The Almost Lost Culture With German Traffic Lights

The Almost Lost Culture With German Traffic Lights

Who is the Ampelmännchen?

Traffic lights are typically considered a functional aspect of everyday life. Green is go, red is stop. A glance at the color is all most give. Crossing streets in Germany instead provide a nostalgic ode to a former society. Ampelmännchen (German for "Little traffic light men") is a green man wearing a hat in full strut, found on pedestrian signals in the former East Germany sections.

West Germany and East Germany unified in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. Relief, jobs, peace- these were euphoric words to encapsulate a pivotal moment for both sides. In the name of unification, seemingly everything Western stayed and Eastern discredited, from currency to furniture.

For all of the good, locals felt dismayed to see their culture slip away and their homes seemed foreign. 40 years had separated the cultures and it was more than a wall dividing them. Fears and aches arose for the vanishing Eastern culture, known as Ostalgie, would be at the forefront.

On Oct. 13, 1961, designer Karl Peglau undertook a project in response to pedestrian deaths from confusion and visibility issues with traffic structures. Crossers followed the same lights as drivers. People found difficulty distinguishing the red, amber and green lights. From 1955 to 1960, there were 10,000 deaths recorded. Ampelmännchen would become the country's first pedestrian traffic light symbol. Production stages took tender care to mix functionality and charm.

Peglau sought to define the bodily features under the notion people could relate to someone they looked like, according to the official website for Ampelmännchen. The large size allowed more light to shine and give greater visibility in harsher weathers. Showing Ampelmännchen walking drew a quicker connection with the action commanded. Initially, he feared the stylistic attributes would make Ampelmännchen appear bourgeois and get rejected.

By 1969, Peglau’s green man would make his debut on Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse, two major streets in East Berlin. Residents and media took an interest beyond traffic statistics. Beloved, the green man became a mainstream image and brand. He got acting credits through representation in the children's animated television show "The Sandman" and in coloring books.

However, in 1997, traffic lights were next for Westernization. Ampelmännchens were being replaced with the West's smaller, generic and simply styled man. This would be the last straw for East Germans.

Markus Heckhausen, a native to East Germany, found fond memories of Berlin's Mitte fading. Uneasy with the present, he sought to reconnect with the past through traffic lights. Before his eyes, his culture was disconnected, dismantled and left astray on sidewalks. Collecting the glass on Rosenthaler Platz, Heckhausen created a gallery with the Ampelmännchen symbol prevalent. German press took notice and articles covered the story.

Hearing of the passion and artistic revival, Peglau reached out to Heckhausen for coffee. The two would strategize how to save the remaining Ampelmännchen and ultimately form a lifelong friendship.

Rescue the Ampelmännchen! was a committee dedicated to the cause. Lobbying right to the traffic minister, this was something a generation could get behind. Under public pressure, Ampelmännchen's survival was singled via the removals halted.

He has been used as inspiration throughout other German areas. As recently as July 2017, southern German city Augsburg unveiled a puppet-themed crossing figure to celebrate their theatre history. Residents in other parts regularly suggest personalised and themed symbols too.

Now a cult icon, Ampelmännchen went from being nearly extinct to fame beyond sidewalks. Outside of Berlin, you can see him internationally parading on shelves as a mug or key chain.

Cover Image Credit: Ibokel / Pixabay

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Are We Humans Or Are We Leprechauns?

Global warming —a battle for both on the Emerald Isle

The rumors are true; it’s as iffy as the Liffey.

I hate to be the breaker of bad news, but this St. Paddy’s Day was far from sunshine and rainbows. I bet even the leprechauns were upset when snow painted the island white instead of green this year. I hear they are in favor of a greener lifestyle.

Being of Irish heritage and spending my semester abroad in Dublin, you could say I had high expectations and hopes for what this holiday celebration would bring. This semester, I live next to St. Patrick’s Tower and a hop, skip, and a jump down the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. For Christ’s sake, I might as well have attended Finnegan’s Wake.

It pains me to report that I was underwhelmed by the lack of pride Dubliners showed on this day—the pride I know Irish people undoubtedly have. It was like telling a child Santa isn’t real. It defies the laws of preserving any drop of youth that is left in us. You just don’t do it.

This year’s turnout left me with an unsettling feeling, similar to the one I got when I was told cereal with milk was a soup. I know…debatable... let it sit. Just kidding, soggy cereal is most definitely one of the most unfortunate events that are a symptom of time, but I am not kidding when I went green to cope with the lack thereof on this March 17th.

