Sometimes you notice little things in cities that are unique to the city, and you remember them fondly if they brought a smile to your face. The Ampelmannchen or Little Traffic Light men on the streets lights in Berlin and Dresden made me smile. These are the really charming and happy red and green men that are cut out into pedestrian crossing lights.
The Ampelmann was designed in 1961 by East German traffic psychologist Karl Peglau. This cute traffic light symbol appealed to everyone the GDR – especially children and older people. The point was to reduce traffic accidents by having a light that people liked and almost respected, and would tend to obey more than regular lights. The Ampelmann was chubby so more light would come through. The almost straw like summer hat adds to the overall charm of the Ampelmann.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the two cities united, and West German started to slowly remove all signs and remnants of the East. But there were protests to save the beloved icon, and today almost 64% of lights in Berlin have the Ampelmann on them. A souvenir industry has started around the beloved icon.
Karl Peglau explained the popularity of the Ampelmann, “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 Ampelmannchen the right to represent a positive aspect of a failed social order.”