Against Or For Berlin’s Glorified Pissoirs?

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Anyone familiar with editing spreadsheets is used to being confronted by the popup “Are you sure you want to delete this column?”. In Berlin this question has recently taken on much more real world significance. The city’s iconic Litfaßsäule are under threat of permanent removal on grounds of fading structural integrity & threats to public safety. Their fate impacts the marketing world & acts as a barometer of the public’s opinion.

Berlin is a mass of contradictions – tech hub but dependent on cash; liberal in many respects but conservative in others. Reactions to the peril of these columns bears this out – some Berliners want them to stay – either in a modified way with digital signage or as original. Others are in favour of their swift removal.

In a city where traditional advertisements in subway stations are still highly effective, maintenance of the columns certainly has business merit.


Ernst Litfaß was a successful printer & publisher. The inspiration for the iconic columns which bear his name, struck him during a trip to Paris in 1843. While answering Nature’s call, Litfaß had an epiphany – in the circular pissoir, covered with advertisements before him, Ernst saw an opportunity. In stereotypical adherence to German sense of orderliness, Litfaß envisaged a series of columns that would both tidy up Berlin’s scattered advertisements & profit from them too.


Advertising on the columns enables clients to reach a wider target audience. The columns’ ubiquity in the city means that inhabitants can’t help but see them & associate them with publicity for upcoming events. Furthermore, Litfaßsäulen appear throughout Berlin, not just the city centre, thereby extending advertising reach to the suburbs. Also, in comparison to digital marketing, advertising on the columns is relatively inexpensive.


Historical Significance

One of the initial appealing facets of the columns was their ability to deliver news more quickly than newspapers, which took longer to be printed, which led people to gather ’round them to read the latest news bulletins. This took on greater significance in 1870 with the outbreak of the Franco-German war. Litfaß convinced the city leadership to utilise the columns to communicate the latest news from the front to concerned citizens.


We share Litfaß’ innovative approach to marketing problems, so we will be watching very carefully how things play out in Berlin. For more information on our process don’t hesitate to get in touch.