smart cells, which are intended to strengthen the mobile signal and improve cell phone reception.
The now disused telephone booths were also witnesses to Germany’s history. For decades, the notice “Be considerate of those waiting” hung on the little houses. This was the case in the GDR for even longer than in the FRG, because the private landline telephone became a mass phenomenon there more slowly. A woman from the former GDR describes a special memory: “On November 11, 1989 I stood crying in a telephone booth in Bebra and called all my relatives and friends from the old Federal Republic. Simply that way. Sign up without a cumbersome conversation and endless waiting. I will never forget this feeling!”
If you want to be nostalgic, you can use a phone card to make calls with the public telephones until the end of January – if you can find one, recently they were only at busy train stations, airports and exhibition centers. And if you want, you can buy discarded phone booths on Ebay or Telekom yourself. The yellow are sold out, says a spokeswoman. However, some of the cells in a delicate grey-magenta can still be purchased for around 500 euros.