Guide to German Photo Booths

Photo booth sign in Berlin
Erin Porter

Something unusual keeps appearing around Germany. In hipster hang-outs, dark street corners and well-traveled avenues, photo booths are quietly making a comeback.

Photoautomats or Fotoautomaten have enjoyed a rebirth because of their affordability, availability and nostalgic charm. A strip of four shots costs just €2, less than a U-Bahn ticket. And the growing number of booths are open day and night, providing (nearly) instant gratification. The time it takes to insert your money, strike a pose and leave with a memory in at around six minutes.

Unlike digital photo booths that provide quasi-professional shots fit for passports; these machines are a thing of nostalgic beauty. Photoautomats produce film mementos that are a perfect remembrance of a great first date, a wild night out or a day spent exploring your favorite German city.

Since the resurrection of the photo booth, the bigger question is how they ever went out of style.

History of the Photo Booth

The idea of the photo booth dates back to American patent holders William Pope and Edward Poole in 1888. However, it wasn’t until the next year that the actual machine was put to work by French Inventor T.E Enjalbert and the German Photographer Mathew Steffens. The machine continued to be tinkered with by a variety of inventors until 1923 when Russian immigrant Anatol Josepho created the machine most similar to the one we know today in 1923, New York City. Viola! The photo booth was born and began to appear in major cities throughout the world.​

But the advent of digital photography, the expense of film and frequent vandalism all spelled the downfall of the quaint Photoautomat. Machines fell into disrepair and were eventually dismantled and disappeared from the streets and the hearts of their legions of fans. Until….

A resurgence of these machines seems to be attributed to two Berliners, Asger Doenst and Ole Kretschmann. Enamored with the photoautomats that used to dot the city, they began buying and restoring old photo booths in 2003.

Where to Find Photo Booths in Germany

Slowly, an army of photo booths has materialized with machines appearing in Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, Leipzig and Dresden and even further afield in Vienna, Paris, London, Brussels, Florence, Los Angeles, and New York City.

How to Use a German Photo Booth

If you are worried about the instructions being in German – have no fear! There are no instructions. Photoautomats are so easy to use it is just a 1, 2, 3 process.

If you need a primer, here is a walkthrough to take a perfect photo booth picture.

  1. After locating your booth, duck behind the half-curtain and take a seat on the stool. If you are taking the picture with friends or a loved one, see if all of your smiling faces are reflected in the dark reflective glass in front of you. There may be a rectangle drawn onto the glass, indicating exactly what the image will cover. If you are too high or too low, adjust the seat by spinning up or down.
  2. Once you are ready, pop in your change. The first picture starts with a flash – smile! There will be a gap of 10 seconds between snaps so change up your pose and watch for the blinking light to indicate the next shot. Note: Do not put your money in until you are prepared as the pictures will automatically begin once the money is inserted.
  3. After the last photo has been taken, the strip begins developing. In about 5 minutes a finished photo strip will drop into the slot.

Inexpensive, instant and almost always endearing, pictures from a photoautomat are the ideal souvenir of your travels in Germany.

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