You may be asking yourself "Why is Ottoman doing a Picture of the Day featuring pedestrian crossing lights?" Well ladies and gentlemen, these are not just ordinary pedestrian crossing lights...this is Ampelmann.
So who or what is Ampelmann? "Ampelmann" translated from German means "little traffic light man", and East Germans are very fond of him. Ampelmann was created in 1961 by traffic psychologist Karl Peglau, and was officially introduced on October 13, 1961 in Berlin. Ampelmann's unique look proved so popular that parents and teachers initiated the symbol to become part of road safety education for children in the early 1980's. The East German Ministry of the Interior came up with an idea to bring the two traffic light figures to life and turn them into advisors. "Die AmpelmÄnnchen" (pleural for Amplemann) were introduced with much media publicity. Games featuring Ampelmann were created, as were Ampelmann stories developed for radio broadcasts. They appeared in strip cartoons, also in situations without traffic lights. The red Ampelmann appeared in dangerous moments,
and the green Ampelmann was an advisor.
Following the German unification in 1990, attempts to standardize all traffic signs and signals to the West German forms began. East German street signs, traffic signs and signals began to get dismantled and replaced because of differing fonts in the former two German countries. The East German education programmes featuring the Ampelmann vanished. But then, something amazing occurred. East Germans became outraged at what was happening to Ampelmann, and powerful campaigns arose which basically stated...Don't mess with Ampelmann! Leave him alone! This led to calls to save the East German Ampelmann as a part of the East German culture. The first solidarity campaigns for Ampelmann took place in Berlin in early 1995. Designer Karl Peglau explained the public reaction in 1997:
"It is presumably their special, almost indescribable aura of human snugness and warmth, when humans are comfortably touched by this traffic symbol figure and find a piece of honest historical identification, giving the AmpelmÄnnchen the right to represent a positive aspect of a failed social order."
Ampelmann became a virtual mascot for the East German nostalgia movement, known as Ostalgie. Lo and behold, the protests were successful, and Ampelmann returned to pedestrian crossings, including all western districts of Berlin in 2005. Some western German cities such as SaarbrÜcken and Heidelberg have since adopted the design for some of their intersections. Peter Becker, marshal of SaarbrÜcken, explained that lights of the East German Ampelmann have greater signal strength than West German traffic lights, and "in our experience people react better to the East German Ampelmann than the West German one."
You will now see Ampelmann throughout Berlin, not only doing his job as a symbol on pedestrian crossing lights guiding people safely across busy Berlin streets, but you will see statues of him,
souvenir shops dedicated in his honor featuring the man himself on a wide variety of merchandise,
and posters / signs of Ampelmann (the ones shown below celebrate the 25th Anniversary of German Reunification).
So, if you ever find yourself wandering the streets of Berlin, say hi to Ampelmann and be sure to follow his pedestrian crossing instructions.