111 Places in Berlin – Nr 88: The Black and White Fotoautomat

The Photoautomat on Prenzlauer Allee, Berlin, Germany

The Photoautomat on Prenzlauer Allee

The Fotoautomat. Youre not a Berlin Hipster if you haven’t taken your picture in one of these machines.

The Fotoautomat has always been a part of Berlin (and the rest of Germany), hanging around near S-Bahn /U-Bahn and Train Stations, waiting for someone to have their Passport Picture taken  or just to have a fun picture as a good memory. With Photographic Technology evolving, it seemed like these Photo Booths might die out like so many machines from my childhood (im looking at you coin operated cigarette machines and yellow phone booths) – but no! It looks like they are making a full blown comeback.

*Warning – Fotoautomat Info*

The concept of a Photo Booth dates all the way back to 1888, when William Pope and Edward Poole (from Baltimore, USA) filed a patent for an automated photography machine – which was never actually built. In 1889, the French Inventor T.E Enjalbert and the German Photographer Mathew Steffens constructed working machines, which turned out to be not reliable enough to be self-sufficient. The German Inventor Conrad Bernitt managed to build the first successful Photo Booth in 1890 in Hamburg. It is interesting to note that all these machines produced Ferrotypes (in simple terms – the positive images was directly created on a metallic plate). The first machine which managed to produce photos with a negative and positive process was invented by the German Carl Sasse in 1896.

 

photoautomat coin slot

Photoautomat Coin Slot

Photo Booths as we know them today were invented by the Russian Imigrant Anatol Josepho in 1923 in New York. He produced a working prototype and presented it on Broadway, which turned out to be an instant success, despite the pictures taking 10 minutes to develop. In 1927, Josepho sold the US Rights to an investment group for 1 million dollars (and guaranteed himself royalties from then on).

 

photoautomat photo slot

The green light doesnt seem to work on this machine

With the introduction of Digital Cameras, most of the older Fotoautomaten were replaced with newer and quicker models. And that was that. Until someone realized that Black and White Photo strips are awesome.

Soon enough the machines started reappearing on the streets. For the price of 2 euros you get a strip of 4 photos, that smell like cabbage. Cabbage?

Well you see, these machines still operate with a mini chemical lab inside of them. After the photographic paper is exposed, it is then dipped in various chemical baths. This causes the rather odd cabbage smell.

 

photo booth chair and curtain

The Hot Seat

They’ve proven so popular in Berlin (especially the one on the Kastanienallee, much to the ire of the locals) that they have begun to appear  in other European cities such as Vienna, London and Florence.

There are currently 17 Fotoautomaten in Berlin (1 of them even being a color Photo Booth) and there’s a handy map from the photoautomat.de website to show you where you can get your next hipster fix.

 

fotoautomat berlin location plan

Fotoautomat Locations – © photoautomat.de

photo booth film strip

those are some interesting faces

Over time, ive stumbled across a whole host of empty photo strips (much like in the movie amelie) – and it took me a while to figure out what the deal was with them. Earlier this year, the misses, my younger brother and me were walking home late at night and stopped by the Photoautomat on Schönhauser Allee. One of the Photoautomat Technicians was busy servicing one of the machines and he let us have a good look inside and explained how a few things worked. He closed the machine, and set off a test run, checked if the flash worked and left.

 

photo booth repairman

The Photo Booth Repairman

And thats why we kept on finding the empty strips.

I love these machines. I love film photography, and I love their novelty value. An added bonus: unlike German phone booths they are respectively clean and don’t smell like urine. And they don’t have little Russian babushkas sitting in them. True story.

Go get your picture taken in one now.

 

The Photoautomat

The Photoautomat

The Fotoautomat

 Prenzlauer Allee 44

10405 Berlin - Prenzlauer Berg  

Tram M2: Marienburger Straße

Tram M10: Prenzlauer Allee/Danziger Straße

 

14 Comments

  1. peter says:

    very nice post and pictures! i hope you don’t mind when i link back to a similar post of mine ;)
    http://dothob.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/automatic-for-the-people/

    • Not at all! love the pictures in your post;) might got around and see if i can get a picture taken in all of them…

  2. peter says:

    there is a new one at warschauer ecke mühlenstrasse that takes colour pictures! if the colours are as vintage as the black and whites are, this could be very interesting.

    • mhh yes -I only heard about that one recently. But you loose a bit of the overexposure that you have in the B/W pictures – its the reason why they always look so good, you dont notice any wrinkles/flaws

  3. Lovely article. I really appreciate all the research you put into your posts. These photobooths are like candy for photographers. Such a nice red, that contrasts with the greyness of much of their surroundings. And we are all suckers for film even if we shot digital (or perhaps esp. because of it).

    Here is my take on the genera: http://portfolio.radiant-flux.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/MG_3907.jpg

    Frohe Weihnachten and Guten Rutsch!

    • Thanks Patrick – hope you had a great start into the new year. Though I primarily mess around with digital, my heart belongs to film. Ive got something for all film lovers coming up soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

  4. I think one very important thing to say about these things is that you cannot retake pictures and there’s actually no big pause between one shot and the next one: everybody looks completely silly on his first try, cause they don’t know when to expect the four shots ^^

    • I have a feeling that some of them take longer between shots than others…. and you always look silly no matter what :P

  5. ebe says:

    I love these things & can barely ever convince someone to get in one with me, so I treasure the few that I have. Very interesting hearing more about the machines, the mystery strips, and the history. Can’t wait to see the rest of your 111…

    • the misses doesnt like them either – or at least she pretends to not like them (she doesnt seem to like photos of herself). I force her to go into them everytime we pass one and I think secretly shes happy that weve amassed a small collection of stupid pictures.

  6. Thanks for the info. This one is right next to my house. Will give it a try!

  7. A few drunken experiences witnessed, which were all too fun. This past August, we had a group photo taken in Kreuzberg, but I then felt dirty because I shared in a hipster experience … either that, or the woman whom I was interested was drunkenly draped over another dude ….

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  9. Hello Cosmonaut!

    Your map isn’t up to date anymore, it would be very nice, if you could exchange it, otherwise people could search for booths that don’t exist anymore and that’ll maybe cause frustration!

    There will always be latest map of all Berlin Photobooths on our Site: http://www.photoautomat.de/standorte.html

    If you want, you can deeplink the picture of the map from our website (http://www.photoautomat.de/bilder/standorte-2014.gif).

    Thank you very much and greetings,
    Konrad, Webmaster photoautomat.de

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