I will say that the Americans who flooded the Dublin streets were enough to jumpstart my rudimentary excitement, and I did start and end the day at the infamous Whelan’s with a pint of Guinness in hand, so I can’t really complain. But if I were you, I'd save some money because no matter where you are in the world the festivities bestowed upon this lovely holiday are more or less the same. A word from the wise, Guinness is way better than green beer.

With my remaining time in the land of the leprechauns, I will continue my hunt for a four leaf clover or a pot of gold while eating potatoes and listening to The Script because neither of those is the least bit disappointing. I have seen a rainbow thus far, so I do have hope. It may be the leprechauns or just the luck of the Irish, but I couldn’t be prouder to say this place does feel like home.

Cover Image Credit: Taeghan Hagood

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"Keep Calm And Remember You Will Die:" A Play-By-Play Through The Catacombs Of Paris

A walk lined with the remnants of 6 million people taught me more things about life than I expected.

“STOP. YOU ARE ENTERING THE EMPIRE OF DEATH.” It says outside the entrance of the Catacombs. Well, at least that’s what I’m told – everything is in French, and I’d believe anything the Parisians tell me.

The moment I cross the threshold, it’s as if I interrupted a party – a 200-year-old party – where all eyes are on me – all 6 million pairs of them. Femurs are neatly stacked along the walls of the narrow tunnel, with two rows of deteriorating skulls lined at my hip and eye level. The wall stacks well above my height, with a piles of broken, misshapen bones thrown onto the top – from neatly curated to forgotten remnants. I make sure to not touch the browning relics. My eyes are drawn to the perfectly lined skulls that jut out of the wall. If only death were as dignified as this. And yet the crumbling faces of what used to be are so fragile. I try to take a photo of one side of the wall, but I’m too close. I inch back and lean against the wall behind me. I take the photo. I turn my head and see a skull, with half its face eaten off, 5cm from my nose. OH SHIT THAT’S NOT A WALL. My entire body flinches away from the barricade, and I almost fall onto the other bone-lined wall. Great. They say don’t touch, and you fucking lean your back against it. It feels like I’m drenched in the souls of these dead bodies. I shiver. Well, I might as well see what a 200-year-old bone feels like. I touch the curve at the end of a random person’s femur. Gaaahh! SORRY, I internally apologize. It’s cold. Smooth. Empty. I look up to barren eyes reminding me of the rules as if it were guarding its other bones. Okayyy, moving on. My eyes follow the line of skulls as if it were the glow-in-the-dark airplane safety lines that lead you to the exit. The skulls lead me to a bend in the path. Inhale. Exhale. Eyes forward. Walk.

I focus on the end of this straight tunnel, wondering where everybody is. I am alone. The further I go into the tunnel, the less I remember the beginning. I am trapped under the ground, the metro, the sewage system, the fossils. I have nobody to rely on but the lonely lights that dimly encourage me to keep on inching forward. All I can hear is the eerie music playing in my audio guide as the voice tells me dates I can’t imagine, names I can’t pronounce, and stories I won’t remember. Accompanying this is the crunching of the pebbles beneath my feet – which seem to get louder and louder, I might add. Gone is the smooth pavement. I’m transported to 1780 – pebbled floor, stone walls, and a low ass ceiling. Just keep walking forward, I tell myself. But the bones are getting closer and closer, the ceiling getting lower and lower, my steps seem to get smaller and smaller.

Time stops. The lights flicker. I don’t dare blink and lose a second of light, of security. I am going to die in here. Crunch. I keep walking. Water drips from the ceiling. It forms a puddle. Oh god, how deep underground am I? Crunch. Drip. What if water starts filling this tunnel? Crunch. Drip. Drip. Drip. Where the fuck is everybody?! Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Drip. Drip. WHY ARE ALL THESE SKULLS LOOKING AT ME??

I stop. I enter a breathing space, a room that’s cut out of a scene from the Flintstones (if they lived in a cave and used the dead bodies of their enemies as furniture). There is a notch in the wall with of a simple bench made out of stone. I step away from the empty-eyed heads. I feel less ogled at. Breathe. I step out of my haven to take a photo of a collection of skulls shaped like a giant barrel – yes, a barrel. I do this with my right hand as the voice in my left hand tells me that a party was once held in this space. No fucking way. So a party really was held in here. I smile. Inhale. Exhale. Eyes forward. I see stairs. I keep walking.

Climbing up a spiral staircase, I remember what it felt like coming down into this ossuary – as if I were drilling myself into a hole with every step I took. Climbing up, all I see is me surpassing all these layers of greening stone bricks. I’m beating them to the top. I powerwalk as gracefully as one can out of there and am hit with blinding light and wind. Wind. Yes. I am transported into another part of town. In the window of the Catacombs gift shop across the street is a t-shirt that reads,


Cover Image Credit: pixabay

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