Updated: Mar 6
We've updated this blog to include a link for downloading free German fonts.
Here are a couple tricks to help with that tricky old-time German writing
So many people despair over how difficult German printing and old German handwriting can be. After all, up until the early 20th century, German school children learned a different cursive, called Kurrent or Sutterlin, so even today's Germans often have great difficulty reading old handwriting, if they're able to do it at all.
The printed word Fraktur (what many Americans would call Gothic or Black Letter) can be easier with time, but it's still not obvious without a lot of practice. Handwriting is even tougher!
Here's a scenario: you're looking for a family name or maybe a town in an older German document, but everything looks like gibberish....if only you could figure out what to look for. Here are a couple approaches that may help.
Option 1 to Convert into German
Steve Morse has many interesting and free websites, including this cool converter. You toggle on/off Print/Cursive | Upper Case/Lower Case | Fraktur/Kurrent/Suetterlin. Then you type in the word and - poof - you'll get a reasonable look at what the word will look like in Fraktur or whatever parameters you choose. It's a quick view that can be helpful. We're showing a couple examples below, but try words with "e" and "n" or "f" and "s" - the Suetterlin is almost identical!
1) The site doesn't make it easy to distinguish a "long S" or ſ which German often has in the middle of some words. We'll write another blog explaining all the "S" situations that are unique to German. (We already have one for eszet or ß which is one of our more popular blogs "The curious History of the German Double S").
2) Looking at mixed capitals and lower case is tricky, so be sure to click on both options when trying to get familiar. The capital letters can be especially challenging in Kurrent or Sutterlin. Even today, people often get creative with how they write capital letters. Germans of yesteryear were no different. Just know the style on this webpage is a common way that people would write.
3) The converter puts a space between each letter which isn't such a big deal for the Fraktur, but is a little bit of a challenge with the cursive. See how the example below compares to the hand-written name at the start of this blog.
Tip You can also use the grid on the web page to type in something in Kurrent, Sutterlin or Fraktur, and it can convert it into a familiar font.
Option 2 to Convert into German
Another great way you can convert today's letters into these old German ones is to download some
fonts (for free). Then you can mix and match upper and lower case and even print out what you convert. One good Fraktur font is called Kleist Fraktur. For Kurrent, consider using Wiegel Kurrent.
This approach might take a little more time, but it looks a little bit more like what you might find in an old letter or book. Many sites offer free fonts, including https://www.1001fonts.com/. Search for Fraktur or Kurrent.
Just like people today, Germans of yesteryear had their own style for handwriting - especially with capital letters, so don't expect the everything written by hand will be as neat and legible as what you're finding here.
Shout-out to Carole Ashbridge of Connections Abound for putting us onto this site by Steve Morse!
Do you have any German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish or Norwegian documents you can't read? We can help. Find out more here.