The Big Fun of Waiting at Traffic Lights
You do not only find them in Berlin but also in other East-German towns – and I just love them! I kept on photographing those Ampelmänner and Ampelmädchen with and without bicycles everywhere we went in the East because they are so much more enjoyable than the traffic lights for pedestrians we are used to in the west.
The waiting and walking icons have a lot more personality than those in the rest of the world, they look so much more alive and individual, and dynamic. Especially the girls with their braided hair are a delight, and you will also be pleased of the Ampelmann with bicycle.
(They have also Ampelgirls in Amsterdam and Copenhagen but believe me, those Ossi-girls are the most delightful ones.)
Those cute Ampelmänner and Ampelmädchen have become big business for a designer who saved them from extinction. In souvenir shops you get the Ampel guys and girls printed on T-shirts, shopping bags, notepads, corkscrews, footballs, umbrellas, jandals, glasses, breakfast bowls, coffee cups, as gummi guys, rubber gums, pasta, jewellery, bathing sponge, fridge magnets, and so on, and so on.
Unfortunately the very good website where you could learn more about the history and the products is rather slow… But perhaps you hit it on a lucky day...
A guy named Karl Peglau invented the Ampelmann in 1961. The East Germans (we call them Ossis…) loved them so much that they became TV stars in 1982. They appeared as animated characters in traffic education programmes for children. Incredibly enough, after the reunification the Besserwessis (the West-Germans who know everything better…) started to replace the wonderful Ossi-Ampelmännchen by our boring western Euro traffic light guys.
The already mentioned designer from Tübingen saved them from the junk yards. He made his first products with the original glass panels. And suddenly discussions started throughout the land, and even the experts had to admit that the Ossi Ampelmann was not only cuter but also safer because of its bigger illuminated area. In 1997 they came back to the traffic lights and bring so much delight to so many people.
Nowhere it is more fun to wait at a traffic light than at one with the Ampelmann or Ampelmädchen of the East. In fact, I did not even walk when the light turned green because I first had to photograph the running girl with the flying braids LOL The same in Dresden and Leipzig… A clear bonus for the East!
The crazy thing is that sometimes you find a mixture of East and West Ampelmänner at the same intersection. This happens where federal and communal roads intersect in the East. The federal agencies (Besserwessis…) prefer the western icons, the eastern ministeries favour the eastern icons for highlighting their eastern identity.
I think it would not hurt anybody in the West to admit that not everything in the East was bad, especially not this harmless and delightful Ampelmann. We do not make the Ossis better Germans by taking away their little joys of daily life. What narrow-minded brains bureaucrats can be!
Update January 2010
Karl Peglau, who invented the Ampelmann, has died on 29 November 2009 at the age of 82. Until his death he went to the office - where they market the Ampelmännchen - nearly every day. Also, an opinion change has taken place in the West, you can now increasingly see Mr. Peglau's funky figures at traffic lights.