The telephone booth at Barfüsserplatz was the meeting point in Basel. Removed in 2019, it now displays a museum next door.
Six corners, dark blue metal frame, five coin and card telephones: the telephone booth at Basel’s Barfüsserplatz was not only in the city center, it was also in the heart of many: generations used to meet in front of this booth; As a meeting place for love, business and going out, many people remember them personally. Now the cult cabins are coming back to the center of Basel for an exhibition.
Many people met their first love there.
“Many people met their first love there,” says Patrick Moser, curator at the Basel Historical Museum (HMB). When it rained, you could wait for your treasure inside “am Schärme”, happily ignoring the penetrating stench of cigarettes. Other scents were also prominent in it, although public toilets were close by.
The telephone booth at Barfüsserplatz – the meeting place par excellence
However, the more people owned a mobile phone, the fewer people actually used the phone in these cubicles. In the largest of these, a homeless man even set up his belongings before the dismantling.
Parliament campaigned for the cabin
Even the Basel politics dealt with the cult cabins. Before the decommissioning, the Green canton parliamentarian Jo Vergeat suggested bequeathing it to the HMB and setting up a worthy replacement meeting place. Your request was tacitly accepted by the Council. «For many generations, the telephone booth at «Barfi» was and is an integral part of their (going out) history. She enjoys great popularity in Basel’s memory,” Vergeat wrote in 2019.
Telephone booths have existed in Switzerland for 138 years
In 1990, Swisscom was still operating around 60,000 telephone booths throughout Switzerland, under its name “Publifon”. With the dismantling of the last of these in 2019, a 138-year chapter in the history of telecommunications ended.
In the autumn of that year, this cult cabin was the last one to be taken out of service and dismantled by Swisscom in Basel. Incidentally, the country’s last Swisscom cabin was dismantled just two months later in Baden. The Basler cabin was not scrapped, but carefully disassembled, bequeathed to the HMB and stored there. That lasted a whole week.
Prior to this, a well-attended farewell party entitled “Aadie Delifoonkabine” was held by the Basel organization “Cultural City Now”. The Basel government wrote in January 2023 that the question of an alternative meeting point instead of the booth would be considered as part of a design competition for the square. District President Beat Jans indicated to the “Basler Zeitung” that a return of the cult cabin to the Barfi was also conceivable.
Telephones as an advertising wall
The decommissioning of the Swisscom telephone booths was not the end of all telephone booths in Switzerland: the Allgemeine Plakatgesellschaft (APG) currently still has 109 round glass booths, the “Telecab 2000” model. Of these, 66 are in Zurich and 28 in Basel, the rest in German-speaking Switzerland between Biel and Winterthur. Calls to Swiss fixed and mobile networks are free, except to paid numbers.
APG’s business with these booths is not the calls, but the illuminated advertising space. Since 1930, the company has used telephone booths as advertising media, sometimes in prime public locations.
The Telecabs were designed in 1995 by APG in close cooperation with Swisscom and the Institute for Integrated Design (IGGZ) as a replacement for public emergency telephones. However, digitization and the boom in smartphones have since made these cabins largely obsolete. According to APG, simple repairs are still being made, most recently in Zurich in early March. However, Telecabs are no longer being replaced – so they are a phased-out model.
So now the cult cabin has temporarily resurrected, albeit silently as part of a Exhibition of the HMB. Appropriately within sight of the former location, namely in front of the museum, which towers over the square in the converted Barfüsserkirche.
Incidentally, the Basel booth is not the only Publifon booth that has ended up in a museum: the very last one from Baden went to the Museum for Communication in Bern. According to Swisscom, around 650 of their Publifone have been repurposed, including as vending machines, defibrillator locations, public bookcases or bars.