There are still public phone booths

Robust relics : The future of the phone booth

Slim, made of stainless steel and two meters high - at Berlin Central Station there are four relics from the near past on the ground floor next to the escalators. They are public telephone pillars that glow in the typical magenta used by Telekom. They have been standing here for a long time and are staying. They are being dismantled elsewhere, and the mobile communications company is building new ones in some places. But who still uses these public telephones in the age of the smartphone?

If you watch the telephone pillars in the hustle and bustle of around 300,000 people passing through every day, exactly what you expect will happen - nothing. The knee-high shelf, originally intended for luggage, is now more of a holder for travelers' coffee to go. Hardly anyone is on the phone.

The public telephone is not cheap compared to the cell phone. For a domestic call, those on the phone have to insert at least 1.20 euros, each additional minute costs ten cents.

The importance of the telephone booth decreased with the triumphant advance of the cell phone, says the press spokesman for Deutsche Telekom Georg von Wagner. According to the Federal Network Agency, there are currently around 16,350 telephone booths across Germany that are operated by Telekom. For comparison: in 1992 there were still 120,000 telephone booths.

New telephone booths are still being erected

According to a count by the Berlin Senate's economic administration from 2016, there are still 1232 cells in Berlin. However, their number is falling rapidly in the capital as well. Because unused phone booths cost money. Telekom has to pay for the maintenance of electricity, site rental and maintenance. As soon as a telephone booth generates a turnover of less than 50 euros per month, the Telekom speaks with the affected municipalities about a possible reduction, explains von Wagner.

Additional costs arise from vandalism on telephone booths. According to the Telekom, there is a damage amount of over one million euros per year. Especially on New Year's Eve, the systems are often so badly damaged by firecrackers that they have to be replaced with new ones.

Despite the decline in phone booths and their users, phone booths are still being installed in new locations. There is still a need for central locations in large cities, says von Wagner. In Berlin, tourists use the public telephones at Potsdamer Platz, the Brandenburg Gate or at the main train station. However, von Wagner could not say where a telephone booth was last installed. The only thing that is clear is that no new cells have been set up in the past few weeks, he says.

Why is Telekom still setting up cells at all in 2020? It is regulated by law. According to the Federal Network Agency, there should be “nationwide provision of public coin and card phones”, which must be provided by Telekom. This is a minimum offer for the public, says a spokeswoman for the Federal Network Agency. At the request of the Tagesspiegel, the Federal Network Agency did not announce how large this minimum offer is.

There are currently 3000 dismantled telephone booths near Potsdam

Ultimately, most phone booths face the same fate. All copies in Germany are transported to Michendorf near Potsdam and stored there. There are currently around 3,000 discarded telephone booths on the remote site. Secured by a steel mesh fence, the gray-magenta-colored telephone houses are neatly lined up, close together.

Some telephone booths on the premises are being completely scrapped, while others serve as spare parts stores for active public telephones. Private individuals can also buy the telephone booths for 450 euros per copy.

The old telephone booths sometimes serve as book boxes or showers

Buyers could initially choose between the gray-magenta-colored and the yellow model, with the yellow ones being clearly more popular, says von Wagner. The last yellow cell was dismantled in April 2019.

Nostalgics are now giving the phone booths a second life. The possibilities seem inexhaustible - be it as the smallest disco in the world, book box or shower. Even the Berlin police took over a few of the houses over ten years ago - as rain protection for police officers. For example, the cells stood in front of embassies for a long time until there was money for somewhat larger real houses.

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