Friday, June 29, 2007

Berlin # 2: The Ampelmann thrives

In the push to westernize East Berlin after reunification, a plan was made to standardize traffic lights all across Berlin. The new standard involved replacing thousands of East German traffic lights that have sported the ‘Ampelmann’ since the 1960’s. The uproar was huge. Everyone wanted the Ampelmann saved. This may seem like a small victory but for East Berliners it's huge. The Ampelmann symbolizes a hope that reunified Berlin will retain some elements of the east.

So what is the Ampelmann, you ask! The literal translation of the word is ‘little traffic light man’. In the sixties, an East German traffic researcher, based on his theory that people would respond better to a friendly figure on the traffic lights, created the Amplemann. Basically when the light is red, a portly guy wearing a hat extends out both his hands to stop pedestrians. When the light turns green, this portly guy jauntily turns to one side and strides across. There was a time when one could tell whether one was in East or West Berlin based on the traffic lights, but now the city has adopted the Ampelmann as its new standard. There is even a small museum and store about the Ampelmann!

So, thanks to the outpouring of support of Berliners, the Ampelmann continues to tell people to stop and go in Berlin. I chuckle when I come to a traffic light - will the Ampelmann be there or not?

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