Saturday 31 October 2015

Take a Walk on the Wild Side!

What do you write about on Halloween, when the country you live in has no tradition on celebrating Halloween and nothing you can think of qualifies as spooky? Write about something wild and crazy! And what is better than writing about the Berlin directories! About the wild and crazy Berlin directories!

Some of you might have worked with the Berlin directories before and got a bit confused by the way of sorting. For those who haven’t, I have good news. The Berlin directories sort the names in alphabetical order. So if you know the German alphabet there should be no problem.

Should. Because while other directories sort by surname and then first name, the Berlin directory sorts by surname and then occupation and then first name. Oh, and the first name is mostly abbreviated. And before I forget, first come the gentlemen and then the ladies. No, I’d better say first come the men, then the married ladies and then the Fräuleins. Each group of women is sorted by their occupation as well. If the widow had an occupation of her own (like seamstress, midwife or sales women), she is listed by her profession. If she has no occupation, she is listed by her late husband’s profession. But what if the husband’s profession is unknown? Then she is listed by her status as a widow (Ww. (Witwe)).

This can be a rather disappointing experience when you are looking for a rather common name and don’t know the occupation. You have to go through many pages and in the end will not be any wiser. And if you need to search a period of time of 20 yearsit will leave you rather frustrated. Of course you can save a lot of time if you know the occupation and are looking for a baker (Bäcker) or a pharmacist (Apotheker). 

But sometimes it gets really tricky. We’ll just take a look at the name Krause in the directory of 1880. We have 4 pages of Krause, none of them related to me (I think). 

You are looking for Heinrich Krause, an honorable importer of good Cuban cigars? Try your luck with looking for importers (Importeur). Nope, not there. Next try – merchant (Kaufmann) maybe? Looks like you’re running out of luck! Why not check cigar, and there he is – Cigarren- und Tabak-Importeur – listed under the letter C, right where it belongs (or not).

Let’s look for Wilhelm Krause, a Schuldiener (school servant). Of course you have learned from your first experience and look at school (Schule). Wrong again! He is listed under servants (Diener).

Good thing is that from 1925 on, things are handled normally. First surnames, then first names.

Now this little story about the Berlin directories is of course nothing compared to a state of the art Halloween party, but then, it’s not too bad for a country that is known to be incredibly well organized. Except for the wild and crazy Berlin directories.


  1. Sounds like a challenge to search those directories!

  2. Jill, it sometimes is, actually. But at the same time, that's what makes it even more fun!

  3. Very helpful. Thanks for the heads up. This will drive me nuts even knowing how they are sorted.

  4. I learned a lot from your post. Love the head shaking things we find when researching for our families. Makes you wonder.

  5. Happy you liked it Fran! When looking through the directory of Leipzig today, I thought how nice it would be if the entries were sorted after the occupation, as I did not know the first name.


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