Today I want to 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.


An Unconventional Way of Sorting

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 is 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 years it will leave you rather frustrated. Of course you can save a lot of time if you know the occupation and are looking for baker (Bäcker) or a pharmacist (Apotheker).


Which is Which?

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 together with the other servants (Diener), where else would he be listed !?!

Things Changed for the Better

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

Thankfully, most of the  directories of other towns are organized “the normal way” and much easier to work with.  But Berlin has always and will always be known for its wild and unconventional ways. So, when doing research in Berlin you have to be ready to take a walk on the wild side!

If you’re ready for this adventure start here…..